The Rila Monastery is situated in the western part of Rila Mountain at a height of 1147 meters. The beautiful mountain hosted its founder and given the name of the monastery. The monastery was founded in X c. by the Bulgarian hermit-monk Ivan Rilski as a modest sacred place. Soon afterwards the Rila Monastery became one of the biggest cultural centers of medieval Bulgaria. It grew and strengthened as a religious and cultural center at the time of the Second Bulgarian State. During the first half of XIV c. the monastery was renovated. In 1334-1335 were built a church, a defense tower and other buildings related to the donations of the local feudal Hrelyo. From them today is preserved only the six-floor defense tower.
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Together with the architectural-construction facilities during XIII-XIV c. in the monastery were created interesting manuscripts, magnificent wood-carving works, murals of high artistic value and other works of the material and spiritual culture. The Ottoman wave which stroke the Balkan Peninsula at the end of XIV c. had serious devastating effects on the Rila Monastery. During the first decades of XV c. due to tactical reasons the monastery remained intact but in the middle of XV c. it was plundered and destroyed and the monks were chased away. For a short period the spiritual activity in the monastery stopped. It was later renovated in the second half of XV c. by three brothers - Yoasaf, David and Teofan. The development of the monastery during XVI and XVII c. and during the period of the Ottoman domination was a succession of progress and decline. It was often plundered and burned down. Most active and fertile was the period of the Enlightenment from XVIII - XIX c. The economically enriched Bulgarian people provided the material base for development, enrichment and growth of the monasteries. After a fire from 1833, when almost all buildings were burned down, master Pavel built the main church and master Milenko built the southwestern part of the buildings in 1846-1847. Despite the fact that the monastery was in different stages and by different master builders it is a complete ensemble with supplementing elements. The main building materials are wood, bricks, stone and mortar plaster. The main church stands in the middle of the monastery.
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The Rila Monastery has a rich collection of murals. They were painted at different epochs and by different artists. The oldest among them are the murals in the small chapel-church on the last floor of the medieval tower. The tower itself with its high stone walls is a magnificent monument of the medieval construction and architecture. Despite the damages caused by the time and the fires the murals have preserved some themes of rare icon-painting style. The greatest merit of this picturesque monument is the mastery of its performance. The style represents the newest trends in the clerical Eastern Orthodox art from the first half of XIV c. The figures are of refined proportions and harmony, typical for the Balkan monumental painting from XIV c. These murals mark one of the zeniths of the Bulgarian medieval icon-painting. The mural decoration of the church "Saint Peter and Pavel", made in 1491 is partially preserved. It has elements of the tradition of XIV c. and was made with strict observation of the clerical rules. The paintings are of great mastery of the story-telling and expressiveness of the colours. In the Rila Monastery the mural painting art of the Bulgarian Enlightenment is fully represented. Prominent master artists from the Revival period took part in decorating the murals such as: Dimiter and Zahari Zograf from Samokov, Dimiter and Simeon Molerovi from Bansko and many others. The Rila Monastery is also rich in icon painting - another genre of the clerical painting. One of the greatest and varied collections of icons is kept in the Rila Monastery with works from XIV until XIX c. The oldest icon is the "Saint Ivan Rilski" from XIV c. The numerous collection of icons of high artistic value is a significant part of the painting heritage of the Bulgarians. The wood-carving is another important part of the spiritual riches of the monastery. Here can be seen one of the earliest examples of that art - the wood-carved gate of the old medieval church from XIV c. The carving was made with the typical for that time interlaced design and fretworks. It captures the eye with its harmony and proportions of the elements. The most gorgeous and solemn of the 13 wood-carved iconostases of the monastery is the iconostasis of the Main church. It was made from 1837-1843 by master wood-carvers from Samokov lead by master Atanas Teladur. The iconostasis is made of walnut-tree and is gold coated. It has elements of the plant and animal life. The iconostasis, together with the other elements - the pulpit, the throne and the wood carved frames and others contribute to the solemn glamour and representativeness of the interior. A peak in the works of the miniature wood carving is the Rafael's Cross. It was made of linden-tree for the period from 1782 until 1802 and has 36 scenes and several hundreds of figures. The wide construction and artistic activity in the Rila Monastery is combined with the great progress of spiritual-educational activities. In the monastery worked literary men, teachers and patriots such as: Yosif Bradati, Spiridon, Neofit Rilski etc. The Rila Monastery is one of the first distributors of the graphics for Bulgaria. Here was opened the first printing establishment. Here were also created many works of the applied art: gold-woven cleric clothes and other objects related to the ecclesiastical ritual. There are preserved examples from XV-XVIII c. The monastery has preserved numerous works of the goldsmithery, metal plastics, jewelries, women's decorations, costumes etc.