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Most Beautiful Monasteries In Bulgaria
Religious and spiritual life are a central part of life in Bulgaria; Christianity had a decisive role in shaping the country. When the nation underwent years of foreign domination, religion was the gluing element that kept the culture and the language alive in the society.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had a crucial influence when it came to preserving the local culture during the years of Ottoman rule and postwar communist regimes. During this last period, religion remained under the control of the Law on Religion Organizations, with the state taking control of all church property; consequently, some monasteries and churches functioned as museums during the communist era.
However, Christianity always played an essential role in forming the Bulgarian nation and its identity. It helped to keep the native language alive during Ottoman domination and, in many respects, the national culture and traditions.
There are over 200 monasteries spread all over the country, which certainly highlights the importance Christianity has always had in the nation. This is precisely why no visit to Bulgaria can be deemed complete if you do not visit at least some of the most important monasteries.
This article will show you some of the most remarkable and beautiful monasteries in Bulgaria, all of them worth a visit during your trip to Bulgaria.
The Three Most Remarkable Monasteries In Bulgaria
The first three monasteries we present in this article can be considered the three biggest and most important monasteries in the country: Rila, Bachkovo, and Troyan monasteries, the three of them under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy Synod. Here are all the details you need to know about visiting monasteries in Bulgaria.
Located in the heart of the Rila Mountains, about 110 km from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, and about 1150 meters above sea level, this is the country’s most famous and most important monastery and the second biggest in the Balkan Peninsula.
The complex dates back to the tenth century, holding the record of being the largest Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria.
Rila Monastery was founded by the hermit Saint Ivan of Rila and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.
Once behind the entrance gates, the colorful buildings will definitely call your attention. This is a fortress-like monastery surrounded by imposing stone walls, covering an approximate area of 8800 square meters. The monastery’s main church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Holy Virgin and features impressive murals and icons by famous icon artists.
Inside the monastery is a library sheltering important manuscripts created between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries and ancient books. Visitors can also spend time in the Ecclesiastical and Historical Museum. You will find exhibited collections of icons, wood carvings, and many other religious objects here.
What Not To Miss At Rila Monastery
When visiting the museum, do not miss the Rafail’s Cross, a wooden crucifix bearing over a hundred carved Bible scenes and more than six hundred miniature figures crafted with the aid of a magnifying glass. Not far from Rila Monastery, you can wander and see some small waterfalls and a wonderful walking area.
How To Get To Rila Monastery
You can either visit on an organized day tour or drive from Sofia (Sofia-Kulata International Road – E79). There are also regular buses to the area departing from Sofia, Blagoevgrad, and Dupnitsa.
Driving To Rila Monastery
We drove to Rila Monastery from Sofia; the drive is effortless and very scenic. I totally recommend it as the ideal day trip from Sofia. Be sure to stop in the village of Pastra for lunch. Renowned for trout and many traditional Bulgarian cuisine options.
Where To Stay Near Rila Monastery
Since the monastery is quite away from Sofia, it is good to make this a day trip and even book a stay in the area to spend the night.
Following the correct procedure, you can sleep in the monastery if you book well in advance! In fact, there are dormitories and private rooms. You can find all the necessary information to spend the night in Rila Monastery at this link.
Alternatively, you can book a stay at Family Hotel Gorski Kut, in the Rila Valley, only 7 minutes by car from the monastery, offering primary and comfortable accommodation with beautiful views of the river and the mountains. There’s also an on-site restaurant serving typical Bulgarian dishes.
If you want more luxury, we suggest Rilets Resort & Spa. This hotel is just 600 meters from Rila Monastery and has an on-site restaurant and bar. The hotel has a children’s play area and free private parking.
Another important monastery, the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila, is Bachkovo Monastery, dating back to 1083. It stands about 30 km south of Plovdiv, in the village of Bachkovo in the Chaya River Valley. It is in a stunningly beautiful location, surrounded by a densely forested area at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains.
The complex combines and represents three different religious cultures, Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian. Inside the monastery are three churches and the funerary church or ossuary; the oldest one dates back to the 12th century.
Bachkovo was considered a great religious and epistolary center, while its unique library treasures old Georgian, Byzantine, and Bulgarian books.
