Turkey has a long history that dates back to more than 4,000 years ago.
It has undergone many changes and has seen many historical buildings built, demolished, and restored.
One such building is the Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, located along the Black Sea coast of Turkey.
The Monastery has been through many hardships throughout its existence. Yet, it still stands today and is a popular tourist destination in Turkey.
It’s a testament to Turkish masonry and artistry.
The Sumela Monastery is one of the most impressive religious buildings in Asia and is over 1,600 years old. The Monastery is against a cliff overlooking the Trabzon landscape.
Beautiful frescoes and paintings adorn the walls depicting biblical events.
Find out how you can visit this Turkish delight for sore eyes.
The History of Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery, or Sumela Manastiri per its Turkish name, is a Greek Orthodox monastery. The building was built in 836 AD on a steep 1,200 meter (3, 937 feet) tall cliff for the Virgin Mary.
It sits in the Pontic Mountains, 50 km (31 miles) away from the nearest city, Trabzon.
Sumela Monastery was built and inhabited by monks from the start.
However, in 1923, the Monastery had to be abandoned. This was a forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
The population exchange made it legal to ethnically cleanse Turkey’s Christian and Muslim minorities.
The monks weren’t allowed to take anything with them and left the Trabzon Sumela Monastery as is.
But before they left, they did hide an important icon of the Virgin Mary in St Barbara’s chapel under the floorboards for safekeeping.
A few years later, a brave monk secretly returned to Sumela to retrieve the famous icon.
He then moved it to their newly built Monastery, Panagia Soumela Monastery, on the slopes of Mount Vermio, near the town of Naousa in the northern part of Greece.
Today, Sumela Monastery is no longer in use, except for one day of the year for a church service. Other than that, it stands only as a tourist attraction.
Recently, the Monastery went through a massive restoration that took five years to complete. In July of 2021, the sanctuary opened again for visitors.
Sumela Monastery Today
The striking Sumela Monastery in Turkey will take your breath away in more ways than one. It is a colorful collection of stone buildings built into the side of a cliff.
The climb is steep with a long and narrow flight of stairs.
A hike to the top is worth it because you’ll find several areas to see. It has chapels, a library, a kitchen, a guest house, student rooms, and a sacred spring.
The most beautiful building to visit in the complex is the Rock Church.
Biblical frescoes cover Rock Church inside and out. The extraordinary images depict the stories of Christ himself and the Virgin Mary.
Definitely worth the long climb to take a few snaps with your polaroid camera.
Why You Should Visit Trabzon Monasteries and the City
Trabzon is one of the Black Sea’s most important regions.
The capital city of the Trabzon province has many religious and historical remnants.
Many times these two intertwine as monasteries, like Sumela and churches.
Besides its historical and cultural importance, it also has beautiful landscapes and mountain villages.
Trabzon is worth visiting, whether you’re a history buff or a nature lover. However, its claim to fame isn’t its numerous monasteries, churches, and mountains.
If you mention Trabzon today, most people will recognize it for its hazelnuts and football team – Trabzonspor.
While Sumela Monastery is the most well-known Monastery in Trabzon, it isn’t the only one. There are five monasteries in total.
Besides Sumela, they are Peristera, Vazelon, Amenapirgic, and Kizlar. They were all built at different stages throughout history, with the oldest building, Valezon Monastery, dating as far back as 270 AD.
While it is the oldest building in the area, it is lesser-known because of its 100-year vacancy. Peristera Monastery is known as Kustul Monastery and Hizir Ilyas Monastery by the locals.
It is a popular hiking and trekking attraction because of the marvelous views enjoyed from the top of its cliff.
After visiting Sumela Monastery, you should check out these monasteries next.
How to Travel to the Sumela Monastery in Trabzon
To travel to the Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, you’d first need to get to Turkey. Turkey’s capital is Ankara, while Istanbul is its largest city. There are a few ways to get to Trabzon from these two cities.
Trabzon is also the closest large city in Turkey which is close to neighboring Georgia, which is located around 2 hours away.
The fastest way to get to Trabzon from Istanbul is by plane. Several flights are available to Trabzon Airport (TZX), so you should have no problem finding a flight. Flights take about one hour and 45 minutes and are reasonably priced.
