Madara Rider

Madara Rider
Photo by Els Slots.

The Madara Rider is a large rock relief that is a highlight of pagan Bulgarian art.

The relief depicts a scene revolving around a majestic horseman 23m above ground level in an almost vertical 100-metre-high cliff. The scene is surrounded by inscriptions that are a chronicle of events. The 8th-century monument is usually attributed to the Khans of the First Bulgarian Empire.

Community Perspective: The relief is chiseled high up the cliff wall – with the naked eye you can see the Rider but not the inscriptions. The core zone is very limited and you will be done with it in 15 minutes, but the surrounding area is worth exploring (see Tsunami’s review).

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Malta - 23-Feb-24 -

Madara Rider by Clyde

I visited this WHS in 2023 as part of the northeastern Bulgaria hotspot. Of the inscribed lot in this hotspot, the Srebarna Nature Reserve seems to be rated as the worst, probably owing to its poor state of upkeep of any trails or tourist infrastructure but also because to the non-birder (and not only) it pales when compared to the Danube Delta nearby.

To me, however, Madara Rider ranked the lowest. It is an interesting site to visit while visiting Bulgaria, but its only highlight, the Madara rider relief, in my opinion lacks OUV and is more of an interesting niche national site. It isn't unique either as similar carbon images have been found in Saltovo, Soulek, Pliska and Veliki Preslav.

The horseman relief, almost life-size, is carved on a 100 metre vertical cliff. The Madara rider is facing right, and can be seen thrusting a spear into a lion lying at his horse's feet, while on the left a dog is running after the horseman. The carving of the rider's halo and garments, as well as the bird in front of the horseman's face, are barely recognizable due to centuries of erosion and the generally poor condition of the monument. This is even more noticeable if you try to approach/climb to the locked metal gate of the ugly green metal-frame platform just beneath it.

The meaning and symbolism of the sculpture are uncertain, as well as its actual masonry tradition and cultural source. The relief probably incorporates Thracian elements as well as particular Bulgar cults. The monumental size and iconography, and many of the specific details (such as the halo, bird, etc.) are generally part of the Bulgar tradition, while the rightward direction and the lion are more typical of the Thracian tradition. Three partially preserved texts in Medieval Greek, carved in the rock, can be found around the image of the rider but they can only be appreciated using binoculars or a good zoom camera. They bear important information regarding the history of Bulgaria in the period, but then again nothing truly of OUV. The other minor sites, with esoteric stones, caves and fortification remains beneath and on top of the cliff just don't add anything more than a nice view from the top and a good way of burning some calories up the stairs in the scorching summer sun. To add insult to injury, this is one of the only few Bulgarian WHS without a proper UNESCO WHS inscription plaque, only a UNESCO WHS Convention sign a few information boards. 

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 26-Sep-18 -

Madara Rider by Els Slots

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.

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 to 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 chiseled 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.

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 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.


Japan / USA / Europe - 06-Jun-17 -

Madara Rider by Tsunami

Staying in Shumen overnight, I spent several hours in Madara in the afternoon. Took a bus to Madara and a train back to Shumen. From the bus / train station it's uphill walk for 1.5 km to the base of the National Historic and Archaeological Reserve, which includes the relief of the Madara Rider on the rock...cliff of a table mountain / plateau.

I think Madara Rider is my favorite WHS in Bulgaria, not just because of the relief, which is the core zone in itself, but of the whole reserve, which is basically the buffer zone. The reserve includes even some Neolithic and Thracian settlements, some Roman ruins (close to the train station), a 4th century fortress on top of the table mountain, and the remains from the middle age, which includes a monastery with cells for monks hewn into the cliff. In other words the reserve is a human history in a nut shell.

There is also a one-room museum, which was closed, but by asking around when it's open, someone managed to bring another person who opened the door for me for a few minutes. The room contained relevant artifacts from the archeological area. 

I spent the hours walking around and up and down. The dramatic mountain setting even reminded me of Masada in Israel.

The photo shows the locations of the Madara Rider relief on the cliff, the fortress on the table mountain top and the screen capturer on the edge of the cliff. :)

Read more from Tsunami here.

