Madan – The path of the ore



15 km from Rudozem in the next valley is Madan, a mountain town with a population of about 6500-7500 people, 30 km from the town of Smolyan and 120 km south of Plovdiv. Madan is the centre of a municipality with a population of 15500 people. The average altitude is 700 m, mainly hilly terrain and valley slopes with significant gradients. The environment is clean and healthy. Forest covers 131,255 acres, with a ratio of deciduous and coniferous species 25: 75%.

The name of Madan which locals call ‘Village’, is relatively modern and related to ore mining. Madan is from an Arabic word – Madden, meaning mine. There is also evidence that Madan was of consequence in antiquity, bearing in mind its geographic location and the traces of old ore-mining in the town and surrounding area. Historical sources indicate that lead-ore mining dates back to the 4th to 5th centuries BC, during the rule of the Thracian tribe, the Coelaletae.

The oldest mine galleries found in current developments are in “Good Fortune” mine. In “Borieva” mine, Maroon coins (an ancient coinage) have been found as well as coins from Thasos 3rd to 4th centuries BC. Various studies indicate that the ore deposits have been used by Thracians, Romans, Saxons, Germans and Russians who have all left their handwriting in the production of lead and zinc.

Tradition says that the small village of Madan 200-300 years ago was a large settlement with highly developed but primitive industry making artefacts such as horseshoe-nails to coffee mills and weapons. These products were sold over almost all the Ottoman Empire and the weapons were bought by the Bulgarian rebels.

During the period of Ottoman feudalism, not only mining prospered, as Madan was also a neighbourhood centre for trade and crafts. Trade was in the hands of professional merchants who maintained economic ties with Thessaloniki, Xanthi, Komotini and other cities. The population owned many goats and sheep and from the local and foreign wool (from the Aegean), they wove textiles which were sold in Drama, Kavala and even in Thessaloniki.

Quite interesting are Bulgarian Rhodope costumes, whose complex composition has no surplus, everything is selected with a great sense of proportion and beauty, preserving the design, cut and colour of old Bulgarian costume. Considerable use is made of red or orange tartan patterned fabrics.

Madan Folklore costumes

Madan Folklore costumes

Madan was liberated on January 20th 1878, but according to the Berlin Treaty remained within Turkey. During the Balkan War in 1912 the town finally won its freedom.

In the coming years the mining activity expanded – Germans and Russians working together, who launched the beginning of “Gorubso”.

On August 22nd 1953 by the Decree of the Presidium of the National Assembly Madan was declared a city.

The geological and relief diversity of the municipality includes many natural phenomena, rock formations, valleys, caves, gullies and surface erosion structures:

  • In the village of Lyaska, there is a rock formation Known as the “Horse head”;
  • in Srednogortsi, a small gorge and waterfall “Mechi Dol”;
  • in Sharenka an Alpine slope called “Grandmother” and a cave “Sharenka”;
  • Maglishta boasts a cave formed in a marble massif, unadventurously called “Hole”.
  • Two noted landmarks are the beautiful Roman river bridges that date back to the first millennium. Through them passed the former way to the Aegean.

“Agupte” are the oldest inhabitants of Madan. They made themselves busy as craft-blacksmiths. Honest people, hard workers, they have disappeared over the generations. In Rhodope there is a widespread tradition that the Agupte were brought from Egypt by the Romans to process ores in Madan and elsewhere in the Rhodopes. Another competing belief is that the Agupte were originally brought to this region from Egypt as soldiers and then settled in Madan as workers connected to the mineral deposits. About 150 of the Agupte workshops are known and these were driven by water hydropower. They manufactured guns, knives, hoes, shovels, nails, bells and other tools. Their forges they called “kuznya”, which was a poor small building built directly on the earth, usually with wattle walls, plastered with mud and with a roof made of planks covered with straw and stones.

Of this industry now there are only memories and ruins. Because of their hard labour they usually died young. However the Agupte remained in the hearts of the people as representing honesty with dignity and they have never been forgotten.

