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Monastery Sveti Ivan Rilski Bulgaria
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Monastery Sveti Ivan Rilski
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Monastery Sveti Ivan Rilski

Monastery of Saint John of Rila

The Monastery of Saint John of Rila, also known as Rila Monastery Sveti Ivan Rilski, is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Address: 2643 Рилски манастир, Bulgaria

Opens 6:30am
Phone: +359 705 422 08

Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.

In its complicated ten-century history the Rila monastery has been the hub of a strong spiritual and artistic influence over the Eastern Orthodox world during medieval times (11th-14th c.). Under Ottoman rule (1400-1878) the monastery influenced the development of the culture and the arts of all Christian nations within the Ottoman Empire. With its architecture, frescos etc. it represents a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people.

Architectural styles have been preserved on the property as historical monuments of considerable time span (11th-19th c.). The basic architectural appearance is now one of the peak examples of building craftsmanship of the Balkan peoples from the early 19th c. As such it has exerted considerable influence on architecture and aesthetics within the Balkan area.

Rila Monastery is considered a symbol of the 19th Century Bulgarian Renaissance which imparted Slavic values upon Rila in trying to reestablish an uninterrupted historic continuity.

There have been no substantial changes to the integrity of the property since its inscription on the World Heritage List. Planned conservation works, that also involve the medieval and renaissance wood-carving and mural paintings existing in associated churches and chapels of the monastery complex, are being pursued to ensure their proper preservation. Protecting the Monastery from force effects is also of major significance. A series of permanent geological engineering observations are being pursued, with associated report recommendations for ground-structure strengthening. Based on these results, other preservation and restoration works will be determined. A development plan is being prepared, and this will propose improvements for the communication and technical infrastructure to assist in preserving the property.

Rila Monastery is the most important spiritual and literary center of the Bulgarian national revival, with an uninterrupted history from the Middle Ages until present times. Reconstruction work was required following a fire, and sections of the monastery, a new church and other structures date to the 18th century. The property fully endorses authenticity requirements regarding location, context, concept, usage, function and tradition, where the spirit and feeling of the site are also properly preserved.

Rila Monastery, historic monastery and cultural site in the Rhodope Mountains of southwestern Bulgaria. It is situated in a valley of the Rila massif, some 70 miles (110 km) south of Sofia. Rila is a symbol of Bulgarian national identity, and it is the most prominent monastery of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The first Christian monastery in Bulgaria, Rila was founded by the hermit John of Rila (Yoan of Rila, in Bulgarian Ivan Rilski), who is the traditional patron saint of Bulgaria. Rila grew rapidly in power and influence from the 13th to the 14th century. After a devastating fire, it was rebuilt and fortified (c. 1334–35) in its present location by the feudal lord Khrelio (also spelled Hrelyo or Hreljo). During the Ottoman Turkish occupation (14th–19th century) and the accompanying cultural domination of Bulgaria by Greece, Rila again flourished, in part owing to its isolation from Ottoman power centres. In the 18th and 19th centuries Rila was a cradle for the “National Revival” of Bulgaria. The monastery supported book publishing, a library and archives, and various educational institutions. It also attracted a large number of pilgrims.

The main sections standing today were constructed in the early to mid-19th century in an irregularly shaped polygon. Within its imposing frame are hundreds of dormitory rooms and halls, as well as archives and museums of history and ethnography. The relics of St. John of Rila are also on display. Smooth stone walls around the exterior rise four to five stories (some 65 feet [20 metres]) and are topped by a clay tile roof. The white brick archways and polished wooden balconies of the interior of the polygon surround a spacious courtyard paved with flagstones. In the centre of the courtyard is a domed church, which is admired for its colourful frescoes and its iconostasis (sanctuary partition) of carved wood. Next to the church stands the 74-foot- (23-metre-) high Tower of Khrelio (built c. 1334–35), which contains a vaulted chapel on its top story.

The wooded hills of the environs shelter several small monasteries, churches, and chapels housing a variety of religious art. To the northeast is the most famous of these sites, the Hermitage of St. John of Rila, a church that was erected about 1746 and rebuilt by 1820. The church stands near the cave in which the hermit lived and was buried (his remains were later moved). Both the cave and the church are pilgrimage destinations.