The Madara Horseman is a bas-relief carved into the rock, located 23 meters from its base. Its dimensions are 3.1 meters wide and 2.6 meters high. It is located near the village of Madara, about 20 km. from the town of Shumen. This remarkable monument consists of three figures - a horseman, a dog and a lion. The central figure - the horseman, is presented in real size and is located at the highest. He is dressed in a knee-length garment, standing on a saddle with a high backrest, and his right (visible) leg is tucked into a stirrup. Under the front legs of the horse a lion is lying, and behind the horse is a dog is running aiming at the lion.
Due to the erosion of the rock and the poor condition of the figures, the other elements of the composition are controversial and ambiguous. There are three assumptions about the object that the rider holds in his left hand: a jug of wine, a hunting horn or the reins of the horse. As for the right hand, some believe that with it the rider throws a spear against the fallen lion, while others believe that he holds the reins of the horse. Opinions have been expressed that the rider is wearing a cloak or an arrow case. Most researchers believe that the lion was pierced by the spear, but there are those who claim that it is not stuck in it. Some scientists have even found more figures in the composition, such as an eagle and a snake.
In the rock around it are carved three inscriptions in Greek, referring to events in Bulgarian history from the beginning of the VIII to the first half of the IX century. The oldest inscription is from the reign of Khan Tervel and tells about the help that the ruler gave to the Byzantine emperor Justinian II Nasootrezaniya on his return to the throne in Constantinople. The uncles of the Khan, who inhabit the area around Thessaloniki, are also mentioned. Here is what does the inscription say: "… to the Bulgarians… came to Tervel. My uncles in Thessaloniki did not believe in the nose-cut emperor and went to the Kisin (villages) … through the treaty of Tervel the archon of the emperor gave… 5 thousand (emperor) together with me won well.… "
The monument was first described in 1872 by Felix Kanitz. Its dating and the identity of the rider are still disputed. A cave with artifacts from the Thracian era, a Bulgarian pagan sanctuary with a stone inscription of the god Tangra, as well as a small church have been discovered at its foot. These facts clearly show that the place around the monument is an old cult center, used in different eras by representatives of different religious beliefs, which makes the dating of the monument even more complicated. Interesting conclusions are made on the basis of the stylistic analysis, the inscriptions around the images and the petrological data of the relief.
Some scholars associate the bas-relief with Thracian culture and believe that it depicts the Thracian horseman, especially popular among the local population in antiquity. Referring to the aging of the stone, other researchers suggest that the lion in the relief was cut earlier by the dog, and the horse was remade over time. According to them, the composition was changed during Tervel's rule, turned into a hunting scene and then the inscriptions and the hunting dog, which is typical for such a plot, were added. There are even opinions that the horseman depicts the Persian ruler Darius or the ancient Iranian god Mithras.
The most popular hypothesis, however, is that of the Bulgarian origin of the rock bas-relief. Based on stylistic characteristics and information from the inscriptions, most scholars are convinced that near Madara is immortalized one of the Bulgarian khans - Tervel, Krum or Omurtag. Some of them find similarities with Turkic artistic traditions and plot lines, while others argue with the similarities of similar images typical of Persian art. Their colleagues supporting the theory of the Bulgarian origin of the monument suggest that the rider may not be a specific khan, but a collective image of the Bulgarian triumphant ruler or the hero horseman from the mythology of the steppe peoples, and perhaps even the god Tangra.
So far, most supporters find the opinion that the horseman represents Khan Tervel or a generalized image of the rulers of Pliska. In this line of thought, it is perceived as a symbol of Bulgarian state power and a demonstration of the self-confidence of its rulers from the pagan period.
This remarkable rock relief from the Early Middle Ages is the only one of its kind in Europe. In 1979 it was included in the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage, and three decades later it was declared a global Bulgarian symbol by а national survey.
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