The main church is dedicated to Virgin Mary, and it was built in 1604 and preserved one of the oldest wood-carved icons in the country. The church also features remarkable murals in its narthex and on the western walls. On August 15, thousands attend a special mass dedicated to the virgin within the monastery’s walls every year.
What Not To Miss At Bachkovo Monastery
Considered miraculous by people of faith, the monastery’s most beloved treasure is a Virgin Mary icon dating back to 1311, brought to the temple by two Georgian monks.
Another interesting object you can admire is an impressive marble table located in the monastery’s dining room, as well as the frescoes that decorate the building.
How To Get To Bachkovo Monastery
If you’re staying far from the area, it is good to travel to Plovdiv and join an organized tour; otherwise, it is also possible to drive there (E86 Road), which connects Plovdiv and Asenovgrad.
Where To Stay Near Bachkovo Monastery
It is also possible for visitors and pilgrims to stay at the monastery, which has rooms with a few beds and a shared toilet bathroom on the same floor for the price of 15 Levs (about 8 euro) per bed. The monastery also features two ensuite rooms and a few apartments. You can get more information at this link.
Complex Magic of the Rhodopes is in a fantastic location and offers beautiful rooms with a comfy seating area. On the premises, guests can take advantage of the restaurant, the seasonal outdoor swimming pool, and 15 km from Plovdiv International Airport.
The Troyan Monastery is located in the area of Lovech, about 10 km from the town of Troyan, at the foot of the Stara Planina Mountains in the Troyan Balkans. It stands at about 400 meters above sea level and is surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape.
Considered the third biggest monastery in Bulgaria, the Troyan Monastery, Assumption of the Holy Mother, dates back to 1600, although it underwent rebuilding and renovation between 1835 and 1855. In fact, the monastery was often assailed and destroyed in 1830, when all monks were brutally killed.
This impressive architectural complex features a central church, residential buildings, and two remarkable chapels. The main church is one of the most exciting places you can visit inside the complex, featuring incredible frescoes.
Back in the nineteenth century, the monastery became a renowned literary and revolutionary center and functioned as an asylum for rebels during Ottoman Rule.
What Not To Miss At Troyan Monastery
One of the most remarkable objects treasured in the monastery is an icon considered miraculous. It represents Mother Mary and is known as Holy Mary with Three Hands, as there’s a bizarre hand-cut at the bottom of the drawing.
Besides that, do not miss the local plum spirit distilled by the monks on the premises.
How To Get To Troyan Monastery
A visit to Troyan Monastery can be a great day trip idea if you’re visiting Sofia or Plovdiv, either by bus or by car (about 2 hours from Sofia, 2.30 hours from Plovdiv). You can also join a guided tour of the Lovech area, allowing free time to visit the monastery.
Where To Stay Near Troyan Monastery
It is possible to spend the night in one of the monastery rooms, although booking online is impossible, though you can call the monastery in advance to inquire at +359 69 522866.
Reasonably close to the monastery, Family Hotel and Restaurant Plamena in Oreshak enjoys a quiet location surrounded by a magnificent forest. Guests can enjoy comfortable rooms, free parking spaces, and a delicious tavern featuring a cozy fireplace on the premises. Troyan is about 10 minutes by car from this property here.
Famous Monasteries Near Sofia
The following monasteries are located in the Balkan Mountain Range and are worth a visit. They are Dragalevski, Osenovlaskhi, and Klisura.
This monastery can be found on the outskirts of Bulgaria’s capital, on Vitosha Mountain. It can be easily reached by car, as it is only about 20 minutes from the center of Sofia.
Known as the Monastery of the Holy Mother of God in Vitosha is an active monastery, probably dating back to the 1370s; it is inside the beautiful Vitosha National Park.
In 1382, the Ottoman Empire conquered Sofia, and the monastery was abandoned. It was then renovated back in the second half of the fifteenth century, its church restored and richly decorated with frescoes.
Dragalevtsi was another Bulgarian monastery active during the struggle for national liberation, taking part in the secret revolutionary activities against the Ottomans.
The monastic complex includes a church as well as residential and farm buildings. The church features two layers of frescoes, while only fragments from several Biblical scenes have been preserved from the original narthex.
Where To Stay In The Area
Although you cannot stay on the premises, spending the night in the immediate area or even getting back to your hotel in Sofia is possible.
