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Published: September 26th 2008
OK day 1 Sofia wasn't really spent in Sofia, but instead about 120 kms south in the Rila Mountains at the 'Jerusalem' of Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery.
3 of us piled into a taxi for the 4 hour round trip on a grey morning, but as we drove out of Sofia and headed south the sun came out, well for a while before the mountain fog closed in. One minute you are enjoying the countryside in sunshine then you crest a hill and you can barely see the road. Luckily that didn't last and after an hour or so we could see the Rila Mountains rising in the distance.
The drive up to the Monastry is through heavily forested hills - Autumn is on it's way, but it hasn't made it to Rila yet so the trees were still in full greenery and when the sun shone through them it was gorgeous. The Monastry is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was established in the 10th Century by St John of Rila (previously Ivan Rilsky) who decided to live as a hermit to achieve 'spiritual perfection' and to protest against the way the church was being run. Having seen
the site of the Monastery, I can see why he claimed the valley - it's a beautiful site. Apparently this guy survived without anything, living in a cave, foraging while 'resisting evil' - way too hard core for me, one who needs 2 sleeping bags to keep me warm in Sofia (it got cold!).
Anyway the Monastary itself is built around a central courtyard containing the main church 'The Nativity of the Virgin' which is covered inside and out with frescos depicting Judgement Day - very cheery stuff - lot's of demons running around there. There are other things depicted, but the demon one's were most interesting as there aren't many churches which seem to be primarily focused on the hell aspect of religion - usually they just want to show the good heaven stuff!
As with most of these old places there is a history of invaders, burning and pillaging and a fire in the early 1800s took out all of the previous Monastery except for the Tower of Hrelyu. It was however rebuilt and is now one of the holiest places in Bulgaria and continues as a living, breathing place of study and worship with lots
The subject which most occupied their minds ... guilty conscience?
of black robed orthodox priests running (well walking) around.
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