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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

Neophyte Rilski - patriarch of Bulgarian teachers and writers

Patriarch of Bulgarian teachers and writers

This is the definition that the author of the first academic work on the history of Bulgaria, the Czech historian and Bulgarian politician Konstantin Ireček, used to personify the great work of Hieromonk Neofit Rilski.

Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the city of Bansko
Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the city of Bansko

The year is 1793, the place is the city of Bansko, and this is the house in which Nikola Poppetrov Benin (the real name of Neofit Rilski) was born.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko
Benina house

There is also another hypothesis, namely that Neophyte Rilski was actually born three years earlier in the village of Banya (at the time it was called Gulyina Banya), Razlozhko, which is located about 5 kilometers northeast of the city of Bansko.

Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the village of Banya, Razlozhko
Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the village of Banya, Razlozhko

On a wonderful summer day with a lot of sun and an adventurous mood, here I am in Bansko - I am excited to enter the doors of the birthplace of this ordinary Rila hieromonk.

The Benina house, as it is also known, has a characteristic architecture, typical of the revival houses built in the 18th to 19th centuries in Bansko - with thick stone walls, high walls and battlements in the walls, i.e. a family house-fortress.

It has been declared an architectural-building and historical cultural monument of national importance.

I advise you to listen to the great talk that the curators of this wonderful place give to their guests.

In addition to exploring the entire house-museum with great interest, with a great deal of childlike curiosity, my son and I snuck through its secret corridors.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

I observe the huge veranda bathed in the midday sun - an architectural element, typical mostly of the old houses in Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia, which is a projecting and open to the inner garden space, formed on the second residential floor. It is similar to a terrace, but unlike it, it is covered on top, and quite often on the sides, i.e. has one or at most two sides open.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Do you see the typical terrace that connected the house with the farm part, which is called a hut*? It offers a fabulous view of the majestic Pirin and its ash-gray ridges, on which even in July the snow likes to bask in the sun.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

*Hut was the name of the outbuilding connected to the house for living, where the animals were kept. This building currently houses a rich and very interesting documentary-informational and photo exhibition, revealing in chronological order the exceptional patriotism, educational and public service activity of Hieromonk Neofit Rilski with his encyclopedic activities and interests.

Important exhibits: "Bulgarian Grammar" from 1835, parts of a Greek-Bulgarian dictionary, books from his personal library, many letters of correspondence and rich photographic material.

In 1981, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Neofit Rilski, the Beninita house was turned into a museum.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Nikola's father is Pope Peter from the family of Beninovtsi - a wealthy trading family from Bansko.

Peter Benin was born around 1772 and was a priest and the first cell teacher in Bansko.

It came under the influence of Paisii Hilendarski's "Slavic Bulgarian History".

His daughter Sofia married Velyan Ognenov.

Pop Peter died around 1844.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Nikola's mother is Katerina.

His mother's family came from a well-to-do bourgeoisie, which at that time developed a serious trade related to cotton from Dramsko and Siarsko with Serbia and Austria. From his mother's side are also his cousins, Mikhail German and Marko Georgievich, who achieved fame as Serbian diplomats during the time of Miloša Obrenović.

Nikola's grandfather was the abbot of the Rila Holy Monastery Theodosius I of Rila.

In the former stable for the domestic animals of the Beninata house, the genealogical tree of the family is depicted. The artist Todor Tsonev painted the young Nicholas with his mother, presbyter Katerina, on his left and his father, Pope Peter, on his right.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

The cell school was housed on the second floor of Beninata House. There the alert young man received his first education and his teacher was his father - Pope Peter.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

On this floor there are three more rooms – a living room, called by the locals kashchi with the functions of a kitchen, dining room and bedroom, a room for the woman and a room of Pope Peter, where he sought privacy for prayer and also received guests.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

The lower floor once housed a flour mill and a bread bakery, which featured the unusual double oven for the area. Here is also the exit to the secret hiding place, which goes around the four walls of the house.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

All houses of this type - real family fortresses - had built hiding places - underground and above ground. The four outer sides of the masonry are covered by another belt, and the space between them forms a cache with several exits from the house to it and from it to the outside.

I also went through the hiding place, which has a narrow tunnel that leads out from the other side of Benin's house.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Young Nikola is a close friend of Dimitar Molerov, whose father is the painter Toma Vishanov Molera, the founder of the Ban School of Painting. When Dimitar left for the Rila Holy Monastery to study as an icon painter, Nikola went with him.