Hotel Romantic is a valid alternative in the Vitosha District; it features suites and rooms, free public parking, a restaurant with a fireplace, and barbecue facilities. The city center is located a 10-minute drive away—more information here.
Osenovlashki Monastery, also known as Sedemte Prestioa (or the Seven Altars), is in the valley of River Gabrovitsa, at the foot of the Izmeretz Mountain, about one hour from Sofia. It is easy to access the complex by car and train, following the Sofia-Mezdra route.
Although its exact foundation date is uncertain, the monastery was first mentioned in a Gospel dating from 1511 and destroyed in 1737 by Sultan Mahmud, The Godless. The monastery was rebuilt in 1824, including a new residential building and a monastery school.
During the years of the Bulgaria National Liberation from the Ottomans, Osenovlashki Monastery was often used as shelter by the revolutionaries.
The spectacular complex includes a high stone wall with the main church from the eleventh century standing in the inner courtyard. The complex also has a church tower, a unique garden with flowers, blooming bushes, and a century-old sequoia. The monastery also has an important library with old Orthodox books.
The seven separate altars are unique to the church: four main altars forming a cross, two isolated altars, and a seventh one just opposite the entrance. Each altar represents a separate chapel and is dedicated to a Bulgarian saint.
Where To Stay In The Area
It is possible to stay at Osenovlashki Monastery; however, it is a good idea to book in advance as it is a popular area to spend the weekend for locals (the number is 087 9995035 in Bulgaria or +359 87 9995035 from abroad).
Guest House Bovada is another place to stay in the area; it offers a shared kitchen, a sun terrace, and a barbecue. All rooms are fitted with a patio with a garden view. The property is 39 km from Sofia Airport and offers a paid airport shuttle service. Read more here.
Dedicated to Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the Klisura Monastery is located at the foot of the Todori Kukli Mountain in the valley of River Vreshtitsa. The monastery complex dates back to 1240, only 54 km from Sofia.
The easiest way to reach the Klisura Monastery is by car, driving along the road to the town of Montana. The road is modern and well-signed.
At the time of its foundation, the monastery was known as Vreshetski; as the story goes with many other monasteries in the country, the complex suffered complete devastation by the Ottoman during the fifteenth century, remaining abandoned for several long years.
Brought back to life thanks to generous donations from locals, the building suffered a tragedy during the celebration day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, when the cloister was burnt to ashes and monks and pilgrims slaughtered by the Turkish.
The monastery underwent an entire renovation in 1869 when it got its present Renaissance style. Today, the monastery includes two churches, a residential building, and farming premises.
The monastery keeps precious objects, including old icons, books, and valuable saints’ relics.
Where To Stay In The Area
The monastery offers accommodation either in one of the 80 beds or two apartments at affordable fees. There is also a restaurant on the premises serving traditional Bulgarian meals cooked with products from the farm run by the monks. (the number is 088 6560612 in Bulgaria or +359 88 6560612 from abroad).
Guest House Bankya offers accommodation nearby at very affordable prices and with excellent reviews. There is a gorgeous rose garden, barbecue facilities, and a shared kitchen. Breakfast is served daily, while lunch and dinner can be arranged upon request and for a surcharge. Sofia is only 16 km from the property. Read more here.
Other Monasteries That You Should Visit In Bulgaria
Since there are so many monastic complexes to visit in the country, we have chosen the most remarkable ones and included them in the following section; take a look.
A beautiful complex located near the town of Gabrovo on the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains. It is possible to reach the monastery by public bus or driving.
Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Sokolski Monastery is 220 km from Sofia. It lies in a tranquil area, surrounded by high peaks and lush forests.
It was founded back in1833 and has a rich history, being also an important refuge for revolutionaries against Ottoman rule. Later on, during the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation, it functioned as a military hospital. Today, it is possible to visit the small collection on the premises that exhibit relics from the period.
Inside the complex, a beautiful courtyard is adorned with flowers and a delicate fountain with intricate architecture where pilgrims stop and drink the refreshing water gorging from eight different spouts.
It is possible to admire beautiful and simple frescoes inside the different buildings, with bright shades that are not common in the traditional Byzantine school of painting.
Where To Stay In The Area
The monastery offers accommodation either in rooms with private or shared bathrooms. Alternatively, you can check the convenient Guest House Mikaela premises, which features a shared lounge, garden, barbecue facilities, and a terrace in Gabrovo. More information is here.