You can take a bus from Istanbul for a slightly cheaper travel option. The overnight bus is a long road trip of 19 hours. Several buses leave Istanbul, with most leaving from Istanbul Central Bus Station.
The bus will take you to Trabzon Bus Station near the city center.
Flying remains the fastest way to reach Trabzon from Ankara as well. There are only two direct flights that connect the cities. Ankara Esenboga Airport to Trabzon Airport flights are slightly faster and take about one hour and 15 minutes.
Taking a bus from Ankara is also slightly faster compared to Istanbul. Several 24-hour buses run from Ankara Asti Bus Station and Ankara Sogutozu Bus Station. A bus ride from either of Ankara’s bus stations will take 11 hours.
Your bus trip doesn’t have to be overnight, but it will be more convenient for time management on your journey.
From Trabzon to Sumela Monastery
Now that you’ve arrived in Trabzon, you need to travel to Sumela Monastery. Unfortunately, there is no public transport in Trabzon. You’ll either need to rent a car, Dolmus, taxi or take a tour from Trabzon Airport.
The cheapest mode of transportation is taking a Dolmus (minibus) to the Monastery in summer.
They leave twice a day between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm from the eastbound Dolmus station, along the highway.
The minibus trip takes one hour to reach the Monastery. You’ll have three hours to explore before taking the same Dolmus back to Trabzon city center.
There are no direct Dolmus’ in winter, and you’ll have to take an additional taxi from its stop in Macka.
Car or Taxi
You can rent a car in Trabzon and drive to the Monastery. Turkey’s roads are generally safe and in good condition. Alternatively, you can take a taxi and sit back.
Taxi rides cost between ₺150 TRY ($ 11 USD) to ₺180 TRY ($13 USD). Both the car and taxi ride take about 42 minutes.
There are a lot of tours available that will transport you from Trabzon to Sumela Monastery in Turkey. Private tours are quoted according to the type of vehicle and number of tourists.
Some tours also add other places nearby, too. Most tours cost around ₺50 TRY ($3,5 USD) but check to see if your tour includes your entrance fee in the price.
Additional Information about the Sumela Monastery
Here are a few additional factors to consider when you’re planning your Sumela Monastery and Trabzon trip.
Best Time To Visit
Trabzon, like Turkey, has humid subtropical climates because it’s so close to the Black Sea. The best time to visit Trabzon, and by proxy Sumela Monastery, is in autumn and spring.
Spring is between March and May, while autumn is between September and November.
The Monastery is mainly a tourist attraction and relatively small inside.
It can get crowded with hordes of tourists. The best time to avoid the crowds is thus early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
The entrance fee to Sumela Monastery in Turkey costs ₺50 TRY ($3,5 USD). Children under eight can enter for free.
You can buy a Museum Pass for Turkey, which gives you admission to over 300 museums and archaeological sites within Turkey, including Sumela Monastery. Passes are valid for 15 days and cost ₺360 TRY ($26 USD) per person.
There is no accommodation nearby the Monastery. The closest place you can book a room is in the nearest city, Trabzon. Hostels and hotels in Trabzon are very affordable.
Adelante Hostel is the only hostel in Trabzon with mixed dorm rooms. Rooms cost about ₺200 TRY ($14,5 USD) per night with breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
Zenofon Residence Trabzon
Zenofon Residence is an apartment in the city center that costs about ₺193 TRY ($ 14 USD) per night.
It is self-catering and comes with a balcony, kitchen, and free Wi-Fi. Car rentals and airport shuttles are also available.
TS Gold Otel
TS Gold Otel is a hotel close to the city center where rooms are a bit pricier at ₺300 TRY ($ 22 USD) per night.
Each room has a mountain or sea view and features a complimentary tea and coffee station. Car and tour services are available at an additional cost.
Final thoughts on the Sumela Monastery and Trabzon in Turkey
The Sumela Monastery is one of the oldest buildings in the Christian world, and yet it is no longer in a Christian country.
While Turkey became a Muslim country in the 11th century, it still managed to keep many Christian historical buildings and artifacts intact.
Thankfully so, or you would have missed out on the marvelous monasteries of the olden world.
The Sumela Monastery and Trabzon will leave you breathless because of their beautiful architecture and paintings. Not only that, but their scenic landscapes are something to behold.
Make sure these historic and culturally rich areas are on your next Turkish itinerary.