After two months stuck at home, just on the day that the State of Emergency in Bulgaria ended, on May 13, we had the opportunity to take a little trip beyond the supermarket. We went to visit the Rila Monastery, with the aim of making a video clip for our website (that you will watch soon).
Despite the fact that the Bulgarian Government had opened the crossings between cities a few days before, given the uncertainty regarding the situation in general and public transport in particular, we decided that it was best to go by car. So our organization let us use their van and, since to go to Rila from Kazanlak, it is necessary to go through Sofia, we took the opportunity to drop off at the airport our colleague Angélique, from France, who finished her project.
So we started our first little post-Corona adventure on Wednesday, May 13 at 4pm, in such a warm day. After months of cold and a week of storms, the sun was finally rising in every way. Our first journey, to the Sofia airport, lasted about 3 hours, with its corresponding stop at a gas station included. We said goodbye to Angélique and drove an hour and a half more to Ovcharsti, where we spent the night in a guest house to have dinner and recharge.
The next day, around 11 in the morning, we set off. After crossing several villages, we reached Rila, and from there we continued on a road between mountains until we reached the Monastery. Although driving through so much nature was really rewarding, the curves of the road become heavy, so getting to the Monastery was like finding an oasis in the desert, and it’s really worth it.
The Rila Monastery, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, was founded in the 10th century by Saint John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. Destroyed by fire in the early 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. It is a characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (between the 18th and 19th centuries), symbolizing the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity after centuries of occupation.
If there is something positive about this situation with the coronavirus, it’s that since there is practically no tourism, it’s possible to visit these places without finding a multitude of people, which is appreciated when taking photos and videos and, in general, enjoying the tranquillity of the place, which in this case is something characteristic.
The first thing that catches your attention when you arrive at the monument is the arch of the main entrance, although this is completely eclipsed by the large main courtyard you find after it. A spacious cobblestone floor, surrounded by arches and large trees and in the centre of which is the main church, but not the only one. The Monastery has in its surroundings four hermitages, in addition to the “Ptschelino” and “Orlitsa” convents and the Monastery Ossuary.
What stands out most in the main building is undoubted all the iconography that decorates the walls and ceilings, as well as the decoration of the arches, and inside the church, the amount of gold. That’s something characteristic in the Orthodox Church and it’s very different from the churches we are used to seeing in our countries. The Monastery has also a museum with artistic objects from the 14th and 19th centuries that reflect the history of this very spiritual enclave, but it’s closed during this period so we decided only to film outside the buildings.
Continuing the tour of the courtyard, where you can also find some shops to buy souvenirs (mostly religious images), you reach another door that leads to one of the most interesting parts of the Monastery, its bakery. There, sitting on the pleasant terrace, we put the finishing touch to the visit, enjoying some delicious “mekitsi” (a kind of bread) and admiring the views of the monumental complex and the Rilska river.
Although there is the possibility of spending the night at the Monastery, with prior reservation, it is currently not possible due to the situation of Coronavirus, so ruling out that option, after our visit, we headed back to Kazanlak. A four-hour drive awaited us, so we decided to stop halfway, in the town of Ihtiman, for lunch. Finally, we got home at 9 at night. We were really exhausted, but with the batteries charged and already thinking about our next adventure: Weekend getaway in Burgas. To be continued…