Explore a different destination UNESCO World Heritage Site Rila Monastery, Bulgaria






Rila Monastery, or officially the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It is located to the northwest of the Rila Mountains, in the valley of the Rilska River, 117 km south of Sofia. Located at an elevation of 1,147 meters above sea level, Rila Monastery was built by the famous Bulgarian saint, the Hermit Ivan of Rila (also known as St John of Rila). The spartan living quarters of the saint became a sacred site and was turned into a monastery. It played a significant role in the spiritual and social life of the people of medieval Bulgaria.

Rila Monastery was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site during the 7th session of the World Heritage Committee which met in Florence, Italy on 5-9 December, 1983. Many of the buildings in the complex date from the rebuilding carried out between 1834 and 1962 following a fire that destroyed most of the original structures. The monastery is celebrated as a symbol of the Slavic cultural identity.

Photos of Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Author: Stefan Senkel (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Cloister of Rila Monastery
Cloister of Rila Monastery
Author: CdaMVvWgS (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Another view of Rila Monastery
Another view of Rila Monastery
Author: Stefan Senkel (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Another view of Rila Monastery
Another view of Rila Monastery
Author: Rusalina (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

More about Rila Monastery

The founding of Rila Monastery was attributed to St John of Rila, who lived an ascetic life in the cave near the site of the monastery. The monastery was built by his disciples who made pilgrimages to the mountains to receive their education.

The monastery of Rila received support and patronage from Bulgarian rulers, making it the cultural and spiritual centre of Bulgarian national consciousness.

The oldest building in Rila Monastery dates to the 14th century. They include the Tower of Hrelyu, built between 1334 and 1335, and a small chapel next to it, built in 1343. With the support of the Rossikon monastery of Mount Athos, Greece, Rila Monastery was rebuilt in the 15th century. However, a fire in 1833 compelled another phase of reconstruction, funded by wealthy Bulgarians from around the country.

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

Location: N 42 7 0 E 23 23 60
Inscription Year: 1983
Type of Site: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: VI

The inscribed property covers 10.7 hectares surrounded by a 1289.7 hectare buffer zone on the slopes of Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkan Peninsula, in the valley of the Rilska River, 29 km to the east of the Sofia-Thessaloniki Highway, in Rila, Kyustendil Province, Bulgaria.

Location Map


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Visiting Rila Monastery

Your base for visiting this World Heritage Site is Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. From there, you can make the arrangement, either on your own or through a travel agency, to go to Rila Monastery. As part of the preparations, here's a list of hotels in Sofia with online booking facility.

Book Hotel Rooms in Bulgaria and Worldwide

Click here also for a full list of hotels in Bulgaria or hotels worldwide. If you prefer budget accommodation in hostels, guesthouses or inns, check out hostels worldwide for budget accommodation providers with online booking.


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