Rila Monastery (World Heritage)
The monastery complex dates back to the 10th century. After a major fire in the 19th century, it was rebuilt and advanced to the nucleus of the strengthened national feeling as well as the spiritual center of Bulgarian culture under Ottoman rule. The valuable wall paintings in the Church of the Mother of God are particularly worth seeing
Rila Monastery: Facts
|Official title:||Rila Monastery|
|Cultural monument:||original monastery from the 10th century near today’s monastery, the appearance of which dates from the 19th century; valuable wall paintings with apostles, martyrs and floral decorations in the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, 16,000 book library with 134 manuscripts from the 15th-19th centuries. Century|
|Location:||east of Rila, south of Sofia|
|Meaning:||Legacy of St. Ivan Rilski (876-946) and a symbol of Slavic identity|
Rila Monastery: History
|10th century||Founding of a hermitage by Iwan Rilski (Johannes von Rila)|
|14th century||Destruction of the monastery complex by a landslide|
|1335||Construction of a 25 m high fortress tower|
|1469||Transfer of the bones of Iwan Rilski to the monastery|
|1816||Start of construction of a three-wing monastery complex|
|1833||Destruction of the monastery complex by conflagration|
|1834-37||Reconstruction of the monastery complex with the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (Sveta Bogorodiza)|
|1840-48||Wall paintings in the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin|
A bulwark of Orthodox traditions
Located almost at the end of a long, deeply cut valley, the visitor is initially offered a less inviting view of the monastery complex. Almost 20 meters high, smooth stone walls, which appear even higher due to the struts, create the image of a small fortress. Two gates allow entry into this well-fortified monastery complex, which in the course of its history indeed had to defend itself from many attacks – and not infrequently also succumbed to the onslaught.
Today there are busloads of tourists who are hungry for education and interested in culture, but also numerous locals, for whose onslaught the monks have to prepare. And so it is above all in the early morning and late afternoon, when there is silence over the walls and only a few roam through the complex, where you can best experience the tranquil atmosphere of this otherwise secluded place.
Once you have entered the inner courtyard, a completely new world opens up, almost cheerful and playful to call it, compared to the craggy and repellent outer wall. First of all, it is the courtyard facades, forming an irregular square, that draw the eye. In front of the multi-storey residential wings are airy arcades, on the lower floors structured by stone arches of different heights, the top floor is closed off almost everywhere with rows of wooden arches. Bay windows and balconies interrupt the regularity of the rows of arches and thus give each wing its own character. The color scheme of the facades – the alternation of black and white, painted brick arches and many small ornaments and wall paintings – as well as the wide, open stairs complete the varied design.
The Church of the Nativity of the Virgin rises in the center of the monastery courtyard. With its numerous larger and smaller domes, its round shapes and its lively exterior shape, it harmonizes with the detailed shape of the buildings that surround it. The interior of the church, but above all the surrounding open colonnade, is adorned with colorful paintings, the hundreds of Old and New Testament scenes of which eloquently provide information about religious ideas of the time; but they also reveal the high artistic level of Bulgarian painters of the 19th century. After the previous church was destroyed, some of the best artists in the country worked on its reconstruction, which was regarded as a national project in Bulgaria, which was still not liberated according to computerminus.
Above all in the outside area of the church there are numerous very vivid depictions of the torments of hell – a kind of visual ecclesiastical code of morals of the 19th century, in which wild, terrifying animals and fire-breathing mythical creatures next to the “ruler of purgatory” and the terrible tormented creatures exhort sinners to repentance. Many of these depictions overcome the medieval canon of orthodox painting by depicting contemporary people and scenes from everyday life. Rich citizens who were among the patrons of the monastery are also immortalized on the frescoes. The fact that many of the works were signed by the performing artists is unusual for Orthodox art and breaks through the anonymity of medieval art.
Next to the church rises the oldest surviving building in the monastery complex, the so-called Chreljo Tower from the 14th century. However, the history of the Rila Monastery points back much further into the past. It was the monk Ivan Rilski who, in the 10th century, had withdrawn into solitude as a hermit near today’s Rila monastery because of criticism of the mendacious morality of the official church. Soon other fellow believers gathered around him – the basis for a new monastery community was created. The monk, who was canonized soon after his death, enjoyed great veneration in the centuries that followed. The Rila monastery developed into the destination of numerous pilgrims who, due to their large number, had to be housed in several secondary monasteries.