You can’t visit Trabzon and not visit the monastery of Sumela, some 2,000-feet up in the mountains, and around a 45-minute drive south east of Trabzon. The drive itself is glorious: lush forests, streams, rivers and waterfalls, rocky canyons through which the road winds ever upwards.
Your first glimpse of the famous monastery, said to have been founded in 386 AD when the monks Sophronius and Barnabas discovered an icon of the Virgin Mary reportedly painted by St Luke himself, is likely to come from the viewpoint part way up the paved road leading to the site.
But there’s still a way to go.
The paved road ends in a car park where local women sell hand-made silver wire jewellery. There are ten women who have formed a cooperative and make the jewellery, taking it in turns to work in the shop. You’d think there’d be a tea shop at this point but there isn’t. However, the lovely young women in the shop invited us to share their tea when we returned down the hill from the monastery.
After the car park there is a 300-metre path to be negotiated, steep in places, before you reach the bottom of the flight of steps that leads up to the entrance.
Halfway along the path we encountered this busker playing the kemençe – a three-stringed instrument peculiar to this region and, as you can see, resembling a thin violin which is played whilst being held vertically.
By the time we passed him again on the way down, his case was heaped with coins.
Then the monastery is clearly in view and only the steep staircase to the entrance remains to be tackled – after you’ve paid your 8TL entry fee.
You can see the entry stairs in our photo, with the arches along the cliff face being the restored aqueduct that once brought water into the monastery.
You’ll have to wait for the next article to find out what’s inside.