Sümela Monastery in Turkey
Clinging to the side of a steep cliff at an altitude of around 1200 meters, the Sümela Monastery overlooks the verdant Altindere valley in Turkey's Trabzon Province. Located within the Altindere National Park, the monastery is a popular tourist attraction and an example of man's ingenuity in constructing a complex of buildings in such an inaccessible location – especially when you take into account the that monastery was founded during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I who ruled from 375 to 395.
According to legend, two priests initiated the building of the Sümela Monastery following their discovery of what they considered to be a miraculous icon of the revered Virgin Mary in a cave where the monastery now stands. Over the following years, the monastery developed, fell into ruin, and was restored again a number of times before it was extended in the 13th century and preserved much in the same state as it is today, with its primary function being a tourist attraction.
In addition to providing a spectacular view of the forests and streams below, the monastery is a cultural and historic marvel. It has also in recent years become a pilgrimage site, with pilgrims particularly from Greece and Russia visiting the monastery because of its religious significance. In August 2010, the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy was held in the courtyard of the monastery for the first time in many decades. The response from pilgrims was so overwhelming, that the numbers for the 2011 event had to be limited to 500, with non-ticket holders watching the ceremony on big screens nearby.
Visitors to Sümela Monastery will find buildings carved into the walls of the cave, with the most significant being the Rock Church. This church has been decorated with frescoes on the outer and inner walls, with the main topic of the frescoes relating to Biblical scenes. Unfortunately, some have been damaged over the years, but many still remain and are fine examples of ancient fresco art. The monastery also has several chapels, a library, a guesthouse, accommodation for students, kitchens and other facilities. A large multi-arched aqueduct is built into the side of the cliff, and a spring of water is found in the cave.
For a meaningful historical and cultural experience, visitors should be sure to include the Sümela Monastery when exploring Turkey's beautiful Altindere National Park.