Bulgaria Presents in Paris Prehistoric Drawings from Magura Cave with Photo Exhibit

The Magura Cave is one of Bulgaria's best known landmarks. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

The Magura Cave is one of Bulgaria’s best known landmarks. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

The Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Paris, France, has opened a photo exhibition on the prehistoric paintings in the Magura Cave located 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.

The photo exhibition on the Magura Cave in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Paris has been organized as part of the preparation for the application to include the cave and its prehistoric drawings in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture has announced.

The event is also dedicated to the 60th anniversary since Bulgaria joined the UN Organization for Education, Science, and Culture.

The photographs in the exhibit, which will be opened from July 1 until July 15, 2016, were taken by Petar Chetashki.

The exhibition entitled “The Magura [Cave] – Legends from the Prehistory", which has been co-organized by the Culture Ministry and Belogradchik Municipality, has been formally opened by Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Culture Assoc. Prof. Boni Petrunova, who is herself an archaeologist.

One of the photos from the exhibit dedicated to the Magura Cave. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

One of the photos from the exhibit dedicated to the Magura Cave. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

“The precise dating of the images is a challenge for the scientists but based on research and analogies in Europe, Middle Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, most authors determine their dating and cultural context as the Early Bronze Age," Petrunova has said in her opening speech.

“The “art gallery" inside the cave is a remarkable example of symbolic artistic expression, a unique site of extreme scientific, cultural, and artistic interest," she has added.

The Deputy Minister of Culture has also reminded that in the fall of 2015, the Magura Cave and its prehistoric rock paintings were explored by Spanish experts on cave paintings, 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..

“In their report, they have noted that the [Spanish experts] have pointed out that the Magura Cave is of extreme value but that also it has been most neglected because of the lack of enough scientific publications, a catalog of the drawings, and insufficient promotion of the place. The organizing of the exhibition… is a step for changing this situation, and making the hundreds of cave drawings known," Petrunova has also stated.

She has added that the application for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List is a complicated task, and a working group with experts from several Bulgarian institutions has been formed up in order to see it to a successful end.

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture reminds that the Magura Cave was declared a natural landmark in 1960, and a monument of culture of national importance in 1965. In 1984, the cave and its prehistoric drawings were included in the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The official poster for the Magura Cave photo exhibition in the Bulgarian Cultural Center in Paris. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

The official poster for the Magura Cave photo exhibition in the Bulgarian Cultural Center in Paris. Photo: Petar Chetashki / Ministry of Culture

Background Infonotes:

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.

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