Nicholas was deeply impressed and forever captivated, getting acquainted with the huge library of the monastery and instantly he had a desire for education. Years of hard and constant work followed. The young talent studied Greek and Church Slavonic languages, as well as Church Slavonic grammar.

Nicholas became a novice under Prohigumen Hierotei of Rila, who made him a monk, giving him the monastic name Neophyte.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

After accepting monasticism, Neophyte was sent to continue his education in Melnik, known in those years for its famous Greek school, celebrated throughout Macedonia at that time. Here, in the period from 1822 to 1826, he studied under the Vlach daskal Adam Zapekos from Metsovo and mastered the taught material very well. He also studied in Veles, after which he became a teacher and preacher in the Rila Monastery. Here he continues to self-educate constantly and systematically, which is why he is considered one of the most cultured and capable monks.

Meanwhile, in 1824, Dr. Petar Beron published his famous Riben primer, with which he introduced the first and most significant reform in the case of Bulgarian school education. But the proper conditions for introducing the new reforms, and also a teacher to carry them out, are not yet available.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

In the period from 1827 to 1831, with several short interruptions, at the invitation of Metropolitan Ignatius**, Neofit became a teacher in Samokov, and for some time was his personal secretary.

**Ignatius (Greek: Ιγνάτιος, Ignatios) is a Greek cleric, Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On June 19, 1829, Ignatius was ordained metropolitan of the Samokov Diocese. Ignatius was not well received in his diocese, as he was Greek, and the discontent of Samokovci was also increased by the abuses of Ignatius. In 1836, he was elected Metropolitan of Arta, but the election was annulled on October 20, 1836, and Ignatius remained Metropolitan of Samokov. On November 16, 1837, he was dismissed and exiled to Trebizond.

He died in Constantinople on March 10, 1852 as a result of pericarditis.

His student and later a very close friend was Zachary Zograf. The young icon painter and artist accepted his teacher as his spiritual guide and adviser. He compares his work with that of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius and calls him the torch of our darkness, a man through whom the well-being of the entire Bulgarian people came.

The two maintained an active correspondence, which is a valuable biographical source, until the very early death of Zachary Zograf in June 1853.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Returning again to the Rila Holy Monastery, Neophyte taught until 1833, when part of the monastery burned down, attacked by robbers. Then he and several other monks were sent to the patriarch to obtain permission for the restoration of the church to the monastery, as well as to collect aid. The mission was crowned with success and the Sultan issued a firman for the construction of a new church dated November 10, 1833.

In the same year, Neophyte became a priest at the metoch in Kazanlak. There he met the metropolitan of Tarnovo, who, at the insistence of Vasil Aprilov, sent him to Bucharest to study the allilodidactic method in the Greek school there, where he learned the mutual learning method and mutual learning tables.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Vasil Aprilov assigned Neofit Rilski the difficult task of creating textbooks for the mutual school under construction in Gabrovo - the future Aprilov High School - the first secular school on Bulgarian lands, which opened its doors in 1835.

While in Romania, the ordinary Rila hieromonk prepared the first Bulgarian grammar in literary Bulgarian.

In 1834, Neophyte returned from Romania and began teaching in Gabrovo, at the same time making the first successful translation of the New Testament into the Bulgarian language.

As a teacher, hieromonk Neofit Rilski started new reforms in the school activity by shaping and preparing new school teaching aids, which he published: "Mutual educational tables" (1835), "Primer extracted from the mutual educational tables" (1835), "Sveschennii kortii catechism" (1835), "Brief and clear exposition... of the Greek language" (1835), "Bulgarian grammar" (1835) and "Krasnopisani" (1837).

Of great importance for these reforms are the Mutual Learning Tables prepared by Neophyte, which were studied for up to two years. The main subjects in them were reading, writing and arithmetic, but interspersed in such a way that material was also taken from other subjects.

In its first edition, these tables were 66 in number, and in their third edition, published in 1859, they became 72. They are the new, but not the most essential, in Neofit's work. His zeal to establish known norms for the study of the Bulgarian language at school is particularly important. A neophyte did not allow learning a foreign language before mastering the mother tongue well. He also did not allow new subject matter to be taught before the old one was mastered.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

In 1836, the residents of Bansko sent a letter to their compatriot asking him to send them a bell for the "Holy Trinity" church. He satisfies this desire of theirs.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

In the same year, the ordinary Rila hieromonk created the first Bulgarian globe, called Globus*** of Neofit Rila.

