Exploring the mysteries of the ancient Madara Rider near Shumen

Maria Belcheva | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Partly due to its unique geographical location, partly due to its ancient history, Bulgaria homes many natural wonders, heritage sites, and monuments that could easily fascinate every visitor. Mysterious places and areas are part of this, too. Perhaps one of the most interesting places to explore in the country would be the ancient Madara Rider – a rock relief in north-east Bulgaria, near the town of Shumen

Where to find it

Although the area is full of mystics, this relief is not hidden, on the contrary - it is an image of a man on a horse, carved on a cliff, 23 meters above the ground. Under the front feet of the horse, a lion-like figure is distinguishable, and behind the horse, you can see a dog, running towards the lion. The image is 2,5 meters tall and 3 meters wide. 

The carving could be found near the village of Madara, 18km east from the town of Shumen and about 75km west from the town of Varna

About the area

Just like in the case of Perperikon, this whole area is believed to have been a sacred place for Bulgarians for many centuries. Around the Madara Rider, there is an old Thracian sanctuary, a place in homage of Tangra (an ancient Bulgarian god), as well as what seems to have been an early Christian church. That means that throughout the centuries, no matter what the beliefs of the population were, this spot was chosen as a place with great amounts of energy and was therefore kept for religious rituals. 

© iStockphoto.com/feradz

Theories about the image

There are numerous hypotheses about the origin of the image and the additional elements in it. Some experts argue that the Rider is holding a spear, others that he is just holding the lead of the horse. There are theories that the image is thousands of years old and has only been adapted according to the will of the Bulgarian rulers. It is unclear who was meant to be on the original image, or who carved it and when. 

However, there is an unambiguous proof about one particular period of its undefined story. Next to the image, a historical document was carved in the rock. Tervel, the ruler of Bulgaria from 700 CE until 721 CE, arguably ordered an inscription to be put next to the Madara Rider. This inscription told the public about how Tervel helped the Byzantine emperor of the time, Justinian II Rhinotmetos, to regain his throne and power. 

© iStockphoto.com/Daniela_Serteva

To sum up, the ancient Madara Rider near Shumen is mysterious not only because of the ambiguity around its origin but also about the reason behind its establishment as a sacred place throughout the millennia. Being located near the seaside, it is a perfect place to explore during your next holiday in Bulgaria. Here you can definitely get a sense of how small and insignificant we are as people, in comparison to the endurance of nature! 

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