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Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary)

sumela monastery travel turkey Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary)
Photo: Ministry of Culture and Tourism
Table of Contents

    How to go to the Sumela Monastery?

    The location of the Sumela Monastery is easy to find with the Sumela Monastery google maps link below;

    Location of Sumela Monastery (google maps) : FIND HERE

    Sumela Monastery is located in Maçka Altındere Valley; 16 kilometers east of Trabzon’s Macka district which is 47 km from the center of Trabzon and the trip takes approximately 1 hour. You can easily find your way to the monastery by following the signs on the roads with your personal vehicle. If you do not have a personal vehicle, you can reach the historical building by buses from Trabzon to Maçka and minibuses from Maçka to Sümela Monastery. The road is asphalt and easy to reach and at the end there is a 300-meter pedestrian walk in the forest.

    sumela monastery travel turkey 3 Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary)
    Photo: Ministry of Culture and Tourism

    Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary) General Info?

    Sumela Monastery, built on a steep cliff at the foot of Karadağ, which dominates the Altındere valley, within the borders of Altındere Village of Maçka District of Trabzon, is known as ” Meryem Ana (Mother Mary)” among the local people. The Sumela Monastery, which is about 300 meters above the valley, has continued the tradition of monasteries being built outside the city, in forests, caves and waterfronts.

    It is relayed that the name of the monastery, founded in the name of the Virgin Mary, “Sümela” comes from the word “melas” which means “black”. Although this name is thought to come from the dark colored Montenegro where the monastery was founded, the word Sümela can be attributed to the black color of the depiction of Mary here.

    History of Sumela Monastery

    According to legend, the monastery was founded by two monks named Barnabas and Sophranios who came from Athens during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I (375-395), and was repaired by Belisarios, one of his generals, after Emperor Justinianus requested the monastery to be repaired and expanded in the 6th century.

    It is known that Sumela Monastery has been in its current state since the 13th century. Founded in 1204, the importance of the monastery increased during the reign of Alexios III (1349-1390) of the Principality of Trabzon Komnenos (1349-1390) and income was provided by edicts. During the reign of Alexios III’s son Manuel III and subsequent princes, Sumela was enriched with new edicts.

    sumela monastery 3 travel turkey edited Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary)
    Photo: Ministry of Culture and Tourism

    After the eastern Black Sea coast came under Turkish sovereignty, the Ottoman Sultans protected the rights of Sumela, as they did with many monasteries, and granted some privileges.

    Many parts of Sumela Monastery were renovated in the 18th century and some walls were decorated with frescoes. In the 19th century, with the addition of large buildings, the monastery gained a magnificent appearance and lived its richest and brightest period.

    The monastery, which took its final shape during this period, became a place visited by many foreign travelers and the subject of their writings. During the Russian occupation of Trabzon between 1916-1918, the monastery was confiscated and completely evacuated after 1923.

    The main parts of the Sumela Monastery are the main rock church, several chapels, kitchen, student rooms, guest house, library and the holy ayasma. This collection of structures was built on a very large area. At the entrance of the monastery, the large aqueduct, which is understood to bring water, is leaning against the slope. Today, a large part of this multi-housed aqueduct has been destroyed.

    A long narrow staircase leads to the main entrance of the monastery. There are guard rooms next to the entrance gate. A staircase leads down to the inner courtyard. On the left, in front of the cave, which was the basis of the monastery and turned into a church, there are various monastic buildings. On the right is the library. The section with a large balcony covering the front face of the slope on the right was used as monks’ quarters and guest rooms and dates to 1860. In the buildings around the courtyard, the influence of Turkish art can be seen with the cabinets, cells and hearths in the rooms.

    The interior and exterior walls of the rock church and the adjacent chapel, which constitute the main unit of the monastery, are decorated with frescoes. Frescoes from the Alexios III period were found on the wall facing the courtyard inside the rock church. The frescoes in the chapel date to the early 18th century and there are three layers of frescoes from three different periods. The frescoes of the lowest layer are of superior quality.

    sumela monastery frescoes travel turkey Sumela Monastery (Virgin Mary)

    The main subjects of the frescoes, which were removed from the Sumela Monastery and have a very dilapidated appearance, are scenes taken from the Bible, depictions of the life of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

    Legends about the Sumela Monastery

    Following legends enrich the mysticism of the monastery :

    Virgin Mary Icon

    “The painting of the Virgin Mary (icon) drawn on a piece of wood by Luke, one of the apostles of the Prophet Jesus, flew on its own to Athens years later. This painting, which later became famous as Black Mary, Black Angel, Black Madonna due to its dark color, wanted to leave Athens during the Theodosius period in the 4th century.

    The icon was then flown by angels and was placed in one of the mountain arches on the slopes of the Maçka mountains. At that time, monks named Barnabas and Sophranios saw the Virgin Mary in their dreams and the Virgin Mary told them to go to Trabzon and build a church in her name in the hollow where the icon was placed.

    The monks came to Trabzon by sea and found the icon of the Virgin Mary in the stone hollow on the slopes of the Maçka mountains.

    The locals who saw this picture before them wanted to burn the icon, but they couldn’t. They wanted to smash it with an axe, but it didn’t break. They wanted to throw it into the stream and carry it away, but the water of the stream did not drag the icon away. Two monks assigned by the Virgin Mary first built a church and then a monastery in the hollow where the icon was placed by the angels.The two monks, who spent the rest of their lives in Sumela, died on the same day.”

    Holy drops

    In another legend about the holy pool in the middle of the monastery, the legend is told as follows:

    “Large drops of water used to fall from 30-40 meters at different intervals into the sacred pool in the middle of the monastery.These drops, believed to be holy, have been the hope of desperate patients and infertile people for centuries. Throughout the history, a great number of Muslim and Christian patients have visited the monastery to get drop treatments with rich offerings and sacrifices in order to spread the hopes brought by the legend.”

    The Treasure of Sumela Monastery

    Sumela Monastery is said to be home to a treasure that was also the subject of a movie. In earlier times, people even caused serious damage to the historical monument in order to find this treasure, but no one has yet found a trace of the treasure, neither the locals nor the staff working there.

    Although no treasure has been found, the recent excavations have led to the discovery of a new chapel and unexpected frescoes one of which was named as “Heaven and Hell, Death and Life”. It is a historical artifact that has defied the centuries. This well-preserved fresco is located on the wall of a newly discovered secret chapel. It is said that this small chapel has remained hidden all these years because of its secret entrance.

    The discovery of an observation room during the chapel’s restoration work has made the mystery of Sumela Monastery even more famous. The discovery of new ancient rooms in the monastery, has made many people think that the great treasure might be real. We hope this curiosity will not cause further destruction of this historical monument.

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