Much of what is today Turkey was once Greek and the Sumela Monastery was once a Greek Monastery. Much of the Black Sea coastal region was once also Greek. This area was home to the Pontic Greeks in what is today Trabzon Province in Turkey. The Black Sea region of Turkey is less explored by tourists but is busting with history and attractions.
The Sumela Monastery is nestled on a sheer cliff around 1,200 meters or 3,900 feet above sea level overlooking the Altindere Valley. It is truly a dramatic site and reminds one of other extremely placed monasteries around the world - like the impossibly situated Fanjingshan Buddhist monastery in China.
The Ancient History of The Sumela Monastery
According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Sumela Monastery was founded around AD 386. That is in the early days of Christianity being legal in the Roman Empire and during the reign of the emperor Theodosius I (375 - 395). That would also make it among the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.
- Founded: Possibly As Early As AD 386
According to some sources, it was founded by two Athenian monks named Barnabas and Sophronios.
Over its history, the monastery has fallen into ruins several times and later been restored. In the 6th century under the reign of the great Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian, it was restored and enlarged by the famous general Belisarius.
- Expanded: By General Belisarius Under Emperor Justinian
After the 4th Crusade, the Latins stormed Constantinople, what was left of the Byzantine Empire split into three rump states. One of these was the Empire of Trebizond centered on Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. During this period in the 13th century, the monastery reached its present form.
- Present Form: From The 13th Century
After the conquest by the Ottomans, it was granted the sultan's protection by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1461. In the succeeding years, it remained a popular destination for monks and various travelers.
Abandonment Of The Sumela Monastery
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One and the ensuing Greek and Turkish war in the 1920s, the Greek population in Turkey was expelled. The agreement between Greece and Turkey one hundred years ago was that they could no longer live with each other and so their populations were "exchanged". All the ethnic Greeks (except for Istanbul) had to leave Turkey and all the Turks had to leave Greece.
- Greeks: Were Expelled From Turkey
It was to this context that the impressive Sumela Monastery was abandoned. Much of the wooden parts of the monastery were destroyed by a fire in 1930 while looters damaged other parts of the monastery.
- Abandoned: After 1923
The monks founded a new monetary in Greece called Panagia Sumela Monastery in 1930. Today the holiest site in Greece is Mount Athos - a peninsula from which women have been forbidden for 1,000 years.
Visiting The Sumela Monastery Today
The monastery is more than just visually stunning, it is also of great historical and cultural significance, as well as a major tourist attraction within Altındere National Park.
Today the ancient Sumela Monastery is a museum open to visitors and is one of the main attractions around Trabzon. There are also efforts by the Turkish government to restore the monastery. It is certainly a stunning sight and one well worth visiting.
The gateway to the Sumelar Monastery is the major Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon. One can take a guided tour from Trabzon to the monastery, alternatively, it is easy to hire cars for a self-guided tour.
The Sumela Monastery itself can only be reached by the local minibusses in the National Park.
Tours of The Sumela Monastery
There are plenty of guided tours from Trabzon. One example of a guided tour is the Sumela Monastery Tour from Trabzon. On this tour, one can spend a stunning day of discovery in the Altindere National Park and visit not only the Sumela Monastery, but also the Historical Zigana Pass (2050m), Karaca Cave, Torul SkyWalk Terrace, and Hamsiköy Village.
One can either be picked up from one's hotel or from a predesignated meeting place. After visiting the Sumela Monastery the tour moves on to the Historical Zigana Pass where the tour stops for a lunch break at a local restaurant on the road.
The Zigana Pass is also of historical significance as it was one of the most important passages of the historical Silk Road. It was an important link that connected East Anatolia and Iran to the West. After that, the tour head to the Karaca Cave where one will be dazzled by its gallery of stalactites, stalagmites, and travertines.
- Duration: 9 Hours (Departure Time 9.30 am)
- Tour Type: Small Group Tour - Up To 15 People
- Includes: Admission fee for Altındere National Park
- Excludes: Museum and Entrance Fees, Lunch, And Shuttle service fee in The Park
- Cost: Approx. $20.00