Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian monastery, one of the most important cultural monuments in Bulgaria, a symbol of the country included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is located in Southwest Bulgaria, Kyustendil region, Rila municipality. It is located in the heart of the Rila Mountains, in the valley of the Rila River and in the north. 1147m. The monastery was established as a religious center in the 10th century, 3 km east of its present location. This is the largest monastery in Bulgaria – 5 floors, with 4 of them visible. This is explained by the restrictions of the Ottoman Empire since 1834, when the present buildings were built. It was founded in the 10th century by St. Ivan Rilski, in the upper reaches of the Rila River.
History of the Rila Monastery
The current monastery is located not far from the site of its original construction.
The monastery “St. Ivan Rilski” was built on the site of an old sanctuary in 927 – 941 by Ivan Rilski.
Tsar Ivan Shishman (1371 – 1393) issued the 21st of September 1378 the Rila Chronicle, signed and sealed with a gold seal, which gives the monastery feudal possessions, 20 villages together with their lands.
For Bulgarian monasteries, the flowering period was from the end of the 12th to the end of the 14th century. During this period they were supported by the local royal authority as well as by the feudal lords (boyars). At the end of the 14th century came the difficult years for the Bulgarian monasteries. They became the favorite loot of troops and bandits (because they were known to be rich), killed the monks, set fire to the monasteries. The Rila Monastery received protective farmers with which the Sultan guaranteed the monastery’s resistance and forbade any troops and bandits to attack the monastery. But with the death of the adviser, this letter lost its limitation and the attacks began again.
As early as 1402, the Ottoman government ordered the Kyustendil army to confirm its former abode rights. A tax register from 1520 to 1521 mentions 21 monks living there. In 1469, with the help of Mara Brankovich, the relics of St. Ivan Rilski were carried back from Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery.
The last destruction occurred in 1791, 1793 and was demolished in 1796. Its successive construction is sponsored by Bulgarian people and voluntary work. The new construction began in 1806, when the main stone was laid, but the grandiose construction began 10 years later. In the 30s a fire broke out again and had to start construction again. The restoration was carried out under the leadership of Alexi Rilets, who in 1816 – 1819 designed and built the east, north and west wings.
In 1840 a new iconostasis of the church was made by Peter Filipov, Anton Stanishev and Dimitar Stanishev.
In 1842, an exterior decoration was added to the French Balkan baroque. Each wing had a shed (balcony) used for thought. Each balcony was different and thus each wing had its own appearance. Half east wing was built, west, north and south. The unfinished part of the east wing was built in the late 1950s.
Since its founding, the monastery became a literary and educational center. A great pedagogical activity is being developed by Neophyte Rilski, who founded a cell school here during the revival. The monastery shelters great Bulgarian revolutionaries, among them Vasil Levski, Ilyo Voivoda, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and others.
The Hrelyo’s Tower and the chapel “Transfiguration Christ”
After the monastery was burnt down in the early 13th century, it was built at its present location around 1330 by the despot Hrelyo Stefan Dragolov. The oldest building dates from 1335 – the Shed Tower. As an architecture, it belongs to the Turnovo Art School. At the top of the tower is the chapel of the Transfiguration with valuable frescoes from the 30s to the 14th century.
Hrelyo’s Tower is a defensive fortification medieval facility built by the Hrelyo prototype in 1334-1335 and designed for hiding. It is situated at 1147 meters above sea level in the eastern part of the Rila Monastery courtyard.
The construction of the tower is related to moving the monastery to its present location. The Hrelyo Tower serves to protect the monastic fraternity, while at the same time stashing monastic values in danger. During the Ottoman rule, it has been repeatedly used in turbulent times to prevent burglary raids and assaults. The tower is also used as a prison and isolator for the mentally ill.
Hrelyo’s tower has an almost square base of 7.75 x 8.25 m and has a height of 23 m. In its thick 1.8 m walls are built steep stone steps. The elliptic grounded ground is slightly dug into the terrain. The only entrance of the tower was the I floor with a movable wooden connection to the terrain. The rooms from the 1st to the 4th floor are designed for temporary living – they have wooden floors and scarce lighting in the bunkers (buns). At the base of the tower there is a well with drinking water. There are openings, where boiling oil and tar can be poured on the attackers. The service rooms are a sink (II floor) and exit areas (III and IV floor) in the form of bay windows.
On the fifth floor in the tower is the chapel “Transfiguration Christ” with unusual iconography. In the eastern part of the chapel is preserved the oldest image of Ivan Rilski. To the north, south and west, the chapel is covered with a narrow gallery, covered with small blind domes between cross arches, and in the east is the altar niche. There are three powerful counterparts on each wall, connected to brick arches, which reinforce the resistance of the tower and carry the bay-shaped chapel.
In 1844 on the west side of the tower was built a two-story bell tower.
Church “Nativity of the Virgin”
The Church of the Nativity is the conclave, the central temple (catholic) of the Rila Monastery.
The medieval church, built by Hrelyo Dragovol and named Hrell’s Church, existed until 1834. It was very small for visits and almost collapsed by the weight of centuries. As the sultan’s power weakened from the end of the 18th century, Christianity intensified in our lands. Master Paul of Krimin, Kostursko (present-day Greece) begins the construction of the new church. It is a three-nave, triadside church, with five domes and an open gallery.
The murals were worked from 1840 to 1872 by the most prominent representatives of the Samokov and Bansko painting schools Dimitar Zograf, Zahari Zograf, Stanislav Dospevski (son of Dimitar Zograf), Dimitar and his son Simeon Molerovi, Toma Vishanov.
There is a gilded walnut tree iconostasis made by craftsmen from the Samokov Carving School. The crypt contains icons from all over Bulgaria. The East Wing is one of the richest libraries in the Balkans, with 550 volumes around 600 years old. They are the subject of research by the scientific department. There is the chrisivula (law), or Rila diploma, of Ivan Shishman dated September 21, 1378. , with which he gave the Rila Monastery as
feudal possessions of 20 villages, along with their lands.
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