Monasteries in Bulgaria : Our Top 10 To Explore

Bulgarian Monasteries

The religious is an important part of the identity of Bulgaria. And for proof, there are approximately 210 monasteries in the country. It is impossible to go in Bulgaria without exploring some of them. All unique from each other, find below our 10 favorites.

Rila Monastery (Rila Mountains area)

We cannot start this article without mention as the first of all, one of the most famous monasteries and the most impressive, Rila Monastery. Located about 120 km away from Sofia, in the heart of the Rila Mountains, Rila Monastery is also the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria for 1000 years. Founded in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila, this gorgeous monastery is one of the most important cultural monuments of Bulgaria, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1983. Rila Monastery’s fortress-like complex engulfs 8800 sq m, and within its stone walls you’ll find remarkably colourful architecture and religious art. The Murals of the monastery’s main church, the Church of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Mary, are the beautiful and impressive work of the most famous icon-painters of the 19th century. The monastery has also its own library, with about 250 manuscript books from 11th – 19th century, 9000 old-printed books and manuscripts. There is also a Ecclesiastical and Historical Museum (every day, 8:30am – 4:30pm) located in the monastery which proposes a rich collections of icons, cultural and ethnographical items, historical collection of 35 000 exponents, wood-carvings, and many others things; It’s better to arrive very early, before 10:00am to have a quite visit your visit. Later, the place fills with lot of tourists. Most travellers visit Rila Monastery on a day trip, but you can stay at the Monastery which offers some places to stay. Do no wait anymore to discover this Bulgarian treasure. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Bachkovo Monastery (Plovdiv area)

Second biggest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila Monastery, the Bachkovo Monastery is located at only 30km south of Plovdiv, the second Bulgarian city and the European capital of culture for 2019, next to the town of Asenovgrad, on the densely forested northern edge of the Rhodope Mountains. Built in 1803 by Georgian Gregory Pakourianos, commander of the Western armies of the Byzantine emperor Alexis I Comnenus, the monastery initially only welcomed monks from Georgia. The monastery was one of the turning points in relations between Georgia and Byzantium. Great religious and epistolary center of its time, the monastery had a library that contributed to make it famous. It kept old Georgian, Byzantine and Bulgarian books. Among the most valuable are a Sticherarion (musical Byzantine manuscript) of the XIII century and a sumptuous Georgian homilary of the XIV or XV century (preserved today in the Georgian Academy of Sciences). The Bachkovo monastery has four churches : two of them in the main courtyard (the Assumption and the Holy Archangels), one in the enclosure on the right dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and the funerary church (the Ossuary), distant from the monastery. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Sokolski Monastery (Gabrovo area)

Sokolski Monastery
@madamebulgaria – Sokolski Monastery

OMG, this monastery is so cute and quiet! Located among the northern slopes of the Shipka-Teteven part of the Balkan Mountain, we discovered this monastery just before visiting the Etar Complex, located in the same area. The Sokolski Monastery of the Assumption is situated in a beautiful place called “Sokola”, 220 km eastern of Sofia, 15 km southeast of Gabrovo. Surrounded by the high peaks and the green, dank forests, the monastery is overwhelming with its beautiful views. Very calm and quiet, Sokolski Monastery was founded in 1833, with donations from the residents of Gabrovo and Bulgaria emigrants. It is situated on two levels, which is an exception. Its founder was Archimandrite Yosif Sokolski, later to be known as Archbishop Sokolski during the struggler for church autonomy. This monastery was the refuge for revolutionaries against the Ottoman rule. The monastery is composed of buildings surrounding a flowerful courtyard. In the courtyard, the Fountain with eight spouts will not leave you indifferent, one of the most interesting things to see in the monastery, built in 1868 by the famous Kolyu Ficheto. You can reach there hands and drink its water, very refreshing in hot weather period. But, the most beautiful monument of the Sokolski Monastery is for me, definitely, the little and so cute church, called the Assumption Church. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Troyan Monastery (Lovetch area)

Third biggest monastery in Bulgaria and the largest Orthodox monastery in the Balkan Mountains, the Troyan Monastery “Holy Mother’s Assumption” is situated 10 km south-east of the town of Troyan, in the province of Lovech, at the foot of the Tchukarka slope. The origins of this monastery date back to 1600 when a monk and his disciple settled there. The place offers an impressive architectural complex and really deserves a stop there. The icon of the Troyan Monastery is considered by the faithful as miraculous. Representing Saint Mary with the baby Jesus, she is still called the icon of the Holy Mary with 3 hands, because of a hand cut at the bottom of the drawing, that of St. John of Damascus. The Troyan Monastery is very visited, especially in summer. It offers also many rooms with basic comfort with the possibility of restoration. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Monastery of the Transfiguration (Veliko Tarnovo area)

Among the to do list of monasteries - Monastery of the Transfiguration
@Madamebulgaria – Monastery of the Transfiguration