Stoil Traykov Stoilov

Bulgaria - 24-May-14 -

I’m from Bulgaria and my name is Stoil Stoilov.

I have been many times in the village of Madara visiting the historical Madara Horseman site. I have spent 10 years in research in the ancient Bulgarian history and found out many new facts and made some important conclusion about the ancient Bulgarian history and among hen about the origin and meaning of the Madara monument which I represented in a book.

The book “They called themselves Bulgarians”, ISBN 978-954-9447-83-5 of the author Stoil Traykov Stoilov sets out and proofs a number of new ideas about the origin of the Bulgarian people and the ancient Bulgarian history: • The Bulgarians are from indoaryan, saka (scythian), toharian and from some other peoples/tribes origin; • The main kings tribe was the Onogonduri tribe. It was composed from the population of an ancient highly developed country Gandhara > Gondur of nowadays Pakistan and the Chionite tribe (Oiono, Ounnoi). After heavy battles in 515 AD with the White huns of Toramana and his son Mihirakula they were forced to emigrate to the west in a total number of 800000 men and women. They were followed by the population of many other regions of nowadays Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. • In 632 the Great Bulgaria was found; • In 680/681 kan Asparuh with the Onogondurs moved to the south of Danube to create the Danube Bulgaria. • It can be supposed that in 715 AD the very successful Bulgarian king Tervel ordered in memory of the wars, victims and 200 years from the emigration in 515 the Madara horseman monument to be created. Who is the Madara rider? Is he kan Tervel Himself? The rock monument of the Madara horsmen in the village of Madara in the district of Shumen, thought by different authors to be hunting scene or more exactly scene of triumph of the new created Bulgarian state and depiction of god Tangra, kan Asparuh, Unknown Great warrior, kan Krum and most of all a monument of the victorious kan Tervel, is a depiction of a famous Bulgarian queen Gandhari. She was kept in high honour and was represented as a nation-wide divinity - defender of the rightousnes (dharma), of the faith, the state and the motherland. She was princes of Gandharan origin and a very famous queen. Queen Gandhari was married for the blind king Dhritarashtra of the biggest and most strong state in Northern India (Bharatavarsha, Aryadesha) of the indoaryan tribes - this of Kuru-Panchala. In order to share the ill fortune of her husband she tied a band on her eyes. In this way she is depicted on the rocks of Madara. She has 100 sons and a daughter. At her days took place the biggest war of the remote past - the war between the Aryan tribes, called Mahabharata in which were killed all her sons. This event took place, according to the greater part of the scientists, around 3100 years before Christ. Almost all Bulgarian tribes participated in this war. All objects the horseman is holding or are positioned on the horse or on the image as a whole are religious symbols. The Madara horseman - queen Gandhari - is depicted as a peaceful deity of people’s choice (Yidam). These divinities are represented holding a vase (on the monument in Gandhari’s right hand) with amrita for initiation of a new followers in the religion and are dressed in rainbow-colored, pantlike lower garments under a short brocade skirt. The upper body is naked except for a shortsleeved blouse coming just below the nipples and, over it, a short, draped mantle. A long scarf floats from the neck. The image of the Madara horsman combines in itself also the peculiarities of the “wrathful female deities (mahakali)”, who are defenders of faith. The mahakalis wear the bone and jewel ornaments. They usually ride a horse or mule, from whose saddle hangs a goatskin bag of poison, which kills the enemies of the teaching. On the Madara monument the bag hangs on the neck of the horse. They also carry a mirror of judgment (in the left hand), a snake lasso and a bow and arrows. They are fierce and swift in destroying whatever obstructs the dharma. The dog is a symbol of righteousness and truthfulness. The lion is the vehicle of the Mother Goddess. That is why the lion is pedestal for the entire image and is not a victim killed with a spear. Behind the lion a holy stick (sceptre Danda) with a “U” shape on the upper end is fixed in the ground. Up to now this attribute was interpreted as a spear, piercing the agonizing lion in the interpreted as a hunting scene monument. In the tantric religion through the scepter in the native land flows the cosmic heavenly energy and thus the motherland shall always stay young and strong. As a conclusion we must say that the monument from Madara is not a hunting scene or scene of triumph as it is explained up to now but a religious symbol of the nation. The monument MADARA HORSEMAN - QUEEN GANDHARI is a defender and a symbol of the Madara religious centre. The monument has been carved in the year of 715 by the order of kan Tervel in honour of 200 years from the emigration from Gandhara. In 2015 ã. completes 1300 years from the creation of the monument. Almost fully correspondence to the caves and sanctuary of Madara as a landscape and Buddhist religious orientation is almost the same complex in the holy city of Mathura, described by the traveler and pilgrim Hsuan Tsang. Thank you for your interest in the Bulgarian ancient past and the Madara monument.

