The gigantic monastery, Bulgaria’s largest, emerges out of nowhere after a 30 minutes drive from Rila Village. The road follows a narrow gorge with high wooded mountains towering each side: at some points they seem to touch the sky. This monastery originally dates back to the 10th century. The current structure was built in the mid 19th century though. People from all over Bulgaria gather here to worship and marvel at the church’s colorful frescoes and gold-laden icon paintings. The museum with lots of ecclesial treasures was one of the few in Bulgaria we encountered that provided good English translations of the displays.
Here it was the first time that we observed a common practice in Bulgarian monasteries, the blessing of souvenirs. The purchase, often tiny icons are laid out on a mall table, a priest touches them, mumbles a prayer and people repack and leave. In this monastery priests do not pardon skimpy dresses, Heidi’s Sri Lankan sarong has served her well in those occasions.
Those with good maps might want to do some hiking in the area. The large map at the monastery gate provided an undecipherable overview of the region and was useless for greenhorn hikers like us.
It is definitely worth spending a night here or the nearby hotel, because you get to wander around the monastery ground when the hordes of tourists are gone. We went back in around 09:00 pm and only came across those people who stayed overnight in the monastery, most of them in a near meditative state amidst this absolute quietness. When two small kittens were racing each other across the wooden balcony, we almost startled.
We decided for THE hotel, a decor less complex with a faded post communist flair. Most enjoyable was to fall asleep to the lulling sound of the creek in front and the restaurant’s, yes, smiling waiter …