In 1984, Madan saw the opening of “Rhodope Crystal”, which is a museum collection of crystalline mineral samples extracted from the mines of the region over an extended period.


The museum exhibits amount to approximately 600 items, and the museum itself is a member of the International Association of Mineralogical Museums. Many of the crystalline forms of Galena and Sphalerite are unique. The Sphalerite, whose name comes from the Greek word “Sfalera” meaning false, deceptive (because of its similarity to other minerals), is in several varieties. The museum has many rare varieties of Quartz – violet Amethyst, black morion and smoky Quartz. Some Agate, Chalcopyrite, Marmatite and other minerals included too.

In the area known as Blue Oak there are unique marble formations carved by the water. This area is a kind of mini reserve with interesting oak forest.

The area “Sponge” is a rock massive with a small cave, called Triangular, where pottery shards from different eras have been found. Following the path through the rocky massive you can reach the Thracian mine, where primitive tools have been discovered used for the extraction of ore and clay for lamps. Nearby is Rimpapa rock, 50m high, resembling a man with a cloak; it is popular for rock climbing. Behind it there are the remains of an ancient settlement in which they found traces of underground clay pipes.

Cave Museum Sharenkata

Cave Museum Sharenkata

The cave “Sharenka” is named after the neighbourhood nearby. Its size is about 300-400 m and there are still unexplored branches. It can be reached by an asphalt road for about 3 km or by a 300 m walk along a mountain trail.

Gazebo over Madan

By the entrance there is a wooden gazebo with a fountain and the canyon opposite has a waterfall. There is convincing evidence that the cave has been used by the Thracians in the late Iron Age and Roman times – 6th century BC until 6th century AD. According to archaeologists, this is the first cave which as well as being a habitat cave has also been definitely co-used for mining. Besides being a home and a mine, inside smelting of the ore, mainly lead and zinc, has taken place. The cave even has a crack, which served as natural ventilation, vital during smelting. Through its adoption by the municipality the cave has been turned into a cave museum, unique in Bulgaria. The museum has three visitor corners that recreate scenes from early everyday life and the extraction of ore from the time when the cave was inhabited by the wealthy Thracian peoples.



The area Kichikaya contains a proto-Bulgarian fortress, later conquered by the Romans. The old stone walls of buildings remain as well as the fortress wall. Fully preserved is a draw well, carved 9 m down into the rock.

In the “Grandmother” area, the old mine was carved into the actual rock by Russian geologists in the 1950s.


Over the years, Madan has become a well developed city, thanks to the “Garubso” profits gained from lead-zinc production. During the period of socialism Madan was the city with the highest average salary in the country.

Before Gorubso, the deposits in Madan and mines around it were operated by the Bulgarian-German company “Granitoid” which built the funicular railway from the Borieva mine to Kardzhali.

Wide doors lead to the largest hospital in the region called “Prof Dr Konstantin Chilov”. There are two middle schools and large industrial enterprises like “Minstroy-Rhodope”, “Mechanical Plant” and factories for the production of adhesives and rubber.

The crossroad location of Madan, its underground resources, surrounding forests and its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea have always attracted conquerors and they all left their marks in the history of this region. The most numerous and permanent are the traces of Bulgarian culture. Even today there are remains of ancient clerical and monastic places such as “Buchov Monastery” and chapels like “St Kostadin” and “Holy Wednesday”, located right in the middle of the city, where the Little and Big rivers join with each other.

Under the hill there was the old Mosque of the village, destroyed in 1960. This did not prevent the peaceful coexistence of Christianity and Islam. Indeed there are three other mosques and a church, “St. George Victorious”. This is small in size but has unique architecture and is richly decorated. The islamic one has a capacity of over 1600 people and it is one of the biggest in Bulgaria. Next to the mosque there is a school for hafiz.

Seven paths near Madan lead to interesting rocks, mines, caves, old beech and oak forests, panoramic views and chalets. There are also several nearby hunting areas which are well managed by local hunters. Various species of wildlife such as bats and scorpions can be observed. Beautiful hotels, chalets and houses for guests are ready to welcome tourists from all over the world.