Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.
Outstanding Universal Value
In its complicated ten-century history the Rila monastery has been the hub of a strong spiritual and artistic influence over the Eastern Orthodox world during medieval times (11th-14th c.). Under Ottoman rule (1400-1878) the monastery influenced the development of the culture and the arts of all Christian nations within the Ottoman Empire. With its architecture, frescos etc. it represents a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people.
Architectural styles have been preserved on the property as historical monuments of considerable time span (11th-19th c.). The basic architectural appearance is now one of the peak examples of building craftsmanship of the Balkan peoples from the early 19th c. As such it has exerted considerable influence on architecture and aesthetics within the Balkan area.
Criterion (vi): Rila Monastery is considered a symbol of the 19th Century Bulgarian Renaissance which imparted Slavic values upon Rila in trying to reestablish an uninterrupted historic continuity.
There have been no substantial changes to the integrity of the property since its inscription on the World Heritage List. Planned conservation works, that also involve the medieval and renaissance wood-carving and mural paintings existing in associated churches and chapels of the monastery complex, are being pursued to ensure their proper preservation. Protecting the Monastery from 'force effects' is also of major significance. A series of permanent geological engineering observations are being pursued, with associated report recommendations for "ground-structure" strengthening. Based on these results, other preservation and restoration works will be determined. A development plan is being prepared, and this will propose improvements for the communication and technical infrastructure to assist in preserving the property.
Rila Monastery is the most important spiritual and literary center of the Bulgarian national revival, with an uninterrupted history from the Middle Ages until present times. Reconstruction work was required following a fire, and sections of the monastery, a new church and other structures date to the 18th century. The property fully endorses authenticity requirements regarding location, context, concept, usage, function and tradition, where the spirit and feeling of the site are also properly preserved.
Protection and management requirements (2010)
The management is carried out on the basis of:
- Religious Affairs Law - Property Law
- Cultural Heritage Law (Official Gazette No 19 of 2009), and the by-law normative act, regulates the research, studying, protection and promotion of the immovable cultural heritage in Bulgaria, and the development of Conservation and Management plans for its inscribed World Heritage List of immovable cultural properties.
- Legislative regimes for the preservation of the site and its buffer zone are in accordance, with a written statement from the 7.05.1992, of a Commission, appointed with an Order № RD-19-132/24.03.1992 of the Ministry of Culture. In addition to regulating the prohibitions, this also identifies allowed activities in the property and its buffer zone, and sets out the responsibilities of the interested parties, including the state, local institutions and owners.
- The Protected areas Law (Official Gazette No133 of 1998 with amendments) - National Park Rila; Natural Park "Rila Monastery"; Rila Monastery Forest, was proclaimed for natural reserve in 1986;
- Forest law (Official Gazette No125 of 1997 with amendments);
- Management plan of Nature Park "Rila Monastery" has been operational since 2003.
In order to maintain the proper conservation of the monastery, there is a need to implement the development plan of the property.
Rila Monastery, the oldest in the Slav world and still the largest active religious centre in Bulgaria, is first and foremost an exceptionally fine artistic complex, in which architecture and painting merge harmoniously. Apart from this, it has been for centuries the seat of the development, preservation, and diffusion of Slav religious culture in all its various manifestations, including literary and artistic, and it became the symbol of Bulgarian cultural identity that was continually threatened by Turkish domination.
The monastery stands about 120 km from Sofia, in the heart of the Rila Massif, located at the north-western extremity of the Rodopi Mountains, a mountainous system with peaks that rise to almost 3,000 m. In this area, which was still covered by forest in AD 876-946, lived the hermit Ivan Rilski (Saint John of Mila), the evangelizer of the Slavic peoples. He was responsible for the construction of the original nucleus of the coenobitic community, a short distance from the cave in which he lived as an anchorite; this nucleus was completely destroyed in the 13th century by fire.
A new building was constructed a few kilometres from the site of the first foundation, and it was completed in the 15th century thanks to the donations of Stefan Hrelyu, a powerful local prince who ordered in 1355 the construction of the tower that still bears his name and a church dedicated to John of Rila, who had in the meantime been canonized.
During the Ottoman Turkish domination of Bulgaria, the monastery took on the role of bulwark of national identity in the face of foreign occupation. It became a destination for pilgrimages from all over the Balkan region, especially after 1469, when the relics of the saint were brought there.
The complex continued to serve this function in the centuries that followed, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became one of the powerhouses of the Bulgarian Renaissance. This period is documented by the splendid cross that is still preserved in the museum of the monastery, executed and decorated with more than 100 biblical scenes by the monk Raphael, one of the leading figures of the movement.
The existing structures, with the exception of the Hrelyu Tower, date back to the 19th-century building project. They occupy a vast area which forms an irregular square, provided with two entrances, both decorated with frescoes. The building that surrounds it contains four chapels, a refectory and some 300 cells, a library and rooms for the guests of the monastery. The complex has an interior courtyard overlooked by three- and four-storey constructions, embellished by orders of arches set upon stone columns which unify their facades and form airy loggias. This is enlivened by the chromatic interplay between the white of the plaster and the red and black hues of the bricks.
The Hrelyu tower is a compact building 23 m high, square in plan. The highest of its five storeys contains a chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration and decorated by a series of frescoes that were done in the second half of the 14th century: in the nave are depicted stories of Saint John of Rila.
Of the building constructed in the 19th century, the most important is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, built in 1833 on the structure of the preceding building. This church houses a magnificent carved wooden iconostasis, executed in 1842 by Athanasios Taladuro of Thessalonica, and many frescoes.
The cultural heritage contained in the monastery is not limited to its buildings, but extends to the works of art and documents that constitute a priceless testimonial to Bulgarian civilization; they are chiefly to be found in the museum and in the library.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC