Sunday Special – Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

In May 2015 I arrived at the bus station in Sofia, Bulgaria around 4:30am. A Japanese girl and I were staying at the same hostel so we decided to make our way there on foot with the night of city still surrounding us. Utilizing her data and Google Maps we trekked the 30+ minutes to our accommodations, stopping at an ATM machine in the process. Though still early when we arrived, the staff at Hostel Mostel were very accommodating and friendly. Since check-in was later on, we stored our bags, showered, and ate breakfast. I even had my laundry cleaned by the hospitable staff (for a fee). Then it was time to rest in the lobby lounge while waiting for my pre-booked tour of Rila Monastery with fellow hostelmates, though I never saw the young Japanese woman again as she was only staying a day.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria (2015)

Rila Monastery (Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila) is situated in the Rila Mountains, some 117 km / 72 mi south of Sofia, at an elevation of 1147 m / 37.62 ft. This Eastern Orthodox monastery, named after the hermit Ivan Rilsky (St Ivan of Rila), was built in the 10th century CE. The monastery was actully built by his students as a centre of learning in the orthodox christian teachings, whereas Ivan preferred to reside in a cave with little in the way of material possessions. This complex has always been an important part of Bulgarian life, education, and history through the ages. Over the centuries the monastery has seen its buildings both destroyed and rebuilt, with current structures dating around the 18th century. Today, along with being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is still a fully functioning monastery. Tourists are premitted to visit though some guidelines are in place. Some of these are, but not limited to: no photography inside the temple and museum, no smoking on the grounds, and appropriate attire that covers shoulders and knees. Visiting this complex can be done in several ways. There are several companies that offer tours; a daily shared shuttle service; public transportation; or via car. All have different price points and times. And if you are on pilgrimage you can actually stay at the monastery.

I have to say that I truly enjoyed visiting this mountain monastery. I found it to have a very peaceful and serene mood, perhaps because it is nestled in the woods and comes with a feeling of being back in time. Our hostel tour guide showed us the hillside area which they believe St Ivan resided. We were also shown about the grounds and which buildings were which. After, we spent time taking in all that was around us while being surrounded by the cool mountain air. Later on we had a lovely lunch nearby. Despite me being so exhausted it was a fabulous way to spend my first day in Bulgaria. I highly recommend a visit to this monastery for anyone who enjoys, history, and getway from the city.

Covid-19 related restrictions may still be in place at time of posting.

All photos taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders the world

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