Also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, this complex is located in the Veliko Tarnovo area, the older Bulgarian capital.
Considered the fourth largest monastery in Bulgaria, it is also one of the oldest religious buildings in the country. It stands at the foot of a cliff with sweeping views of the surrounding region.
The monastery was founded in the eleventh century as a branch of a secondary monastery but became independent later in time. The building stands around a rectangular paved court with old, picturesque pergolas. In the complex, there is also a belfry with a clock.
In 1991, the monastery was hit by a rock falling from a hill, destroying a few cells.
Where To Stay In Veliko Tarnovo
Hotel Alegro is ideally located on a quiet street in the central part of Veliko Tarnovo, offering original architecture and modern suites and featuring a restaurant garden. More information is here.
In the heart of the Rusenski Lom River Valley, not far from the Barsabovo village and 10 km from Ruse, lies Basarbovo Monastery. This is the only rock monastery in Bulgaria that is still active and functioning.
To get to the premises, it’s necessary to follow a green path, pass a well and then hike up about 48 steps to reach a platform that guards the niche of Saint Dimitri Basarbovski. Once here, you can see a rocky chapel with a full-sized icon of the saint.
This rock monastery dates back to the 1400s; inside the premises, it is also possible to check a former bone vault that hosts a museum.
Where To Stay In Ruse
Grand Hotel Riga is located on the shores of the Danube River, just meters from the Ruse Main Square. It offers guests a summer garden, breakfast, and free parking. Read more about the accommodation here.
Enjoying a marvelous location with impressive surrounding views, Glozhene Monastery stands atop a rock on the western side of the Balkan Mountain range near the village of Glozhene.
The monastery was founded back in the 13th century by a Ukrainian Prince, and, still today, it is surrounded by a turbulent past made of unique legends and mysterious stories.
The monastery’s icon, dedicated to Saint George the Victorious, constantly disappeared from the holy cloister according to popular belief. The monks later found the icon on a hill near the village where today stands the current monastery. In fact, the monks understood that the mysterious disappearance of the icon meant that God wished the monastery to be constructed on the hill.
During a certain point in history, two monasteries stood in the area, one on the hill and one in the village. They were connected utilizing a tunnel.
The monastic structures feature a church and a two-story residential building in the shape of a castle. The former church in the same spot had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1913. The church was built in 1931.
Where To Stay In The Area
The monastery offers minimal accommodation (about 20 guests accepted); however, there are good places to stay nearby.
Holiday Park Mirovets in Malŭk Izvor features convenient accommodation, a restaurant, a shared lounge, a garden, and a children’s playground. Read more about the accommodation here.
Located in the area of Melnik, Rozhen Monastery is a perfect place for those interested in combining the visit with a beautiful hiking path. Although it is possible to drive there, you can also access the monastery by walking a magnificent eco-trail.
The building is in the heart of the region of Pirin, surrounded by the spectacular landscapes of Melnik and its pyramids.
Dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Virgin Mary, this spiritual center was built in 1217 and rebuilt in the sixteenth century after a fire destroyed it.
During the visit, don’t miss the imposing Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, which features ancient murals with Biblical scenes and unique stained-glass windows.
Where To Stay In The Area
Although the monastery does not offer accommodation, the place is minutes from Melnik, a popular tourist destination with plenty of hotels and studios to rent available.
Otherwise, in the heart of Rozhen Village, Family Hotel Dinchova Kushta is an excellent place to stay when visiting the monastery, which is only 2 km away. Surrounded by a peaceful green area, this rustic hotel, restaurant, and winery offer comfortable rooms, homemade Bulgarian dishes, and special wine-tasting sessions. Read more about the hotel here.
About 15 km from the city of Varna, near the beautiful Black Sea area, this monastery is a famous cave monastery on the Black Sea Coast, about 2 km from the Golden sands resort. The premises date back to medieval times.
Several ghost stories and mystic legends are mysterious, enchanting, and part of the atmosphere in Aladzha. Carved and arranged in two different levels connected with an external staircase, the complex includes a temple, monastic cells, a refectory, a kitchen, and a cemetery church.
Where To Stay In The Area
Hotel Amfora is located about 6 km from the monastery, in the resort area of Varna, and 5.5 km from the city center; it offers accommodation with a balcony and sea view. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant, and free parking—more information here.