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Ilien Monastery “St. Prophet Ilia”


The Ilien Monastery, known as “St. Prophet Elijah,” stands within Sofia’s Ilientsi district at Petunia St. 13. Its origins spark debate, with some sources suggesting its foundation in the 12th century, while others propose a timeline in the late 16th or early 17th centuries. Evidence from recovered artifacts, dating back to antiquity, indicates the possibility of a preexisting pagan temple in this location. The church’s structure now retains solely its eastern section from the original monastery.

The monastery’s church has unveiled a historical treasure trove through its layers of wall paintings from various periods. Initial adornment, dated to the 16th-17th century, mirrors the stylistic and thematic essence of neighboring Sofia region churches, notably resembling the influence of Pimen Zograf in works found in Kurilovsky, Seslav, and Eleshnish monasteries. The church underwent expansion in the late 17th century, marking a subsequent phase of iconography. The third stratum of frescoes, attributed to 1832, showcases a departure towards realism in depictions, often credited to Toma Vishanov from the Ban School, recognized for his contributions to the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin Mary in the Rila Monastery.

Presently, the original church functions as a museum, while an active chapel stands within one of the monastery’s buildings. Unlike its historical monastic past, the Ilien Monastery “St. Prophet Elijah” is currently under secular maintenance and does not house monks.

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