The Rila monastery lies in the very Rila mountain, at 1,147 meters above sea level. It is situated 117km away from Sofia to the south.
The monastery is believed to have been founded by a hermit, John of Rila, in the 10th century, during the reign of the Bulgarian Tzar Peter (927-968). St John of Rila, whose relics are exhibited for pilgrims in the main church, in fact lived in a cave about half-an-hour walk away from the present-day monastery complex. The monastery itself is considered to have been built by his scholars, who came to the place to be taught by him.
Similarly to other Bulgarian monasteries that survived during Ottoman times, the Rila monastery has acted as a centre of spiritual and cultural life for the Bulgarian nation during the foreign rule. During that time, the monks created new works and made copies of medival Bulgarian authors, representing mainly the Turnovo and Mount Athos schools.
The monastery was declared a national historical monument in 1976, while in 1983 it was inscribed in UNESCO’s list of world heritage.