The Black Sea's busiest port, Trabzon mixes cosmopolitan flair with a laid-back vibe. Here Ankara and Istanbul seem very far away. The gracious medieval church (now mosque) of the Ayasofya blends seamlessly with the very modern Atatürk Alanı.
Originally called Hagia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom), the Aya Sofya sits majestically on a terrace close to the sea. Built between 1238 and 1263, it was influenced by Georgian and Seljuk designs, although the wall paintings and mosaic floors follow the prevailing Constantinople style of the time. Converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1461 and later used as an ammunition depot and hospital by the Russians, in 2013 local religious authorities once again converted it into a mosque. The church has a cross-in-square plan topped by a single dome, showing Georgian influence. A stone frieze on the south porch depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. On the western side of the building, the vaulted narthex has the best-preserved frescoes of various biblical themes, and the façade has a relief of an eagle, symbol of the church's founders, the Comnenus family. The best frescoes (the Annunciation, the Visitation, and Doubting Thomas) are in the main apse.
The Italian-designed Kostaki Mansion, built for a Russian merchant in 1913 and mixing elements of rococo, art nouveau, and neoclassical architecture, briefly hosted Atatürk in 1924 and again in 1937, and now houses the Trabzon Museum. One of the most beautiful museums in provincial Turkey, the ornate rooms, with painted ceilings, carved wooden doors, and original furnishings, display an array of interesting ethnographic and Ottoman artifacts. The basement archaeological section has several significant pieces, including a flattened bronze statue of Hermes unearthed at Tabakhane in 1997, as well as beautiful wooden Byzantine icons dating from the fifth through fifteenth centuries.
Atatürk Alanı, nestled in the leafy, hilltop neighborhood of Soǧuksu, was built in 1903 for a wealthy Trabzon banking family in the Black Sea style then popular in the Crimea. With fine views and lovely gardens, it was bequeathed to Atatürk when he visited in 1924. Be sure to notice the simple table in the study with a map of the World War I Dardanelles campaign scratched into the wood.