I’ll be glad if you publish on your site my findings.

Stoil Stoilov

John booth

New Zealand - 07-Dec-12 -

Madara Rider by john booth

The image of the Madara Rider is clearly important to Bulgaria; it is reproduced on all of its stotinki coins. Certainly the site appears to be revered by Bulgarians, who flock to see the engraving.

What is amazing is the location of the carving. How did the artists reach the site so high above the ground 1400 years ago?

I reached the site by train from Shumen to Madara village. The site is quite a hike uphill from there, followed by a long flight of stairs.

William Vallone

Italy - 16-Aug-08 -

I have visited the Madara site one week ago.

The horseman in itself is not such a wonder as you can imagine, but you can really percieve the flowing of millennia looking at it. The site is very quiet as all the Madara village and the sorroundings. You can walk to the rest of the site (caves, etc.) through paths in the vegetation. Many benches to sit all around and where meditate on history.

The Madara site is not far from the Madara railway station, you can easily walk there in 20-30 minutes.

Site Info

Full Name
Madara Rider
Unesco ID
1 3
Structure - Civic and Public Works

Site History

1979 Deferred

As "Horseman of Madara": Bureau - ICOMOS wants comparative info

1979 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Madara Rider


Community Members have visited.

A. Mehmet Haksever Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Andrea & Uwe Zimmermann Anna Wludarska Argo Ask Gudmundsen Atila Ege Bazikoln Bin Bordes Brendan Carroll Byronb Carlos Garrido Cezar Grozavu Chenqtao ClaireWhiteley Cluckily Clyde Corinne Vail Craig Harder Dachangjin3 Dagmara Dan Dan Pettigrew DavidS Dibro Dimitar Krastev Donald M Parrish Jr Donnico Dreamcatcher Elia Vettorato Els Slots Emili Xaus Erik Jelinek Esther Westerveld Eva Kisgyorgy FS Fan Yibo Feldhase Filip Murlak G.L. Ingraham George Evangelou GeorgeIng61 GerhardM Gi Hadrianus Hanming Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Hubert Iain Jackson Ivan Rucek Izzet Ege Janklak Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jaroslav Klement Jasam Joel on the Road John Smaranda John booth Jonas Kremer Jonathanfr Jose Antonio Collar Joseph C. Joyce van Soest Jsalda Judith Tanner KB1 KentishTownRocks Knut Krafal_74 Krisztina zill Lidiane Lisu Marian Longdutch Loratodorova Lubos Lier Luis Filipe Gaspar Luki501 MHL Marie Morlon Markassonne Martina Rúčková Mathijs Małgosia Łupicka Michal Marciniak Mihai Dascalu Mikko Milan Jirasek Milena Tzoneva Nan Nihal Ege Nils Kronenberg Nomad99 Pablo Tierno Pascal Cauliez Patrik Peter Lööv Petteri Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Q Randi Thomsen Roger Ourset Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Roman Raab SHIHE HUANG Sabrina Liebehentschel Sascha Grabow Sazanami Schnitzel Shandos Cleaver Solivagant Stanimir Stanislaw Warwas StaziG Stijn Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tarquinio_Superbo Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt Triath Tsunami UncleSlavi Valentina Vladimir Walter H. Werner Huber Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl YaroMir ZX You Zoë Sheng