The Madara Rider is a large rock relief that is a highlight of pagan Bulgarian art.
The relief depicts a majestic horseman 23 m above ground level in an almost vertical 100-metre-high cliff. The horseman is thrusting a spear into a lion lying at his horse's feet. A dog runs after the horseman.
The monument, dated back to 710, is usually attributed to the ancient Bulgars, a nomadic tribe of warriors which settled in northeastern Bulgaria at the end of the 7th century and after merging with the local Slavs gave origin to the modern Bulgarians.
Map of Madara RiderLoad map
Visit September 2018
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 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.
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.
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 museum.
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
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.
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.
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.
So little known outside Bulgaria ! This remarkable historical monument is a must for anyone visiting North east Bulgaria.
Visit the "Great Cave" in the summer when there are weekly symphony concerts.
For accommodation in the village contact Svetla or Hamish on 05313 2130 (00359 5313 2130)
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