Madara Rider (Мадарски Конник)



Location: village of Madara, East of Shumen  Map

Phone: (05313) 55 487 (info)

Open: summer 8 am- 6:30 pm; winter 8 am- 5 pm

Entrance Fee: 4 lv

Transport: taxi (cheap, but most don’t speak English well) or take bus from Shumen to Madara (Мадара) than walk 1.2 mi (2 km)


Description of Madara Rider

Madara Rider is one of the most famous symbols of Bulgaria depicting a cavalry man killing his prey. Madara Rider was carved in the cliff side of Madara Plateay East of Shumen. Since 1979 it was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Madara plateau is located near village of Madara. This prominent natural geologic formation was recognized by the early people that settled here. Thracians that lived in these lands during antiquity considered Madara as a sacred land of their tribe. Later nations that settled the area seem to share the same degree of veneration towards Madara as a special place in their lives. Temples and shrines from 6 epochs were erected in the vicinity in honor of various pagan gods including Zeus, Heracles, Tangra, Heros, the three nymphs and other deities. Besides ruins of the early Christian church was build here as a new religion slowly took over the region.
However the most famous feature of Madara Plateau is the Madara Rider or Horseman that was carved on a face of a 100 meter cliff at a height of 23 meters. The horseman was created in 710 AD at the time of khan Tervel to commemorate his victory over Byzantine ruler Justinian II at the battle of Anchialus (or Ankhialo) in 708. Below the horseman is partially preserved text of the peace treaty that was signed between Bulgarian Kingdom and Byzantine Empire after the battle. Other inscriptions on the cliff side refer to the khans Krum (796-814 AD) and Omurtag (814-831 AD). Madara Rider is on UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Madara Horseman is the main symbol of the Magdara National Historical and Archaeological Reserve, which encompasses a series of religious, cultural and military sites. It is located near the village of the same name, 18.2 km from Shumen, but for the most part is located in the municipality of Kaspichan. Nearby are the archeological reserves of the medieval Bulgarian capitals Pliska and Preslav.

The Madara Horseman was discovered for modern science and first described in 1872 by Felix Kanitz. The detailed study of the relief requires a scaffold, which was erected in 1895, 1905 and 1954. In 1905 a plaster casting of the relief was made. This historical monument is a rock relief (bas-relief), carved in the VIII century AD. on a vertical rock at a height of 23 m. Steep steps to the left of it lead to the Madara Plateau. The dimensions of the image are 2.6 m in height and 3.1 m wide at the base. It depicts a horseman, a lion, a dog, an eagle and inscriptions in Greek. The rider is moving to the right, close to life size and with an outer garment to the knees. With his left hand he holds the reins of the horse he is riding, and with his right hand he throws a short spear at the lion that has fallen under the horse's front legs. Behind the rider's back is a high-back saddle of the Eastern Caucasian type. The rider's right leg is tucked into a stirrup, and the rider carries a bow case on his back. A flag is visible on the spear stuck in the lion, and behind the horse there is a running hunting dog. To the right, above the level of the horse's head, is an eagle with outstretched wings. The composition, symbolizing victory over the enemy, is reminiscent of the triumphant scenes in the relief sculpture of the Iranian east and the ancient artistic traditions of a Thracian horseman.

The relief is a triumphant ruler and today is most widely perceived as a symbol of the power of the First Bulgarian State. The details determine the dating and support the most recognized thesis about the proto-Bulgarian origin of the relief, connecting the image with Khan / Khan Tervel (701 - 721). The surrounding inscriptions are in Greek and report on political and cultural events in the relations between Bulgaria and Byzantium from 705 throughout the VIII - IX century, mentioning directly or with references the rulers Tervel, Justinian II, Kormisosh and Omurtag. According to FI Uspensky, the Madara relief is "the most ancient and intriguing Old Bulgarian monument" and, although he defines it as "extremely unique", according to the Russian scientist in Ravenna there is a similar monument with a relief image of a horseman.

The bas-relief is connected with the large cult complex created by Omurtag on the terrace under the rocks, including a sanctuary, temples, palace and residential buildings, and other buildings. At the foot of the rocks there is a large cave called the "Cave of the Nymphs", where in ancient times the Thracians worshiped their deities. Prehistoric cult figurines and votive tablets dedicated to the Three Nymphs, Zeus, Heracles, Dionysus, Cybele, the Thracian horseman-hero Heros and others have been found in the reserve. It is possible that the Madara Horseman is a monument of much more ancient origin and has undergone appropriate adaptations for new purposes in later cultural periods. In favor of this judgment are petrological studies, according to which the lion in the relief was made earlier by the dog, and the horse was remade over time. According to Rasho Rashev, it can be assumed that "it is a generalized image of a divine ruler, who in the minds of contemporaries intertwined with the features of an image from the early medieval epic."

Around the figure of the horseman are carved inscriptions in Greek with important information about Bulgarian history. Professor Veselin Beshevliev suggests that the inscription may "stand in connection with the name Asparuh". Interesting and important is the inscription of Omurtag, found at the pagan sanctuary at the foot of the Madara horseman: only it contains a direct mention of the supreme god of the proto-Bulgarians Tangra (revered among all Turkic peoples and tribes in the early Middle Ages under the name Tengri).

Significance and international recognition
The Madara Horseman is the only rock relief in Europe from the Early Middle Ages. In 1979, at the session of the UNESCO World Cultural and Historical Heritage Committee, held in Luxor, the Madara Horseman was included in the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. As part of the historical and archeological reserve, the monument is among the Hundred National Tourist Sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Board. On June 29, 2008, after a national survey, the Madara Horseman was declared a global symbol of Bulgaria.

The archeological reserve has summer working hours from 8:00 to 19:00 and winter working hours from 8:00 to 16:00. The site under the bas-relief can be reached by a nearly 100-meter staircase. A stamp certifying the visit is placed on the tourist site, stored in the Madara Horseman hut.