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Sumela, a thousand-year-old monastery in the heart of Trabzon, Türkiye

Sumela, a thousand-year-old monastery in the heart of Trabzon, Türkiye

Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, is one of the oldest monasteries in the Christian world, with a history dating back a thousand years. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is also known as ‘Mary Anna’ or ‘Mama Maria.’ Constructed over several centuries, the monastery exhibits diverse wall paintings and architectural styles in its various sections.

Sumela Monastery served as a place of worship for monks and nuns during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. However, in 1923, after the forced migration of the Christian and Muslim populations between Greece and Turkey, the monastery was entirely abandoned. Join Eli Ghesht to delve deeper into the fascinating history of Sumela Monastery in Trabzon.

Sumela Monastery, a magnificent building on the rocky cliffs of Eltindre Valley

Sumela Monastery stands as a magnificent structure perched on the rocky cliffs of the Altındere Valley, nestled amidst a dense forest. Also known as Meryem Ana or Holy Mary, Sumela Monastery resembles a grand stone castle when viewed from a distance. However, upon entering, visitors encounter a village with stone rooms and buildings. Situated at an elevation of 1200 meters above the ground, Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, faced abandonment in 1923.

A significant fire in the 1930s further damaged many parts of the monastery. Yet, subsequent restoration efforts transformed it into a historical, religious, and tourist landmark. The roots of Sumela Monastery trace back to the 4th century AD during the Byzantine Empire when Turkey was predominantly Christian. Despite the shift to a Muslim-majority nation in the 11th century, Christian religious structures, including Sumela Monastery, were not destroyed and were even reconstructed.

In 1461, Sultan Muhammad II captured the Trabzon region, influencing the monastery with Ottoman design and art. Presently, traces of Ottoman architecture are evident in the alcoves on the walls, fireplaces, closets, and the dark red wall paintings of Sumela Monastery. The building underwent enhancements and decorations from the 13th century onwards, solidifying its status as a beautifully adorned structure.

The most important parts of Sumela Monastery, Türkiye

The most important parts of Sumla Monastery in Turkey include the rock church, monks’ rooms, two-story kitchen, 10 prayer rooms of different sizes, office spaces, bell tower, library, guest house and holy spring. This monastery is built on a steep rock and can only be accessed by a staircase.

Rock church

The construction of the rock church at Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, is credited to two monks, establishing it as the oldest section of the monastery. Over time, additional components, such as a small chapel near the cave entrance, were incorporated into the original rock church. Throughout various periods, both the internal and external walls of this church underwent embellishment with paintings depicting biblical scenes, Mary, and Jesus (peace be upon them). Analysis indicates the existence of older and more valuable paintings in the lower layers.

Rock church

Facing the courtyard of the rock church, paintings from the era of Alexius III, the Byzantine Emperor of Trabzon, adorn the walls. Unfortunately, one of these paintings, featuring Alexius III, Manuel III, and Andronikos, has been entirely destroyed. Furthermore, the chapel adjacent to the church showcases paintings across three layers from distinct periods.

The northern section of the rock church houses the monks’ residence, the chapel, and the bell tower. The rooms in this area are constructed on the rock’s surface in three to four floors, equipped with shelves and fireplaces. Additionally, five chapels, adorned with wall paintings resembling the style of the rock church’s paintings, enhance this portion of Sumela Monastery.

The big building of the monastery

The large building of the monastery is a large building with a balcony, which is located in front of the rock and at the end of the courtyard. This section was built in 1840 to accommodate the monks and guests of the monastery. The big building of the monastery is not very important in terms of art and architecture.

holy spring

In the past, there was a pond in the center of Somela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, of which little remains today. Drops of water poured into this pond from a height of 30-40 meters, and people drank from this water to be healed.

History of Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Türkiye

The history of Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, can be traced back to 385 AD, according to legends that attribute its origin to two monks who saw an image of the Virgin Mary on the cave and decided to construct a monastery in the same location. However, historical records suggest that the construction of Sumela Monastery commenced in 385 AD and continued until the 19th century.

The initial two rooms of the monastery, hewn into the rocks, were built by two Athenian priests named Barnabas and Sophronius during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I. In the 6th century AD, General Belisarius, at the behest of Emperor Justinian, undertook the reconstruction of the monastery. Unfortunately, in 650 AD, the Byzantines looted and set fire to the monastery.


The present-day structure of Trabzon’s Sumela Monastery took shape during the reign of Alexius III at the beginning of the 13th century. Its annual budget was provided by the empire. Following the conquest of the Trabzon region by Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II in 1461 AD, he ordered the protection of the monastery, a directive subsequent sultans adhered to.

In the 18th century, Sumela Monastery underwent expansion, with many sections being renovated and adorned with wall paintings. During the 19th century, contributions from the Greek Orthodox communities resulted in the addition of large buildings and beautiful decorations to Sumela Monastery, attracting numerous pilgrims and tourists to the site.

The fate of Sumela monastery in the 19th century

Between 1916 and 1918, during the Russian occupation of Trabzon, Sumela Monastery continued its activities. However, in 1923, following the forced migration of Trabzon’s Christian population to Greece, the monastery was abandoned. From 1923 to 1970, Sumela Monastery was situated on the path of shepherds, who used the monastery as a settlement for their flocks. In 1930, a shepherd warming himself by a fire caused a blaze that destroyed the wooden parts of the monastery. Subsequent years saw the invasion of treasure hunters, resulting in further damage to the site.

On August 15, 2010, Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, was reopened for religious ceremonies. Today, the building functions as a museum and is considered a center for religious tourism. In recent years, the Turkish government has undertaken various renovations at the monastery.

The origin of the name Sumela

The exact origin of the name Sumela is not precisely known. According to some accounts, the name is derived from the word “Melá,” which means black or dark in Greek. This association could be due to the dark or black appearance of the mountain where Sumela Monastery is situated. Additionally, there’s a belief that the name is connected to “Black Mary,” symbolizing the Virgin Mary. The etymology of place names often carries historical and cultural significance, and the various interpretations add to the rich tapestry of local legends.


Where is Sumela Monastery?

Where is Soumla Monastery and can everyone visit this religious building? This monastery is located in Mount Mela in Trabzon province in the north-east of Turkey and is open to the public.

Sumela Monastery Address: Türkiye, Trabzon Province, Macka City, Eltindre Valley National Park

The best time to visit Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Türkiye

The best time to visit Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey is June to August. During this period, many tourists visit the monastery; Therefore, if you want to visit this place in a quieter time, it is better to go to the monastery in May or September.

Summary about Sumela Monastery in Türkiye

In this article from Manolyatour, we introduced Sumela Monastery in Türkiye. As mentioned, this monastery is one of the oldest and most historic monasteries in the Christian world. Soumla Monastery is special in terms of architecture and wall paintings, but the location of this building on a rock surrounded by trees adds to its beauty. We suggest you visit Trabzon province during your trip to Turkey and visit this historical monastery.

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