***It was made by Neofit Rilski in Gabrovo in 1836. It is kept in the museum of the Rila Monastery.

Neophyte Rilski used the globe during his teaching in Gabrovo, from 1837 to 1839 in Koprivshtitsa and in 1839-1846 in the Rila Monastery.

The strokes along the outline of the coasts, the grid, the rivers and the geographical names and concepts are drawn in black ink. Only the demarcation lines between the continents are in colored ink. The width of these stripes is 2 to 3 mm. Brown is used around Australia and Oceania, Asia red, Europe and between Europe and Asia blue green. This method was borrowed from the Greek geography textbooks. Relief and other geographical elements are not represented.

The continents of Africa, Australia and North America are particularly faithfully represented. The largest islands and rivers of the planet are plotted - Nile, Amazon, Yellow River, Yangtze, Mississippi, Volga, Don, Ob, Yenisei, Lena, Indigirka, Parana.

Some parts are misrepresented. The Iberian Peninsula, the Bay of Biscay, the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Caspian Sea and the California Peninsula are large in size. The Balkan Peninsula, the Scandinavian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and the northeastern parts of South America are incorrectly represented.

Because he did not get along well with the teachers and students in Gabrovo, he left and became a teacher in Koprivshtitsa.

Grade school "St. St. Cyril and Methodius" in the city of Koprivshtitsa, built in 1837
Grade school "St. St. Cyril and Methodius" in the city of Koprivshtitsa, built in 1837

Преподава в тази сграда на красивото подбалканско селище две години, защото копривщенските първенци го принуждават да напусне и да се завърне отново в Рилската духовна обител.

Междувременно до него достигат писма от различни селища на поробена България. Всички горят от желание да отиде при тях, за да ги просвети, а Неофит винаги е отзивчив, внимателен и мъдър наставник, опитен и неуморим педагог. Най-настоятелни обаче са старозагорци. Те пишат писмо след писмо – прочувствени, завладяващи. Неофит не устоява на трогателните молби и скланя. През април 1846 година той отива в Стара Загора, но за кратко – лошите условия в училището не му дават възможност за нормална педагогическа дейност и го принуждават да се върне отново в Рилския манастир.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

In 1848, he was invited to take over the department of Slavic languages at the Theological School on the island of Halki. He spent four years there and compiled a Slavic-Greek dictionary for teaching purposes. The dictionary was printed in Constantinople under the title "Christomathy in the Slavic language." Today, 160 years later, this work is still in use.

In 1852, the Neophyte returned to the Rila Monastery again, where, despite invitations to work as a teacher and rector of the planned seminary, he remained until the end of his life.

In 1858, there was an offer from the residents of Tarnów for Neophyte to become the rector of the seminary designed by them, but after assessing his strengths, he refused.

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

From 1860 to 1864 he served as abbot of the Rila Monastery.

Book work absorbs Neophyte and he lives exclusively with it.

In 1875, his "Dictionary of the Bulgarian language, interpreted from Church Slavonic and Greek" was published, and in 1879 - "Description of the Bulgarian Holy Monastery of Rilska".

Neophyte of Rila died on January 4, 1881, at the age of 88, in the Rila monastery. He was buried next to the church and his grave can still be visited today.

I am not afraid of death itself, but I am afraid of the fact that many things will remain unfinished, which are necessary for the enlightenment of the Bulgarians.

Neophyte Rilski

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko

Neophyte Rilski is among those actors of the Bulgarian revival who amaze us with their comprehensive interests, with their endless hard work and self-denial, with their high morality and uncompromisingness. A person who devoted his mental and creative energies for nearly seventy years to a highly noble cause...

The image of the Neophyte man has not lost its charm to this day. He is typical in many respects of the moral and ethical character of the Renaissance Enlightener, who disregards all personal for the sake of the cause of the nation.

In the annals of our national culture, the ordinary Rila hieromonk entered with the highest title of the church hierarchy - patriarch. "Patriarch of Bulgarian teachers and pedagogues", as the great researcher of Bulgarian history K. Irechek called him

Prof. Dr. Rumyana Radkova

Bulgarian historian, corresponding member of the BAS

How to get to the city of Bansko?

Bansko is a city in Southwestern Bulgaria, the administrative center of Bansko municipality, Blagoevgrad district.

Bansko is located at the foot of the Northern Pirin at 927 meters above sea level. It is 56 kilometers from the regional town (about 56 minutes by car).

The Glazne River flows through Bansko.

