At the Pliska reserve are the remains of the first capital of the early medieval Bulgarian empire in the seventh and eighth century AD. This extensive and rich town contained palaces, basilica churches, workshops and fortifications. All of this is laid out for visitors in the archaeological reserve. It dates from a time when the Bulgarian Tsars and Khans were expanding their territory and even rivalled the power of nearby Byzantium.
At Madara, 20km away, you can literally see thousands of years of history which have earned it the name, ‘The Bulgarian Troy’.
It is the unique early medieval carving of a horse and rider dating from the 8th century AD that has earned world heritage status for this site. However, there is much more here including a prehistoric settlement, Thracian sanctuary, Roman villa estate with farm buildings and a medieval hill top fortress with houses and churches.
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’.