Magura Cave

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Coordinates: 43°43′40″N 22°34′58″E / 43.7277625°N 22.5827301°E / 43.7277625; 22.5827301

Drawings in the Magura Cave.
View from the cave

The Magura Cave (Bulgarian: Магурата) (from Romanian magura, "hill") is located in north-western Bulgaria close to the village of Rabisha, 25 kilometres from the town of Belogradchik in Vidin Province.

Thanks to its prehistoric paintings, Magura is, with Grotta dei Cervi (Otranto) (south Italy), the most important and extended European post-Palaeolithic painted cave.[1]

Guided visits are conducted by the staff of Belogradchik municipality, to which the management of the cave was transferred in 2012 by the Bulgarian Council of Ministers.

In 1984 the site was placed on the Tentative List for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.[2]


The total length of the 15-million-year-old cave is 2.5 km (1.6 mi).[3] The average annual temperature of the cave is 12 degree °C, except for one room where the temperature is always 15 °C. The air humidity reaches 80% and the displacement - 56 meters. The Magura cave was formed in the limestone Rabisha Hill (461 meters above sea level). The morphology of the cave includes one main gallery with six various-sized halls and three lateral galleries around it.[4] The cave is very wide – concerts are held inside for Christmas and Easter – and does not cause any feeling of claustrophobia nor, on the contrary, of vertigo. The main gallery is composed of six chambers, variously sized; the largest one, the so-called Arc Hall, is 128 m long, 58 large and 21 m high; along the way, you can admire impressive vaults, stalactites and stalagmites, named as The Poplar, The Pipe Organ, The Oriental City and The Cactus.

The inner temperature is constantly 11-12 °C. During the summers of 1974 and 1975 the cave was successfully used for speleotherapy and asthma treatment by Dr Vassil Dimitrov. Thirty patients slept in the cave for twelve consecutive nights, taking advantage of allergens absence, constant humidity and temperature.

A part of the cave is now used for ageing sparkling and red wines, labelled Magura, thanks to conditions similar to those of the French Champagne cellars.


Bones from different prehistoric species like cave bear, cave hyena, fox, wolf, wild cat and otter have been discovered in the Magura Cave. Today, constant inhabitants of the cave is the collembola, as well as four types of bats (greater and lesser horsehoe bat, greater mouse-eared bat and Schreiber's bat or also called Common bent-wing bat).


Cave paintings dating from the Epipaleolithic Age, late Neolithic, Eneolithic and early Bronze Age decorate some of the cave's walls. The paintings have been estimated to be made 8000–6000 years before Christ. The drawings represent important events in the society that was inhabiting the Magura cave: religious ceremonies, deities and hunting scenes, and are unique for the Balkan peninsula. The most important two are the fertility dance and the hunting ceremony.

In autumns, the fertility dance was held during which women would dance with their hands above their head, a dance that resembles modern ballet, symbolising female elegance and beauty. During the fertility dance, they would have eaten some of the local mushroom Boletus, which with its poisonous properties offered a strong hallucinogen experience to whoever ate it. A drawing of the mushroom is highly visible during the fertility dance scene. This would explain some of the drawings on the walls that were believed to be aliens.

One grouping from the late Neolithic has been interpreted as a solar calendar, the earliest such representation yet discovered in Europe.[5][6] The calendar precisely calculated 366 days in a year of 12 months, which makes it one of the most accurate prehistoric calendars ever found. This was used by the cave society to calculate the fertility season, which was held in autumn.

After the fertility dance, women would retreat in the warmer part of the cave, which is 15 degree Celsius all year round and stay there till spring. Men, who were in the colder part of the cave (12 degree Celsius) next to the exit, would have hunted and cooked meat for the women for the duration of their pregnancies. Contemporary imitations are reported — inscriptions in Latin and paintings made by treasure-hunters. The medium used to create the art was bat guano.[7] More than 750 images have been identified.

Painted signs can be organised into four thematic groups: anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, geometric, and symbolic (astronomic?) figures.[8] For the first group, there are bitriangular silhouettes with raised rounded arms (females with a sort of a waist bow, males with legs and sex like a trident, sometimes stylised like a "bottle opener"), archers, ithyfallic figures, copula, linear schematic anthropomorphic figures with raised arms (sometimes like dancing) and "fungiforms". Regarding zoomorpic items, there are caprids, bovids, dogs, "ostrich-like" animals (big birds) and schematic linear quadrupeds. Geometric signs show T-shaped figures (likely axes), vertical parallel lines (counts?), horizontal zigzags, vertical parallel zigzags, branch-like or tree-like figures, chessboard patterns, rhombi, horizontal stair-like patterns, crossed networks, honeycomb networks and crossed circles. Few rayed circle figures, mainly the two unica of the so-called calendar scene, likely represent a sun depiction.

Taking count of some associated figures, it is possible to recognise dancing, hunting, and mating scenes. In the so-called Cult Hall a large horizontal dance and hunting scene is depicted, arranged in two main rows: these are the best known and most reproduced Magura Cave images.

Access to the area of the paintings is restricted in an effort to preserve them.[9] Before 1993, the cave wasn't protected and there was free access to all. For this reason, some of the drawings have been vandalised and there are scratches on the walls. The cave is now open to the public all year round and the drawings can bee seen only with the presence of a tour guide and a payment of 5 BG lv.


  1. ^ "Bulgarian rock art: the Magura Cave paintings". TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin. November 19, 2014. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Magoura Cave with drawings from the bronze age". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Kassabova, Kapka (2008). Bulgaria. New Holland. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-84537-564-5. 
  4. ^ Magura Cave. UnicArt Bulgaria. 2014. p. 1. 
  5. ^ Stoev, Alexey; Maglova, Penka (2014), "Astronomy in the Bulgarian Neolithic", in Ruggles, Clive L. N., The Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, New York: Springer, pp. 1377–1384, ISBN 978-1-4614-6140-1 
  6. ^ Tomova, Iva; Lazarkevich, Irina; Tomova, Anna; Kambourova, Margarita; Vasileva-Tonkova, Evgenia (1 January 2013). "Diversity and biosynthetic potential of culturable aerobic heterotrophic bacteria isolated from Magura Cave, Bulgaria". International Journal of Speleology 42 (1): 65–76. doi:10.5038/1827-806X.42.1.8. 
  7. ^ Bahn, Paul G. (1998). The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0521454735. 
  8. ^ Arcà, Andrea (November 19, 2014). "Bulgarian rock art: the Magura Cave paintings". TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014. 
  9. ^ "Bulgaria Magura Cave Paintings Exhibited for First Time". March 18, 2009. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 

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