The climate in the area is mountainous and allows the retention of the snow cover from December to April, and the alpine character of Pirin Mountain provides excellent conditions for professional and amateur skiing.

Bansko is a stop on the Septemvri - Dobrinishte narrow gauge railway route.

Bansko stands at:

  • 156 kilometers (about 1 hour and 51 minutes by car) from the capital

  • 146 kilometers (about 2 hours and 30 minutes by car) from the city of Plovdiv

  • 512 kilometers (about 6 hours and 23 minutes by car) from the city of Varna

  • 396 kilometers (about 4 hours and 30 minutes by car) from the city of Burgas

How do you get to the house-museum "Neofit Rilski"?

House-museum "Neofit Rilski", also known as Beninata house, is located in the very center of the Old Town in Bansko in the historical architectural ensemble "Sveta Troitsa".

The doors of the Beninata house are located directly opposite the revival fountain from 1842, built near the side entrance of one of the most remarkable churches in Bulgaria from the second half of the 19th century and a cultural monument - the Bulgarian Christian church "Holy Trinity".

House-museum "Neofit Rilski" in the city of Bansko is site number 1 of the 100 national tourist sites of Bulgaria.

What can be visited nearby?

Bansko is an amazing city, full of history, immense beauty and magnificent sights!

In Bansko I recommend:

  • to walk the old narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town

  • to walk Gotse Delchev Street

  • to take a picture in front of the city's sundial

  • to look at the stone pages of the "Slavic Bulgarian History" unfolded around the monument of Paisius

  • to sit in the shade under the majestic crown of the ancient tree

  • to learn the history of Khachkar monument

  • to hear the bells of the bell tower of the Holy Trinity Church

  • to take a sip of fresh Pirin water from the numerous stone fountains of the Old Town

  • to visit the temple "St. Venerable Paisius Hilendarsky"

  • to breathe in the aroma of the blooming roses in the courtyard of the Velyanova house

  • take a look at the museum complex "Nikola Vaptsarov"

  • to honor Vaptsarov's poems in front of his monument and on the square bearing his name

  • to visit the poet's native house

  • to see the accurately recreated cell of Paisius in the spiritual-historical center "St. Paisius Hilendarski"

  • to enjoy amazing panoramas towards Pirin from the panoramic platform of Bansko

In Bansko there is the Bansko Gondola.

Bansko cable car
Bansko cable car

The most popular ski resort in Bulgaria - Bansko has comfortable and safe lifts that guests of the city can use all year round.

At the disposal of the residents and guests of the resort are two six-seater, six four-seater, two two-seater lifts and one cabin lift, which is also the most attractive and preferred lift in the city.

The cabin ropeway "Bansko - Banderishka Polyana" has a route length of 6,233 meters, which ranks it in second* place in length.

*The championship is held by the Simeonovska ropeway on Vitosha, which has a track length of 6720 meters.

The gondola, as the Bansko gondola lift is also called, was manufactured by the Austrian company Doppelmayr in 2002 (today's Austrian-Swiss company Doppelmayr-Garaventa) and was put into operation in 2003.

Bansko cable car
Bansko cable car

The route through which the lift passes has a height difference of 597 meters, and the capacity of the facility is about 2,000 people per hour.

There are three stations on the eight local Bansko cable car - lower (initial), intermediate and upper (end).

The lower (starting) station is located at 998 meters above sea level and is about 2.5 kilometers from the center of Bansko.

At the lower station of the lift, there are also the cash desks, from which tickets and cards for using the lift can be purchased.

The intermediate station is located in the area of Chalin Valog at 1468 meters above sea level.

Here, tourists have two options – either get off the lift to walk and descend the slopes of Chalin Valog, or continue to the upper station of the lift.

The last part of the cable car route starts from the intermediate station "Chalin Valog" to Banderishka Polyana.

Banderishka meadow in Pirin
Banderishka meadow in Pirin

The Banderishka Polyana area, where the upper (end) lift station is located, is one of the most attractive places for summer and winter tourism in the Pirin Mountains.

How do you get to the Bansko Gondola?

Very close, only 5 kilometers north of Bansko (about 8 minutes by car), you will find the village of Banya, Razlozhko - the richest village in mineral springs in Bulgaria!

Banya village, Razlozhko
Banya village, Razlozhko

In the village of Banya, you can visit the Old Bulgarian Bath, built in the Roman style.

