THE MADARA HORSEMAN – ONE OF THE MASTERPIECES OF THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES IN EUROPE
This is an imposing relief cut into rock. It represents a four figure life-size scene depicting a man on horseback thrusting his spear into a lion trampled beneath his horse's hooves, and a dog following the rider. The relief composition is cut at a height of about 75 m above the ground, in the almost vertical 100-metre cliffs of the Madara plateau near the village of Madara, Shoumen region, in north-eastern Bulgaria.
Three inscriptions in Greek flank the relief. They tell about the early history of the Bulgarian state, founded in 681, and the military and political power of the first Bulgarian Kingdom. The oldest inscription mentions the name of the Bulgarian Khan Tervel. The overall area of the composition, including the inscriptions, measures some 40 square metres. In order to stand out, the figures and the letters were once covered with a special red coat.
The monument of the Madara Horseman /or Madara Rider/ was carved at the beginning of the 8th century. It is situated in the vicinity of one of the most significant proto-Bulgarian pagan sanctuaries of that age. There have been different opinions as to what the relief represents. It was not designed to be a place of worship, nor to depict a hunting scene - it is rather presumed to be a monument to some of the rulers at the time. Some scholars argue that the act of piercing the lion by the rider symbolizes the triumph of some of the first Bulgarian Khans over Byzantium – the Byzantine Empire had recognized the new state.
The rider's dress, the pattern of the saddle and the stirrup suggest that the relief can be associated with the artistic work of proto-Bulgarians, to which Bulgaria's then monarchs belonged, rather than with the Byzantine, the Slavic, or the Thracian traditions. The realism and three-dimensionality of the figures are quite unusual for European art of that period. According to some experts, monuments of this type can be found in the art of ancient Persia. In the early Middle Ages the representations of horsemen, or of horses alone, were widely liked in Bulgaria: they can be seen in stone sculptures, engraved in metal vessels, cast in the form of amulets, drawn on ceramic tablets, etc.
The Rider of Madara is a unique example of medieval Bulgarian art. It has been included in UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Regretfully, this age-old monument flakes away with every season. Exposure to the elements - freeze-thaw cycles, microorganisms, pollution erosion, cliff face shearing and earth tremors, threatens the destruction of the scene. The preservation of the Madara Horseman presents a technical challenge: the relief was meant to be of the open air, but some Bulgarian experts have concluded that installing a permanent roof over it is the only solution - and as soon as possible - so that stabilization of the carvings can begin.
A general view of the rock chain where the Madara Horseman is cut in.
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