Ancient Rock Engraving Of The Lyre Of Orpheus Is Discovered Inside Bulgarian Rock Cavern

An engraving of a lyre on a rock inside a cavern in Bulgaria has been found, which is believed to depict the famous instrument of Orpheus, who was the beloved Thracian poet and musician in Greek mythology. It was said that Orpheus was able to use his music to charm all those around him, and he was even able to briefly recover his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld after he played his songs for Hades and Persephone, who fell under his spell and allowed him to take his wife home.

The rock relief of Orpheus’ lyre was found very close to the town of Ardino, in an area of rocks known as the Eagles’ Rocks, which forms part of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. This area was reportedly once part of a vast rock complex dedicated to ancient religious rituals, according to Archaeology in Bulgaria, and further engravings have also been discovered along with the lyre, although these engravings still remain a mystery.

The earliest mention of Orpheus dates back to the 6th century BCE, and his parentage remains unclear, although sources say that his mother was most likely the muse Calliope and his father the Thracian king Oeagrus. However, there are those who believed that his beautiful music could only have been the result of being sired by a god, and hold that Apollo was his true father.

Jean Cocteau's artwork of Orpheus and Eurydice at Menton Town Hall in 1958.
Jean Cocteau's artwork of Orpheus and Eurydice at Menton Town Hall in 1958. [Image by Anonymous/AP Images]

The etching of the lyre of Orpheus was discovered by Mincho Gumarov, who is no stranger to the Rhodope Mountains. Gumarov knows the area so well that he not only takes part in various exploratory expeditions in the region, but also engages in a rescue service there. In 1990, Gumarov also uncovered what is known as the Womb Cave, famed for being a very ancient rock shrine.

The discovery of the Womb Cave was kept a secret for almost eight years so that nobody would be able to find the location and steal artifacts from the site and damage it. It was around the time of the Womb Cave discovery that Mincho Gumarov first found Orpheus’ lyre engraving. However, due to the government of Bulgaria being in the throes of a transition out of their Communist regime, Gumarov chose not to make his discovery of the lyre public at the time.

Mincho Gumarov has recently gone back to the location where he originally found the stone relief and decided to make his find public. He explained that despite the site’s accessibility, the etching had most likely been obscured since it was carved.

“Orpheus’ lyre is in a place that’s easily accessible but for decades hunters and hikers have been building fires here so the engraving could not be seen.”

Peter Sivkov is a Bulgarian geologist and has seen the lyre of Orpheus carved into the rock in the Rhodope Mountains. He said that it would have been extremely difficult for the artist to have carved the volcanic rock.

“Trachyte is a rock that hard to engrave. It is the volcanic equivalent of granite. The engraved figures that I see are up to 2 cm wide, and 3.5 cm deep. These can be rightfully described as bas-reliefs. They required serious and hard work. A lot of time was spent working on those depictions.”

An 1869 painting of Orpheus and Eurydice by Anselm Feuerbach.
An 1869 painting of Orpheus and Eurydice by Anselm Feuerbach. [Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Now that the rock engraving of the lyre of Orpheus in Bulgaria has been made public, archaeologists can begin to further explore the history of this region and learn more about the reliefs.

[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]