The Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary, better known as Sumela Monastery (46 kilometers south of Trabzon), is one of the historical highlights of the Black Sea coast.  Perched on the high cliffs of the Zigana Mountains in Altındere Valley (declared as a national park in 1987) at an altitude of 1200 meters, the entire site is blanketed with beautiful forest, offering spectacular views of lushly verdant landscapes.

The monastery—its name derived from nearby Mount Melat—is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of Orthodox Christianity in Turkey.  The monastery was founded in the fourth century CE and abandoned in 1923, after the creation of the Turkish Republic and ensuing compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey.  Follow the main trail some 300 meters steeply upward, the air growing noticeably cooler as you climb through forests and alpine meadows.  En route are waterfalls and numerous lookout points, from which the monastery—suspended on a cliff face high above the forest—will soon come into view.  The monastery complex lies sheltered beneath a hefty rock outcrop.  On the way to the main church lie the remains of a nineteenth-century aqueduct, a guards’ room, a library with a fireplace, a kitchen, a bakery, and a vaulted refectory.  The church, formed in part from a natural cave and also built in the shape of an extended apse, is covered both inside and out with colorful frescoes depicting everything from the Virgin Mary to the Last Judgment.

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