4. Rila Monastery: Day Trip to Bulgaria's Orthodox Jewel
Rila Monastery, at an elevation of 1,147 meters, is situated along the Rilska River in the highest mountains of the Balkan Peninsula. Founded in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan Rilski, it is today Bulgaria’s most famous site.
Known also as the Holy Rila Retreat, it is considered to be the most outstanding monument of the Bulgarian National Revival period, and the ultimate expression of the Bulgarian genius in matters of spirit, culture, architecture, construction, icon painting, and woodcarving. The monastery, as it now stands, was built in the period 1816-1847.
The first stop at the monastery is the main church, the Nativity of the Virgin, elaborately decorated with murals both inside and outside. The church houses the holy relics of St. Ivan Rilski as well as the tomb of Boris III, the last Bulgarian king.
Next to the main temple is the only structure that remains from the 14th century: the Tower of Hrelyu. This strong fortification was erected by the local feudal lord Hrelyu in 1334.
The Transfiguration Chapel on the top floor features precious murals from the 14th century. In the monastery museum you’ll see the impressive wooden cross carved by the monk Rafail. This unique piece of art contains 36 scenes from the Bible and about 600 figures as small as a grain of rice.
Before visiting the monastery you have the option of enjoying lunch at a restaurant perched above the Rilska River to try the local speciality; grilled or fried trout.