Rising at 1147 m above sea level, it the monastery lies amidst some of the most scenic recesses of the Rila Mountains, to which the monastery owes its name. On either side the swift and clear flowing rivers of Rilska and Drushlyavitsa flank it. The Malyovitsa peak, reaching a height of 2729 m, is within a four hours walking distance and within as many again is the Rila's highest point - Mount Moussala, rearing to 2925 m.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church both light and darkness are considered holy, so in most churches there is always an unusual semidarkness. This effect is achieved with great skill in the Rila Monastery. Light enters through the drums of the domes and individual windows in the walls. By having individual windows rather than big clumps of them light enters in beams. It is common to look down the murky nave and see three pairs of light rays pouring in through the three domes as if some divinity was about to enter the cathedral. I think its is easy to see how inspiring this was to pilgrims
Throughout the long centuries of its existence the monastery has been an important centre of worship, cultural activities, and enlightenment, a place that had provided shelter for many religious and public figures, and men of letters. The religious community maintained active contacts with the entire Orthodox world, from the Balkan countries to the monasteries of Palestine and Russia. The religious compound includes houses of worship, residential, and farm buildings with an overall area of 8 800 square metres. From the outside, the monastery resembles a fortress with the 24-metre high stone walls of its main buildings forming a pentagon. That is why a worshipper or tourist who comes to visit the place and steps inside one of its iron gates, is surprised to see the soft shapes of its architectural design: arcs and colonnades, covered wooden stairs and carved balconies in the bottom of which are the rows of the monks' cells numbering 300. In the middle of the cobblestone-paved yard, the austere structure of Hrelyu's Tower (1334) and the baroque silver domes of the main church rise in a strange symbiosis.
The monastery's Ethnographic museum has two stores and is situated in the northern wing of the monastery. It house an interesting collection, containing a multitude of gold church plates, collections of weapons, and embroidery. Interesting items are the monasteries charter (1378), signed and stamped by Tsar Shishman. Also, the cross of the Monk Raphael which is worked over a period of more than a decade. This cross is also known as the Rila cross, which is a double sided cross, incised in miniature with more than hundred biblical scenes and inscriptions. (It is said that Raphael ruined his eyes after staring through a magnifying glass for 12 years) The library has 16000 volumes including manuscripts from l5th to 19th century, and numerous documents. The collection consists out of donations that were received from all parts of the country. It represents a national collection of works of arts and crafts. These donations represent a chronicle of the national consciousness, and therefore play a constitutive role in the Bulgarian identity. The items in the museum, are however, only labelled in Bulgarian. You must be able to read Bulgarian or use a booklet in English that you can buy at the monastery. There are also guided tours, in English, for 15 lv per person. The admission fee for the museum is 5 lv and its open from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm)
The Hrelio's tower is a five story, square castle used for place of refuge by the monks when the monastery was being raided. There is a basement with a domed ceiling which was used as a prison during the middle ages. The top floor has a small chapel and is bigger than the rest. The tower has twelve 1 meter wide buttresses, three on each side of the structure. The Tower, which is mainly built out of river stones and mortar, is a good example of medieval architecture. It is big and powerfull and I guess it must have scared attackers and gain respect among the serfs.
The church's interior is very impressive. The murals were painted between 1840 and 1848 by the most important artist of the particular century: Kosta Valyov, Ivan Nikolov and Zahari Zograph. The icons of the main altar were painted by Ivan Obrazopissov. There are twenty donors' potraits in the church, and these mark the beginning of Bulgarian secular painting, that is, of realistic portraits. This gallery of art was extended by the murals in the churches.. Thirty-six figural scenes, that is, figures of the Old Testament Kings, apostles, angels, demons and martyrs, are created with an extremely rich ornamentation of birds, flowers and stylised vines. The artists mentioned are all from Samokov and Bansko.
The monumental mural paintings are done in the traditions of the mediaeval art, but the nineteenth century set its mark in the way of colour and realism as was typical for the Bulgarian Revival Period. The individual marks of the respective painters can be discerned in the frescoes, however, only Zahari Zograph has signed and dated his work. The names of the other artists have been entered into the monastery edifice to its present-day appearance.
The Nativity Church is at the middle of the courtyard and is probably, I guess, the largest monetary church in Bulgaria. The church is build in the nineteenth century. The church offers a source of inspiration for pilgrims via its frescoes. Every centimeter of wall and ceiling is used for murals. These paintings are performed by the best Bulgarian painters of the particular period, such as Zahari Zograf. The most beautifull frescoes are on the outside of the church. There is you find an open hallway, consisting of a series of small domes supported by the walls and an arcade, that goes around the church from the north side, west side to southern fa?ade. Protected from rain the walls and domes are painted as visual religious text. In the domes and arches and higher walls, above the visitors, are scenes of Jesus and the Virgin, displayed in beautifull colours. On the lower part of the walls there are scenes from hell in dark colours and of of devils tormenting and seducing the souls of corrupt Christians. So I guess, before entering the church the visitor is confronted with his ultimate choice: heaven or hell.
Many of the rooms of the monastery have carved ceilings in traditional Bulgarian styles and show a good deal of perfect craftsmanship The best one is in the Koprivshtitsa Room. This very special looking room is the monastery kitchen. The floor of the room is on the ground level in the north wing and the huge 22m-high chimney is rising through all four stories and coming out on the roof which has a small dome. I think the room has quite a surreal look. The kitchen is build in 1816 and food, for all those pilgrims who overcrowded the monasatry, was prepared in big cauldrons. Other rooms of interest are: The cheese-making room, bakery, Oven-room, Winery.
Rila monastery founded during the 10th century,it survived the times with the self-confidence of the most jealous guard of the Bulgarian spirit and language.
The monastery's most treasured historic and artistic monuments include : the 14th century Herlyo's Tower ;the original 19th century monastery's kitchen;the five-domed Birth of Blessed Virgin Church.
The exit gate or The Samokov Gate. on the left side of it you will find the Museum of Monastery Economy, located in underground galleries .
The entire complex looks great with the church, tower & mountains in the background
Take your time to walk around and enjoy
As well outside as inside this church looks great within the entire complex and view on the mountains around it
On the second floor is located the Monastery library
this pic of a monk reading some book, sitting under the arches is just.....Magic ......
take a look from outside the monastary at the Dupnitsa gate and the Samokov gate. there you find also some information of the monastary in English