Sümela Monastery: History etched in mountains

IDIL DEMIREL
TRABZON
Published 21.07.2019 00:28
Built in the 4th century, Sümela Monastery is carved into the Mela Mountain in Maçka, Trabzon.
Built in the 4th century, Sümela Monastery is carved into the Mela Mountain in Maçka, Trabzon.

Fed up with summer clichés? If so, set out to discover one of the most magical places in Turkey: Sümela Monastery

The summer season at holiday resorts continues in full swing, and Instagram is rife with photos from Çeşme, Bodrum and the Greek islands. If all you care about is sun, sand and sea when it comes to summer, this article is not for you; however, it is for those who want to see new places and learn while on holiday. I am one who likes to explore a new place and learn something new at every opportunity. That is exactly why this time I have turned my route to the Black Sea, a place I have never seen. Honestly, the most exciting part of the trip was my visit to the world-famous Sümela Monastery in Trabzon.

It takes about one hour and 20 minutes by plane to travel from Istanbul to Trabzon. We arrived in the city as a team of five. After staying the night in the city, we headed to Sümela Monastery the next morning.

The monastery features early Christians murals.

Open for visitors

After extensive and detailed restoration work that lasted approximately 3.5 years, the monastery reopened for visitors about a month ago. It takes approximately one and a half hours by car from the city's center to reach the monastery located in the Maçka district of the region. Unique nature accompanies you along the long, winding road. After the drive, you will have to walk to Sümela Monastery, which is built on a steep rock face on the foothills of Mela Mountain, dominating Altındere Valley. After reaching the foothills, you walk up the stone stairs to where the monastery is located in the trees. Do not be afraid. The path to the monastery makes walking up very easy. Once at the top, you find yourself on a large terrace.

Two floors of the six-story monastery are made up of terraces. The foundation of the monastery, built by carving out the rocks in the forested area of 300 meters in altitude, date back to the 13th century. However, rumors suggest that there was once a small church where the monastery is now located between the years A.D. 365-395 that was slowly converted into a monastery by adding new structures. As a result, the monastery has 72 rooms, as well as service units, a guest house, a kitchen and a natural spring.

Restoration to end in 2020

With restorations almost finalized, different areas of the monastery are open for visit.

There is an area measuring about 400 meters inside the monastery, which is reached through a narrow road and a stairway of 100 steps from the valley. The restoration is expected to be completed by 2020. Since only the first stage has been completed, we were only able to visit the terrace and look at the main building with fascinating frescoes from a distance. You may ask if it worth going to see while being restored. I say it is absolutely worth it. You will not regret making the trip. The site offers magnificent nature and a charming atmosphere.

4,000 tons of rock removed

During our visit to Sümela Monastery, I had the chance to meet with and talk to Trabzon Province Culture and Tourism Director Ali Ayvazoğlu. He said the restoration work has been carried out in three stages on an area of 79,000 square meters. Also, approximately 4,000 tons of rock were removed and 360 tons of rocks were secured to ensure the safety of visitors. Meanwhile, the second stage of the restoration is currently underway. Visitors will have wait for a about another year to enter the Rock Church. Even though the monastery reopened about one month ago, 47,958 people have already visited so far. "I believe Trabzon will become a new tourist hub soon with thanks to cultural tours. Sümela is crucial for the Black Sea region and Trabzon," Firuz Bağlıkaya, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), said during his visit to the region.

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