The Madara Rider
is the symbol of the Bulgarian nation. An image of it can be found on the back of most of its coins for example. The relief carved into a cliff at an elevation of 23m is seen as the climax of pagan Bulgarian art. It shows a rider on a horse, attacking a lion with his spear. A dog walks behind the rider. Next to it are 3 inscriptions in Greek that refer to the Bulgarian rulers of the 8th and 9th centuries.
Cliff face with the Madara Rider
Madara lies an hour away from the Black Sea coast in Varna, where we started this day. "We" is the WH Travellers community, gathered for its annual meeting: 15 people from 10 countries and 3 continents. We travel for two days with rental cars through north-eastern Bulgaria, with the aim of visiting 4 World Heritage sites plus a few tentative sites.
After a pleasant start of the day in nearby Pobiti
TWHS, we were in Madara before 10.30 am. Given the status of the site, one would expect a spacious terrain and buses with tourists. But it does not even have a parking lot: just dump your car by the side of the road. There are a few souvenir shops however and – after worrying beforehand and bringing our own snacks for lunch - we counted 3 restaurants to serve lunch.
To get to the relief with the rider, you have to tackle a stone staircase with more than 200 steps. And then you suddenly find yourself in an open space: the horseman is chiselled over 20 meters above your head. There is an unsightly scaffolding underneath, perhaps it has to do with maintenance work. But looking at the rust spots, it has been standing there for a long time already. The scaffolding platform hasn’t been mentioned by one of the previous reviewers or shown in pictures that I know of the site – I am wondering whether it is a recent addition.
You cannot get closer to the Rider than this. With the naked eye only the rider on his horse and the dog running behind them can be clearly seen. The inscriptions for example I only saw after blowing up the pictures on my camera. The visitor experience is so underwhelming that it is hard to spend even 10 minutes here. There is only one angle from where to look at the image – that’s why all photos of it look the same.
The long flight of stairs
When you are tired of the Rider, there are a few other things that you can go and see in this protected area (these are outside the core zone by the way): to the left a trail goes up steeply to an old fortress. Some travel companions who climbed all the way up reported a tough climb and a not too special view. To the right the path is a bit easier and more interesting, ending at two caves and a chapel. The long flight of stairs also is of a certain interest to WH travellers, as it is part of the narrow core zone together with the cliff face that sports the relief. In all, to our own surprise, we managed to spend 2.5 hours at the site including a satisfying lunch at the terrace of one of the restaurants.
I think nearly half of the 2.5hr was spent waiting for lunch. But on the other hand, it was a very cheap lunch!
PS - No it isn't the "same old" rusty platform - just a different old rusty platform!!
Have sent a copy of one of my photos of the Madara Rider from May 2000 - showing the same old rusty platform!!!