When you visit the town of Veliko Tarnovo, the Monastery of the Transfiguration or Preobrazhenski Monastery is an undeniable stop. Located at 6 km from the older Bulgarian Capital, the Monastery is the largest monastery of Veliko Tarnovo area and the fourth largest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila, Batchkovo and Troyan Monasteries. It is also one of the oldest and one of our best ones. It is a very cute monastery, on a slightly sloping terrain at the foot of a cliff. It has a beautiful view on an other monastery, the Patriarchal Holy Trinity Monastery, located on the other side of the canyon. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Glozhene Monastery (Balkan area)

The Glozhene monastery is unique in his kind because of his area. In fact, he is situated on a rock in the western part of the Balkan Mountain range, near the villages Glozhene and Malak Izvor. Founded by the Ukrainian Prince Grigori Gloj in the 13th century, the monastery has a turbulent and mysterious history. The legends tell how the icon constantly disappeared from the holy cloister. Found later by the monks on a hill near the village where the present day monastery is situated, they interpreted those mystique disappearances of the icon as a sign of God. This is for this reason they built a new monastery on the hills where it lies today. Actually, two monasteries (in the village and on the hill) have existed for a short period of time in parallel and they were connected with a tunnel, carved into a rock. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Rozhen Monastery (Melnik area)

Monastery of the Transfiguration - Rohzen Monastery
@Madamebulgaria – Rozhen Monastery

The Rozhen Monastery is located 1 km from the village of Rozhen, and 7 km from the town of Melnik. Accessible by car and on foot through an eco-trail, it is the largest Orthodox monastery in the Pirin region and a nice place to visit in the same time-day as Melnik. Dominated by the pyramids of Melnik, the entire monastery complex is prized as a monument of Bulgarian culture. For the story, the Rozhen Monastery of the Birth of the Holy Virgin Mary won its fame as a center of spiritual life of the region. First built in 1217, it was largely reconstructed in the late 16th century after a fire. Its most significant building, the Nativity of the Virgin Church (1600), contains stained-glass windows, 200-year-old murals (depicting 150 Biblical scenes), woodcarvings and iconostases, with the icon of the Virgin its main focus for pilgrims. The monastery is well preserved and many tourists from different countries explore it every year. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Basarbovo Rock Monastery (Ruse area)

The Basarbovo monastery is located in the Rusenski Lom River Valley, near the village of Basarbovo, 10 km from Ruse in the northeastern of Bulgaria. Founded during the existence of the Second Bulgarian Empire, this monastery is the only rock monastery still working in the Bulgarian country.After ascending 48 steps you reach a rocky platform sheltering the niche where according to legend Saint Dimitriy, the most famous inhabitant of the monastery who spent his entire life in the holy monastery was sleeping. To the left is a rocky church with carved wooden iconostasis made in 1941 and close to it, the great icon of the saint in full size. Another stone staircase leads to a natural cave where the monk Hrisant was buried, which gave the monastery a new life in 1937. The cave serves as an ossuary and also houses a museum exhibition. An untypical place to explore. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Aladzha Monastery (Black sea area) 

Situated at only 15km from Varna city, Aladzha Monastery, «colorful » in Persian-Arabic, is a national monument historic and the most famous medieval cave monastery on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It was inhabited by hermit monks during the XIII- XIV centuries. A legend told that Christ the Saviour was the patron saint of the Monastery. Aladzha Monastery offers unusual architectural forms being part of a comprehensive religious rock complex. There is no information about the time it was created. The premises of the Monastery are carved and arranged on 2 levels in a limestone rock that is almost 40 meters high: the Monastery temple, the monastic cells, a refectory and a kitchen, the cemetery church, a crypt and the entrance on first Level, a monastery chapel on the second level and a wooden staircase between. In some parts are exposed the original murals representing scenes of life. The monument was declared a national historic monument in 1912. Many legends about hidden treasures and ghosts of monks, wandering among the ruins, make the monastery a very well mysterious and mystical preserved place. In summer, prefer to visit on the morning to enjoy the freshness of the place and the few tourists, giving you the impression of discovering a treasure.

Dragalevtsi Monastery (Sofia area)

Located on the lower slopes of Vitosha Mountain, on the outskirts of Sofia the Bulgarian capital, the Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Mother of God in Vitosha is a Bulgarian Orthodox monastery. This still working monastery is probably the oldest of its kind in Bulgaria. Within the fabulous Vitosha National Park, the place is not especially easy to be found. Built in the middle of the 14th century but abandoned only 40 years later. The monastery has colorful murals. It would have been one of the hiding places of the ubiquitous anti-Turkish rebel leader, Vasil Levski. Among the to do list of monasteries.

Marie Pietrzak

Founder & Editorial Director

Marie is the founder of Madame Bulgaria. She fell in love with Bulgaria when she came for the first time for a weekend in 2012.

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