The Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, better known as the Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It is situated in the southwestern Rila Mountains, 73 miles south of the capital Sofia in the deep valley of the Rilska River at an elevation of 3,763 feet above sea level, inside of Rila Monastery Nature Park. The monastery is named after its founder, the hermit Ivan of Rila (876 - 946 AD). Founded in the 10th century, the Rila Monastery is regarded as one of Bulgaria's most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments and is a key tourist attraction for both Bulgaria and Southern Europe. In 2008 alone, it attracted 900,000 visitors.
The whole complex is rectangular in form, centred on the inner yard, where the tower and the main church are situated.
The main church of the monastery was erected in the middle of the 19th century. Its architect is Pavel Ioanov, who worked on it from 1834 to 1837. The church has five domes, three altars and two side chapels, while one of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis, famous for its wood-carving, the creation of which took five years to four handicraftsmen. The frescoes, finished in 1846, are the work of many masters from Bansko, Samokov and Razlog, including the famous brothers Zahari Zograf and Dimitar Zograf. The church is also home to many valuable icons, dating from the 14th to the 19th century. Porticos in the courtyard have Mamluk influence with the striped painting and the domes, which became more popular in the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Egypt.
The four-storey residential part of the complex consists of 300 chambers, four chapels, an abbot's room, a kitchen (noted for its uncommonly large vessels), a library housing 250 manuscripts and 9,000 old printed matters, and a donor's room. The exterior of the complex, with its high walls of stone and little windows, resembles a fortress more than a monastery.
The museum of the Rila Monastery is particularly famous for housing Rafail's Cross, a wooden cross made from a whole piece of wood (81×43 cm). It was whittled down by a monk named Rafail using fine burins and magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. Work on this piece of art lasted not less than 12 years before it was completed in 1802, when the monk lost his sight. (wikipedia)
so on with some photos of this spectacularly beautiful place-
then after a lunch beside the river - of fresh trout and a local bean soup - we headed off to Plovdiv - arriving in the late afternoon.