Bulgaria is a very interesting and offering country for spiritual travels. Rila Monastery, the largest monastery in Bulgaria and the second largest in the Balkans with an age of over 1000 years, is often visited by Romanians, who come to retreat and see the architectural beauty of this sacred settlement.
The monastery is the most important ecumenical monument of Bulgaria and is on the UNESCO list, as an international monastic settlement with a special cultural value.
Founded in the 10th century, the monastery takes its name from its founder, the hermit Ivan Rila, who according to the documents in the manuscripts of the time, lived in a cave located near the monastery.
Over time, the monastery has been appreciated by the rulers of Bulgaria and most of them donate a part of the wealth to the development and preservation of this monastic settlement so complex and important from an architectural point of view.
The image of the monastery has been printed since 1999 on a 1 leva banknote, Bulgaria's national currency.
The main church of the monastery was built in the 19th century by the architect Pavel Ioanov.
The whole monastery represents a remarkable architectural complex. The sculptures inside the church were made during five years, and by the skill of four craftsmen. Filming and photos inside the monastery are strictly forbidden.
The building has five domes, three altars and two chapels. The most valuable part of the church is the iconostasis, which is plated with gold.
In the center of the complex is the Hrelyo Tower, the only fortification that has survived since the medieval period (1335).
The church is surrounded by buildings that house the monks' chills, some of which are arranged for visiting.
In the eastern wing of the monastery was arranged a museum that houses, old bibles, altar parts, ancient weapons used by the guards of the monastery, especially the Cross of Rafail, made of a single piece of wood measuring 81x43 centimeters. The monk carved on this piece of wood, 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature numbers and letters, proving a great patience, meticulousness but also a lot of talent. He worked for 12 years for this masterpiece, unique in the world. After the completion of the cross, in 1802, the monk went blind.
The driving distance from Bucharest to Rila Monastery is 474 km, with a journey time of about 7 hours. Romanians travel to the monastery by car but also by bus on organized ecumenical trips in Bulgaria, but also as a point of attraction on the way to Greece.
* video and photos taken in August 2021 on the occasion of my visit to Rila Monastery, at the invitation of the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism