Thursday, March 29, 2012

the Sumela Monastery

Originally one of my list of the top 3 destinations I hoped to venture to while in Turkey, the Sumela Monastery didn't disappoint. They say it is worth the travel. For thousands of years, Europeans and famous travelers have made their way to this Black Sea coastal town to view the famous Monastery nestled within the Black Mountains. People told their tales to others who passed on the stories of this church city built into the mountain side. The first time I glanced a picture of the whimsically isolated place, I knew any trip to Turkey would be incomplete without it. 

Located in the Macka (pronounced Mach-ka) district, it is known as the Virgin Mary Monastery, built in her honor in 386 A.D. It was founded by two priests named Barnabus and Sophranios (what a name!) during the reign of Theodosius I.

The hike up to the Monastery is all uphill, and we encountered a bit of snow/ice which made for a journey full of surprising trips along the way. And by trips, I mean falling. To get to the Monastery, you can either drive up (pay a small fee) or walk up the side-way of the mountain, with a path there to guide you. It provided some stunning views on the way up, especially of the Black Mountains. But the real treasure is walking down the same road as the cars, that is where the money shots are. The views are stunning from across the valley, which seems to lift the monastery up into the middle of the mountain, as if resting on some invisible cloud.

Once you climb the last set of stairs into the monastery, you are greeted by a view of beautifully constructed stone-built buildings rising before your eyes in a whitewash against the dark, smokey blackness of the mountains out of which the area is carved. There is a library, a dining room, a kitchen, a chapel and several other rooms. Many are preserved with colorful frescos. Most of the frescoes weren't added until the 19th century but some date all the way back to the 17th century! The frescoes illustrate different biblical scenes and beautiful looming portraits of both Jesus and Mary. In fact, the fresco of Jesus was pretty close to how I imagine he truly looked like. We took hundreds of photos in every which way, trying to catch the beauty of the place- which was of course, impossible. The sky was an electric light blue with clouds puffy enough to make you think of cotton candy. The peaks of the mountains were drizzled with bits of snow, creating the perfect contrast with the fur green forests enveloping the mountainsides. I always thought it'd be something magnificent to be a nun- how challenging- both intellectually and spiritually. Though alas, I am clearly not suited for that profession.

The fresh mountain air abounded. On our way back down, we walked the long way, dodging cars along the way. The views were breathtaking. We ended up hitching a bit of the way down to avoid walking through all the snow at the top, but made our drivers pull over to take a picture of the stunning view. As a group decision, we decided we'd walk the rest of the way down, fearing a bit for our lives, the way these crazy old men were driving down the mountainside. All 3km down, we skipped, laughed and general merriment ensued. When we finally got on the dolmus we all passed out, exhausted by our little adventure.

How to Get to the Sumela Monastery: 

  • Getting up to the Sumela Monastery is quite easy. There are several shuttle buses that leave from the city center of Trabzon. It only costs twenty turkish lira for a round trip (which happens to be about an hour bus ride on the dolumus) 
  • Hire a private taxi (will probably run you about 50/60 turkish lira)
  • I wouldn't suggest renting a car...too much effort and money. 

Swinging from the trees  
the view of the Monastery from the hike up 
Making it to the top! (The old aqueduct behind me)

Best friends 

the view of the village down below 

the Sumela community 

frescoes from the 19th and 17th centuries 

the Christ figure 


the amazing group of people we went with! 

electric blue sky 

the view from the walk back down 

Ash, Me, Whitney and her friend 

even farther, you can see the Monastery looking like a shelf in the mountain


  1. try to vısıt other monasterıes around maçka

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