The old Bulgarian bathhouse in the village of Banya, Razlozhko
The old Bulgarian bathhouse in the village of Banya, Razlozhko

In the village of Banya, you can explore the old Turkish Murtina bath (Ottoman hammam).

Murtina bath (Ottoman hammam) in the village of Banya, Razlozhko
Murtina bath (Ottoman hammam) in the village of Banya, Razlozhko

In the village of Banya you can see the monument of Neofit Rilski.

Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the village of Banya, Razlozhko
Monument to Neophyte Rilski in the village of Banya, Razlozhko

8 kilometers east of the city of Bansko (about 9 minutes by car) is the charming jewel of Dobrinishte.

City of Dobrinishte
City of Dobrinishte

In Dobrinishte, I suggest you take another incomparable walk and visit the town's Balneolechebnitsa, next to which a wonderful and green park has been built.

The Church of St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul is exquisite, beautiful and I suggest you take a look at it during your walk.

Church "St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul" in Dobrinishte
Church "St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul" in Dobrinishte

The center of Dobrinishte is beautiful and offers tranquility, charm and beauty to its visitors.

The Dobrinishte Town Hall building
The Dobrinishte Town Hall building

Only 6 kilometers northwest of Bansko (about 10 minutes by car) is the wonderful Razlog.

The city of Razlog, photographed from the "Steps" panoramic platform
The city of Razlog, photographed from the "Steps" panoramic platform

In Razlog, I suggest you take the "Steps".

From the place you will have the magnificent opportunity to enjoy an amazing view of three mountains - the beautiful Pirin, the exquisite Rila and the proud Rhodopes.

The green, orderly, colorful, fresh and incredibly beautiful city park of Razlog is also a place you should not miss to visit.

A walk around the city will calm, amaze and impress you, so just do it.

Only 21 kilometers north of the city of Bansko (about 24 minutes by car) you will find the picturesque Rila village of Dobarsko. A walk here is an immense pleasure and you should not miss it!

Dobarsko village
Dobarsko village

In the village there is a unique national cultural monument - the Church of St. St. Theodore Tiron and Theodore Stratilatus in Dobno, which I think is too famous to invite you to visit it, because you probably already have.

The Dobar Church "St. St. Theodore Tiron and Theodore Stratilat"
The Dobar Church "St. St. Theodore Tiron and Theodore Stratilat"

And perhaps you are looking for attractions and daring entertainment?! If so, the bear park above Belitsa, nestled in the beautiful Rila forests, is just for you!

Just 20 kilometers northeast of the city of Bansko (about 24 minutes by car) is beautiful Belitsa.

City of Belitsa
City of Belitsa

About 12 kilometers northeast of the town of Belitsa (about 22 minutes by car) along a narrow and in some sections rather dusty road in the bottom forests of Rila, there is a bear park that I invite you to visit.

Certainly around the city of Bansko you can visit all the high-quality and very interesting sites, eco-paths, routes and places. I will advise you to take the road leading to Vihren hut.

At the side of the road, look around for a detour by the incredibly beautiful, fresh and impressively beautiful river Demyanitsa.

Demyanitsa is a river from the Mesta basin, which collects the waters of six lake groups - Vasilashki, Valyavishki, Prevalski, Tipitski, Kirkamski and Gazeiski lakes. Under the name Valyavitsa, it originates from the Valyavish Lakes at 2,400 meters above sea level. It initially flows west, but after passing through the Tiyatsite area, it heads straight north. Its catchment area is estimated at 37 sq. km. The average slope is 102 per mille, that is, for every kilometer of linear length, the river descends by more than one hundred meters. Near the Demyanitsa hut, it receives two large tributaries - the Vasilashka river on the left, and the Gazeiska river on the right. After that, two more rivers flow into it - Kirkamska on the left and Yulen on the right. This makes it a relatively full-water river with a flow rate of about 1.5 cubic meters per second.

Above Bansko Demyanitsa, it merges with the Bunderitsa river and the two together form the Glazne river. The total length of the Demyanitsa river to the confluence with Banderitsa is about 14 kilometers.

Here, enjoy it and feel the freshness of the mountain!

Just 14.5 kilometers south of Bansko (about 34 minutes by car) on the road winding through Pirin in the direction of Vihren hut, there is a strange and very, very old tree.

Tree of the years of Bulgaria!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Baykusheva mura!

Baikusheva Mura - 1300 years of history
Baikusheva Mura - 1300 years of history

And as a finale, my dear friends,

you shouldn't miss a look

the special album with photo moments –

discovered, experienced, captured and shared with you!

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