The Rila Monastery is the biggest spiritual centre of Bulgaria, part of the world cultural heritage – it is included in the list of UNESCO. It is the largest and oldest preserved Bulgarian monastery and is located near the village of Pastra where the altitude is 1,146 m.
It was founded in the 10th century by the monk-hermit Yoan Rilski (John of Rila) and his disciples in the picturesque nature, hidden in the breasts of the highest and the most majestic mountain on the Balkan Peninsula. With its foundation, the Monastery became a literary and educational center. Neofit Rilski founded there a monastery school during the Renaissance. The Monastery provided shelter for Vasil Levski, Ilyo the Voivode, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and others.
In the course of its centuries – old existence, the Monastery has gone through years of progress and downfall. It was a victim of fire twice. Around the year 1335, the local feudal lord Stephan Dragolov (Hrelyo) builds the Monastery at its present place. Only the defensive tower – the Hrelyo’s tower has remained since then, with a small chapel at the last storey with a unique wall painting from the 30 years of the 14th century. It is the oldest preserved building in the monastery complex and belongs to the architectural style of the Turnovo School of Art. In the first decades of 19th century the Monastery complex was built in its present appearance thanks to the efforts of several generations of eminent Bulgarian builders, painters and master-woodcarvers.
The Rila Monastery keeps various works of high artistic value of Bulgarian art. The collection of icons includes works from 14th to 19th century, and the woodcarvings are some of the oldest preserved in our country. The monastery library keeps rare mediaeval manuscripts. Here was made the earliest printed engraving in Bulgaria – the woodcuts from 18th-19th century.
Today the ensemble of the Monastery covers an area of 8,800 square meters, 5,500 square meters of which are building area. The monastery wings, built at different times with 4 and 5 floors, surround by all sides the only garden, which has the shape of an irregular pentagon. The Monastery also has its own library, which is extremely rich of literary material, collected over the centuries. It has a museum, too.
The Monastery is open for visits from 8 to 18 pm every day. The guests of the Rila Monastery can go on a picnic to many more distant places of the complex like: The St. Luka Monastery, The Grave of St. John of Rila; Partizanska (Partisans’) / Кiril’s Clearing, and others.
The distance from Kyustendil to the Rila Monastery is about 76 km.