Bulgaria Enlists Spanish Experts on Prehistoric Art from Altamira Museum to Assess Condition of Magura Cave Paintings
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture has enlisted the help of leading Spanish experts on prehistoric art for assessing the condition of the Late Paleolithic and Neolithic paintings in the Magura Cave near the town of Rabisha, Belogradchik Municipality, in Northwest Bulgaria.
The 15-million-year-old Magura Cave, which is one of the most famous sites for cultural tourism in Bulgaria, features cave paintings dating back to the period from 8,000-6,000 BC until 3,000-1,200 BC, i.e. from the Paleolithic (Epipaleolithic), Neolithic, Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) and Early Bronze Age.
Its drawings depict primarily hunting scenes, religious ceremonies such as fertility dances, and deities.
At the invitation of Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov, the Magura Cave has been visited by Jose Antonio Lasheras Corruchaga, Director of the National Museum and Research Center of the Altamira Cave near Santander, Northern Spain, and by his deputy, Pilar Fatas Monforte.
The assessment of the Spanish experts on Paleolithic Art of the condition of the paintings in the Magura Cave is necessary for the upcoming nomination of the cave for the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Bulgarian Culture Ministry and Belogradchik Municipality have announced in separate statements.
During their visit to the Magura Cave, the Spanish experts from the Altamira Museum were accompanied by Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Stefanka Ivanova, a researcher of the Magura Cave; art expert Veselina Yoncheva from the National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties; and archaeologist Bilyana Mihaylova from the Ministry of Culture.
According to the head of the Altamira Cave Museum Jose Antonio Lasheras Koruchaga, the cave paintings in the Magura Cave are impressive but a lot of work needs to be done to carry out detailed descriptions and mapping of each one of them, and compile a catalog.
During their visit in Bulgaria, the Spanish experts on Paleolithic Art have also met with the Directors of the Regional Museum of History in Vidin and the Belogradchik Museum of History, Fionera Filipova and Mihail Mihaylov.
In preparation of the further assessment of the cave paintings in the Magura Cave, they have also visited the National Museum of History in Sofia, including the Boyana Church managed by the Museum, which is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties, which is supposed to supplement the existing paperwork for the Magura Cave; and the Ministry of Culture.
The Ministry reminds that the Altamira Cave near Santander, Spain, contains 15,000-year-old cave paintings of bisons, bears, and other animals, and is known as “the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art”.
The Altamira Cave in Spain has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The Magura Cave in Northwest Bulgaria has been on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
The Magura Cave featuring prehistoric paintings from the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) and Early Bronze Age is located near the town of Rabisha, Belogradchik Municipality, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria.
The combined length of its corridors is 2.5 km; the cave has a permanent year-round temperature of 12 degrees Celsius (except for one warmer chamber where the temperature is 15 degrees).
The 15-million-year-old Magura Cave is a famous archaeological and paleontological site. Inside it, researchers have found bones from cave bears, cave hyenas, foxes, wolves, wild cats, otters, and other prehistoric animals.
The Magura Cave is home to 8 species of bats, all of whom are under protection. It was granted the status of a natural park in 1960. It is located close to the largest non-draining lake in Bulgaria, the Rabisha Lake.
In 1984, the Magura Lake was put on UNESCO’s Tentative List for consideration as a World Heritage Site.
The largest chamber in the cave is the Arc Hall, which is 128 meters long, 58 meters wide and 21 meters tall.
The oldest prehistoric paintings in the cave date to the Late Paleolithic period (Epipaleolithic) – about 8,000 – 6,000 BC; the latest are from the Bronze Age, and date to the period between 3,000 BC and 1,200 BC.
The more than 750 paintings depict primarily hunting scenes, religious ceremonies such as fertility dances, and deities. These include anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, geometric, and symbolic images. The drawings were painted with bat guano.
The most popular image from the Magura Cave is from the Cult Hall and depicts a large dance and hunting scene in two rows.
Because of a drawing showing the local mushroom Boletus, which has hallucinogenic effects, there have been interpretations that the paintings depict aliens.
Another group of the Magura Cave drawings from the Late Neolithic is seen as a highly accurate solar calendar calculating 366 days and a year of 12 months.
Before 1993, the Magura Cave had open access, and some of the drawings were vandalized by treasure hunters.
Together with the nearby Rabisha Lake, the Belogradchik Rocks, and the Belogradchik Fortress, the Magura Cave has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for cultural tourism in modern-day Bulgaria.