on November 24, 2012
During my week in Bulgaria I stayed in and around the city of Shumen, which is located in the east of the country about an hour from the Black Sea. It is famous because t is located close to the ancient capitals of Pliska and Preslav and because it is close to Madaara, a small town made famous by a picture of a horseman carved out of the side of a mountain. The horseman has grown to become a symbol of modern Bulgaria. Because the carving is so well-known, we saw it everywhere. It was used as a logo for restaurants, it was on almost every road sign and all the tourist brochures had it in pride of place. However, when we visited Madaara it was not the horseman that impressed me.It was almost as an after-though that my girlfriend (who is Bulgarian) mentioned that not only would we see the horseman in Madaara but that there were also some rather impressive caves that we could see. We decided to see the caves first. To get there, we had to walk up a rather long and dragging slope. As it was a hot day, this soon had me sweating profusely and muttering under my breath that the caves and the horseman better be spectacular. Thankfully, they were.The first couple of caves were rather small and geologically unspectacular. However, there were a few etches on the wall and the walls were stained black, which suggested they had once been lived in – many centuries ago I presumed. I found these rather interesting. But, they paled in comparison to the main cave. Set at the base of cliff it formed a natural amphitheatre of white rock that seemed so delicate that it could almost be ivory. The whole area was shaded by banks of think trees that grew both above and below. This gave the fantastic impression that we really were in a theatre; it felt as though it were almost indoors. This idea was only punctured by the fantastically delicate shards of daylight that peeked through the trees.It produced some of the most wonderful sound-effects. The acoustics were amazing and our voices resonated as spoke. Naturally, I took the rather childish approach of shouting my own name to see how it sounded. As resonant as my shouts were, I quickly stopped when I heard the sounds of a local folk musician who set about playing a thin pipe type instrument. The reedy sound somehow seemed to fill the mountains and was rather enchanting. The amphitheatre was also bizarrely humid. Apparently, there were several springs further up the mountain that trickled down and ran along the ivory walls and down to the floor. Not only did this make the whole place feel rather damp – and in so doing exacerbate my sweating – but it also meant lots of tourists came to take the water that trickled to the floor. The caves in Madaara had been a surprise addition to our itinerary. However, I was very much impressed. I loved the visual aspect and I was struck dumb (shouting aside) by the wonderful acoustics.
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