Madara Horseman

A day trip from Wild Thyme Eco Retreat

Just over an hour’s drive from Wild Thyme is the archaeological site of Madara.  It is the unique carving of the horse and rider that has earned world heritage status for this site, but there are many other archaeological treasures here.

The Madara horseman is a stone carving high up on the cliff face and is surrounded by Greek inscriptions commemorating the victories of three Bulgarian Tsars from the 8th and 9th centuries AD.  The ruins of their capitals at Pliska and Veliki Preslav are just down the road but here at Madara was their cult centre.

There are temples and other ritual sites which date from the old Bulgarian period just before the conversion to Christianity. It was already a special place before this time and the eerie rock face and caves were used by the Thracians for temples.  The museum exhibits some of the Thracian finds which includes a marble slab carved with the signs of the zodiac.

Later on, the cliff face was peppered with caves used by Christian hermits and the plateau above the cliff was the site of a medieval fortress.  Occupied over so many centuries, it is easy to see why Madara has earned the title ‘the Bulgarian Troy’.

You can drive yourself to the site or join a Wild Thyme guided archaeological tour.

Sveshtari Thracian Tomb

  • Sveshtari Thracian tomb
  • Thracian sanctuaries and stronghold
  • Tomb of Demir Baba

The archaeological reserve at Sboryanovo, an hour’s drive away, is one of the highlights of Bulgarian archaeology.

There are hundreds of burial mounds at the Sboryanovo Archaeological Reserve but one stands out from the rest because it is unique for Thracian archaeology.

It is the Sveshtari tomb which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The tomb is one of the finest Thracian burials in Bulgaria and visitors are allowed entry inside the mausoleum to see the wall paintings and sculptures. 

The Sveshtari mausoleum is perfectly preserved and visitors can stand under the stone arch that marked the doorway of the burial chamber, the threshold between life and death, the gateway to immortality and the realm of the Thracian gods. This was probably the burial of the Thracian king Dromichaetes who is known from ancient Greek sources.

Herodotus, the Greek historian, describes the Thracian practice where the favoured wife of a dead king was chosen to accompany him to the grave. Sure enough when archaeologists discovered this tomb in the 1980s there was a female skeleton alongside the man in the tomb.

There were also skeletons of horses at the entrance and the Thracians were known as skilled warriors, some serving in the cavalry of Alexander the Great. The Thracian horseman indeed became a popular deity in the Roman period and there are many stone carvings of this figure, the image which later became the standard picture of St. George.

These are the most striking remains at Sveshtari but the expansive reserve also contains hundreds of other burial mounds, as well as the remains of long-lived Thracian ritual places and sanctuaries.

There was also a thriving fortified Thracian city.  You can see the remains of this fourth century BC town which It is probably the political and military centre of the local tribe, the Getae. This place was called Hellis and was mentioned by ancient Greek historians.  

Elsewhere in the reserve, from a much later time, you can see the sanctuary at Kamen Rid and there is the seventeenth century tomb of Demir Baba, a mysterious figure revered by an obscure mystical Moslem sect known as the Alevi. The tomb continues to be visited and respected by Moslems and local Christians. It was built into the site of a much earlier Thracian shrine.

Ivanovo Painted Monastery

 

Day Trips from Popovo

Only an hour’s drive from Wild Thyme is the rock monastery at Ivanov.  It is a complex of caves and rock cut churches set in the beautiful limestone gorge of the river Lom. Today it is part of the Rusenski Lom Natioanl Park but there is much more to the site than just scenery.

Several of the churches are decorated with the most fantastic religious paintings. They date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, just before the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria, when the Bulgarian church was linked closely to the Greek speaking world and the city of Byzantium. One of the scenes shows Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper but was painted at least a century before Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the same scene.

The whole valley is littered with caves where monks practised a strange form of meditation where they sat alone inside the cave and repeated a short prayer over and over again. They chose this place because it was peaceful and the rock formations so spectacular but also because it was relatively close to Veliko Tarnovo where the Bulgarian Tsars were based. Two of these rulers are pictured in colour on the cave walls as they provided the funds for most of the paintings.

Guests can drive themselves or join one of our guided archaeological excursions to Ivanovo Painted Monastery.

Tall Ships Varna

The Tall Ships are coming to Varna between 30 April and 3 May 2014.  We missed the event in Derry, my home town, a few years ago so we're excited about it coming to Varna, only 2 hours from Wild Thyme.  The Black Sea is a beautiful stretch of water with an amazing coastline, wonderful nature and historic cities with interesting archaeology.

There will be 50 Tall Ships taking part which will be an amazing spectacle.  From Bulgaria, there will be Kaliakra and Royal Helena and Mir, Kruzenshtern, Sedov and Nadezhda from Russia.

 

Paprika

Wild thyme eco retreat Bulgaria

At this time of year, almost every house in the village has strings of red peppers hanging from every available sunny place.   Such a pretty sight.  When they are all dried by mid to late September, they will be milled to make a delicious fresh paprika.

 

Foraging for mushrooms

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We’ve just had a fun morning foraging for mushrooms in the forest with Mustafa.  The kids loved it.  There are so many varieties of wild mushrooms, from chanterelles to horse mushrooms to ‘mamatarkas’.  They were really delicious cooked in garlic and served on toast for lunch!

Picking mushrooms Wild Thyme Bulgaria