Rila is the highest mountain in Bulgaria and the Balkans and among the leaders throughout Eastern Europe. In addition, it is one of the top 10 highest mountains on the continent as a whole. Located in Southwestern Bulgaria, the highest point of Rila is Mount Musala, and it rises to 2,925 meters above sea level. The mountain occupies an area of about 2629 sq.km. Like a diamond in the rough, Rila looks more wild and raw than other mountains in Bulgaria, and its wildlife is extremely well preserved. Rila is distinguished by its alpine appearance.
The landscape in the higher parts of the mountain is shaped primarily by the action of glaciers, although today these are completely missing. Deep and shady valleys carved into the massive granite cliffs alternate with steep and inaccessible slopes and sharp ridges.
In some places the action of erosion has created impressive forms in the rocks. One of the most interesting places of this kind is the natural phenomenon of the Stob Pyramids near the village of Stob. With their reddish hues these strange-looking rocks are an attractive spot for photographers.
Most of the territory of Rila Mountain is covered with thick and impenetrable forests. In low-lying areas are found mostly deciduous trees, especially beech. In higher altitudes the conifer species of trees are dominant.
The most common of them are white fir, black and white pine, spruce and others. The upper limit of the coniferous forests reaches to about 2000 meters on averaged. After this imaginary line, gradually the fragrant forests give way to inaccessible rocky cliffs and cool mountain meadows.
Here you will find a variety of interesting mountain plants, and if you are lucky, you will come across one of the most beautiful mountain flowers in the world – the small edelweiss, an amazing flower that has become one of the symbols of Bulgaria.
Rila is home to perhaps the most impressive variety of large mammals in the country. Bears, wolves, jackals, foxes, badgers, deer, wild boars and mountain goats are the most typical representatives of the animal kingdom in the area.
Rila has huge water resources and outstanding water power potential. It is not accident that the meaning of its name is “water mountain”. The sources of a large number of Bulgarian rivers, including the two longest rivers in the country – Maritza and Iskar, can be traced to the high-lying parts of Rila.
Cold freshwater streams descend through the jagged rocks of the mountain. Merging with one another, they form larger and larger fast-flowing rivers that seem in a hurry to reach the foot of the mountain.
In Rila there is a large number of glacial lakes with cold cristal waters. The most famous are the Seven Rila Lakes, which are situated more than 2100 meters above sea level. Less known but also very beautiful are the Marichini lakes, which are located in a picturesque cirque and are surrounded by steep rocks.
The lush and beautiful scenery of the mountain is one of the reasons for the creation of a number of reserves (Ibar, Parangalitsa, Skakavica and Central Rila Reserve), natural parks (Natural Park Rila Monastery), and, of course, the spectacular Rila National Park, which, with its area of 81,046 hectares, is the largest national park in Bulgaria.
Though Rila can not compete other mountains such as the Rhodopes as a number of historic settlements, this place is an important center of Christianity in the country.
The cultural aspect of this majestic mountain is to a large extent determined by the Rila Monastery (the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila). It is no secret that this is one of the most important landmarks in Bulgaria and is under the auspices of UNESCO.
This masterpiece created by human hands has preserved the Bulgarian culture and traditions through the long centuries of Ottoman rule.