Sunday, July 18, 2010


One of our favorite places on the trip was the Sumela Monastery, about 45 miles outside of Trabzon, Turkey. The monastery was built in the side of a cliff in the 4th century A.D., and legend has it that two priests established the monastery after having found a mysterious icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave up on the mountain. It all sounded a bit familiar--just like the Uspensky Monastery in Sevastopol, Ukraine, which also has its own Virgin Mary icon story and is also built into a cliff.

As much as we loved the Uspensky Monastery, however, it did not compare to this one.

Our first sighting of the monastery was from a view area where the bus stopped so we could take pictures:
You can barely see the monastery behind us in this picture.

There was a 1 km hike from the parking lot to the monastery entrance:

We were entertained along the way by this gentleman and his interesting music:

We climbed up a long flight of stairs, feeling like characters in a movie, maybe The Princess Bride, or perhaps Indiana Jones:

We went through the little doorway at the top . . .
. . . and saw this on the other side below us:

It is hard to imagine how this place came to be. Who drew up the architectural plans and did the engineering math? Who were the workmen that had to get up and down the cliff before the stairs were in?

We descended the stairs into the main courtyard:

Windows in one of the side rooms to the left of the steps above, looking away from the monastery:
A picture of the same windows from the outside:

Off the main courtyard, the murals were absolutely breathtaking in their size, scope, and complexity:

The tragedy of their condition, however, appeared as we drew closer:
The graffiti wasn't as bad about eight feet up the wall, but it looked as if someone had peppered the murals with BB shot:

The placement of this sign on top of the graffiti seemed a bit ironic: (I could just imagine a child asking, "Mom, what's a flash bulb?)

Isn't this a great rendition of Christ? It almost has a 20th century look to it, or at least an animation feel:
I love the stylized hands indicating the Trinity:

These four angels are my favorite mural. Imagine what they looked like in their Glory Days before experiencing the ravages of time and disrespect. (Hmmm, come to think of it, I wonder that about a lot of actual people I meet.)

It is already hard to believe we were really there:

Tag! You're it!
It was fun to watch these Muslim Turks enjoy the Orthodox sights, just as we had seen so many non-Muslims enjoying the beautiful mosques:

We had never heard of the Sumela Monastery before planning our trip. Perhaps as the Turkish government works to restore the murals (everything else is in incredible condition), it will become better known outside of Turkey. Some day it could be a destination site like the Acropolis or Ephesus. Although not as large, it is every bit as spectacular.

At the bottom of the mountain on our way back to our bus, we passed the ubiquitous barbecued corn-on-the-cob stand, seen all over Turkey. They are like fish taco stands in Tijuana or Starbucks in the U.S.
Finally, watch this video all the way to the end, and you'll see our guide give us a short Turkish dancing demonstration, accompanied by another trail musician.


  1. Very interesting, kind of looks like something out of the Last Airbender cartoon series. Maybe that is where the cartoon got their inspiration.

  2. On a very warm day in Trabizon it was nice and cool up in the mountains. It reminded me most of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. However, this was hundreds of years older than those cliff dwellings. Very cool.

  3. Stunning. I'm putting this one on my list of Things to See. I'm so glad you wrote about it. I can't watch your video for some reason, but I'll see if I can find it on YouTube.

  4. This is my favorite day so far. :)
    I love the monastery!
    When we were in Jordan in 2003, we stopped at a cafe or store. They tried to sell us a stringed instrument that was very similar to the one in your video. Pete sat down, and cello-styled, played "Ode to Joy." He was a big hit! But we didn't buy the thing.

  5. I think this is my favorite day, too. Amazing what can be built without modern tools. How sad to have them uglified by graffiti.