The gorgeous and spiritual Rila Monastery, founded in the 10th century, encapsulates the spirit of Bulgaria. It is said to be one of the most iconic images of the country. Indeed, I was blown away by the impressive architecture of the place and the vivid, intricate frescoes. Until today, the monastery serves as a sanctuary for monks, hence the tranquility and sacred feelings. Be aware that you will not be allowed to enter the monastery if you wear revealing clothes, so remember to cover your shoulders and knees while visiting.
I have recently found out that you can spend the night at the monastery and enjoy the serenity of the place after dawn. It must be an enlightening and peaceful experience, and I would love to come back one day to try myself.
One of my favorite churches in Bulgaria was the Boyana Church, located on the outskirts of Sofia. As an art history student, I was eager to examine some of the finest examples of Bulgarian medieval art in the church. On the contrary to the humble exterior architecture, the interior walls were decorated with various frescoes dating from the 11th to 17th centuries. It was exciting to see the artworks from such a close distance. Plus, a limited number of visitors were allowed to visit every 10 minutes in order to protect the fragile frescoes - the experience was very comfortable as the space was not busy.
My visit was satisfying largely thanks to the local English-speaking volunteer guide, who was a former art history professor. He enthusiastically explained in detail to us the stories behind the most important artworks. He was really passionate about their technical details and expressed his great admiration for the talent of their creators. The visit to the church was a wonderful learning experience I would never forget.
Apart from the above sights, which are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, another religious attraction worth visiting is the Saint Alexandar Nevski Cathedral near the center of Sofia. The most dominant feature of the cathedral is the golden roofs - their beauty can be spotted from a far distance as they sparkle under sunshine. Inside the cathedral, many pickpockets target foreign tourists so be aware when you see gypsies around.