When we arrive at the site, the rock face is easy to see, but we have to climb some stairs to a small platform without trees which gives a full view of what we came to see: the Madara rider, an early medieval carving 23 metres above the ground, in the rock face of this plateau mountain. The rider is easily visible, mounted on his horse, one hand holding his reins, and the other a drinking horn. When you look a little longer, and/or with the help of a signboard, you will see a dog on the left, and a lion lying on the ground. Originally, a spear was stabbing the lion, but this is no longer visible. There has been controversy as to who this rider is, but it is now assumed this is Khan Tervel, the second ruler of the first Bulgarian Empire, who lived in the early 8th century.
The horseman is life size, and has no equal in Europe. There should be Greek inscriptions around the horseman, but I cannot not identify them. Frustrated, I decide to climb the rocks next to a green metal structure right under the horseman, hoping to be able to get a better view. Alas, the door to the platform is closed, so I am stuck on a ledge from which I only get a view from almost right under the sculpted masterpiece. When I am down again, I look up at the sculpted horseman, and ask myself the obvious question: how did they do it? Climbing the rocks to that height is one thing, but how did they then manage to carve the finely shaped sculpture in the right proportions? The scene even suggests some movement. What is more: some 1300 years of being exposed to rain, snow and wind have done their damage - what did this horseman look like back in the 700s?
We stay a little before we move on to the south, where we find a small and a big cave. Some have walls for added protection. The small cave apparently was already used by humans in the Middle Paleolithic era, as was testified by the items found, like stones, bones, amulets and other artefacts. There is a big cave, used by the Thracians, and often used for food storage. Apart from the older caves, we also find small rock-hewn church, with a fresco and countless small images of Jesus and Maria, framed and well, stacked together. We have had a long day, and still have a long way to go, so we decide to skip the Madara fortress, which we know is just up the rocky mountain in which the Madara horseman is carved. When we are back at the parking, we have one last look at the Bulgarian pride before we leave.
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