t is traditionally thought that the monastery was founded by the hermit St. John of Rila (Ivan Rilski), whose name it bears, during the rule of tsar Peter I (927 968). He actually lived in a cave not far from the monastery's location, while the complex was built by his students, who came to the mountains to receive their education.
Ever since its creation, the Rila Monastery has been supported and respected by the Bulgarian rulers. Large donations were made by almost every tsar of the Second Bulgarian Empire up until the Ottoman Conquest, making the monastery a cultural and spiritual centre of Bulgarian national consciousness and that reached its apogee from the 12th to the 14th century.
The mediaeval tower
The mediaeval tower
The Rila Monastery was reerected at its present place by a local feudal named Hrelyu Dragovola during the partition of the medieaval Bulgarian state. The oldest buildings in the complex date from this period - the tower Hrelyova kula (1334-1335) and a small church just next to it (1343). The bishop's throne and the rich-engraved gates of the monastery also belong to the time. However, the arrival of the Ottomans in the end of the 14th century was followed by numerous raids and a destruction of the monastery in the middle of the 15th century.
Thanks to donations by the Russian Orthodox Church and more precisely the Rossikon monastery of Mount Athos, the Rila Monastery was rebuilt in the end of the 15th century by three brothers from the region of Kyustendil, who moved John of Rila's relics into the complex.
The complex acted as a depositary of Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of foreign rule. Durign the time of the Bulgarian National Revival (18th-19th century), it was destroyed by fire in 1833 and then reconstructed between 1834 and 1862 with the help of wealthy Bulgarians from the whole country. The erection of the residential buildings began in 1816, while a bellfry was added to the Tower of Hrelyu in 1844. Neofit Rilski founded a school in the monastery during the period.
The monastery complex was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since 1991, it is entirely subordinate to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.