Sumela Monastery

The mountain range rising from the Black Sea coast is nicknamed the Black Forest of Turkey. The mountains are heavily wooded, and the highway that weaves its way up one and down another gives wider, lesser, deeper, more colorful views at every turning. The government is also  busy with a road project including dozens if not hundreds of tunnels that will cut the drive from Erzurum to Trabzon by several hours.

High on a beautifully wooded mountain near Trabzon stands the Sumela Monastery. The story has it that two fourth century Greek monks shared a vision that came in a dream. Go forth from Athens and build in honor of Mary. So they began their search for the perfect site, found this cave far from home, and built. Mary was born in a cave, and she gave birth in something like a cave: this cave honors her and reminds us. The two monks toted the building stone from the quarry kilometers off. That is, this legend perfectly matches the stories of the building of the Kalabaka monasteries some hours by bus north of Athens. The frescoes are horridly pocked by vandals, but you can still see the changes in style and interpretation that occur between the 4th century and, at least, the 14th. Seeing a Renaissance Florentine church here is quite a surprise.

To see all this, you take a bus uphill from the town; When that vehicle can no longer navigate the twists and curves with no guard rail, you switch to a Mercedes small bus equipped with a driver who’s driven the short route probably 8000 times. When the mini-bus can go no further, you must hike for half an hour to reach the monastery. Along the way, you can stop to listen to the buskers playing Piazolla.

The climb, mind you, produces shock waves in your knees.

The long stairs to the only entrance.

The long stairs to the only entrance.

The monastery began in the 4th century.

The monastery began in the 4th century.

Building out from the cave floor.

Building out from the cave floor.

Jesus bursts from the tomb, scaring off the Roman soldier.

Jesus bursts from the tomb, scaring off the Roman soldier.

A new Annunciation fresco. Note the Renaissance churches.

A new Annunciation fresco. Note the Renaissance churches.

Education Center?

Education Center?

The creation of animal life.

The creation of animal life.

Eve eats despite the prohibition.

Eve eats despite the prohibition.

Jesus judges Adam and Eve; Gabriel drives them from Eden.

Jesus judges Adam and Eve; Gabriel drives them from Eden.

Jesus oversees creation.

Jesus oversees creation.

Looking down into the complex from the entrance stairs.

Looking down into the complex from the entrance stairs.

The cave proper.

The cave proper.

Sumela crawls into view.

Sumela crawls into view.

Still a long walk away, both up and down.

Still a long walk away, both up and down.

Restoration came after damage by shepherds and Russian soldiers.

Restoration came after damage by shepherds and Russian soldiers.

The upper floors reflect the new architecture of the 14th and 15th centuries.

The upper floors reflect the new architecture of the 14th and 15th centuries.

 

4 thoughts on “Sumela Monastery

  1. I should be out there writing about religious art instead of in Hurstbourne Tarant in Hampshire chasing a Victorian Quaker artist from Philadelphia. What a trip you are having!!! Nancy ________________________________________

  2. No surprise, you have some stunning photos here, Peter. We like especially the one of the cave with the monastery building cuddled down at the bottom, and “still a long walk,” which shows the differing light values of the different distances so well. And the resurrected Christ scaring the soldiers is a scene we’ve seldom seen depicted before. Also Jesus as judge of Adam and Eve–though we think we remember some disjunction between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity about the Trinity, and certainly the unity of Son as Father here is fitting with the Orthodox images of the Pancrator.

    Thanks, too, for Orestes’ description of the setting and history–and the trek to get there, which sounds a lot like the approach to Machu Picchu from the town of Aquas Calientes below: first the train/bus to town, then the mini-bus up the mountain where you try very hard not to look down the steep sides, then a hike up to the lower entrance….unless you’re lucky enough to arrive at the upper Sun Gate instead, after a 3-day trek over the Inca Trail, as we first did, before overnighting in Aguas and coming back the next day.

    Thanks for so generously taking us along on your journey, Peter. I’m so glad Jerry is now up to reading your reports, as well as enjoying your splendid photography now!

    Fondly, Sid

  3. Hi Peter,

    Once more I feel grateful for these photos of places (in this instance, the wonderful monastery) that motion sickness makes unlikely I will ever see. The description of the bus over twisting roads with no guard rail makes me want to lie down. You, meanwhile, just keep bopping along.

    The ceramic with the three mysterious faces is for me the gem among the museum pieces this time around.

    It IS totally sweet that you’re pining for you girl, and vice versa. No guard rails, there, either — full speed ahead.

    Steve

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