May 14, 2011

Sumela Monastery

Out of the many things I liked and appreciated at the Black Sea Int. Theatre Festival, was this one: they organized a trip to the Pontic Mountins, to visit the Sumela Monastery. And, boy, that was beautiful...and scary at some points... 

Sumela Moastery is 1600 year old ancient Orthodox monastery located at a 1200 meters height on the steep cliff at Macka region of Trabzon city in Turkey. The monastery is constructed on rocks reached by a path through the forest. The beautiful frescoes dating from the 18 th century on the walls of the monastery are biblical scenes of Christ and Virgin Mary. The site was abandoned in 1923 and became a museum and a popular tourist attraction because of its breath-taking location, structure and scenery.
The Trabzon Guide we've received from the festival was really helpful! I loved it!

The traffic in Turkey is madness. They drive like crazy. And they keep like millimeters distance form car to have the feeling you'll hit the car next to you every second...Not to mention, the road up to Sumela was really narrow, and the driver was speeding like a madman. We realized this is the way Turkish people drive. One thing is for sure. We haven't seen one car accident for the whole stay in Turkey. So...thumbs up. I'd like to learn how to drive in Turkey! I'm serious! They are really pro's! :D
So, here's more info about this amazing place! Sumela is the Greek Name of the monastery, founded in the name of Virgin Mary (Μονή Παναγίας Σουμελά, in English monastery of the Panaghia which is the name of Virgin Mary in Greek). There are two theories of the reason of the name ‘Sumela’ to be put in this monastery. ‘Mela’ in Greek means ‘dark’ or ‘black’. This may refer to the black forrest and the mountains where the church is built. But it may also refer to the icon of Virgin Mary too because in the icon Virgin Mary is dark, or could be even described as black. Also the mountain’s name became known as Oros Mela (Black Mountain) because of the Monastery.

In the 12th century, it was very common to describe Virgin Mary in black to emphasize the mysterious expression on Virgin Mary’s face. These icons were called Black Madonna mostly used in Georgian art and Eastern Europe which is also believed to be the traces of ancient Indian art. This Black Madonna’s are usually found in the heights of forests in the mountains near a healing spring and is believed to arrive there for a miraculous purpose. These places become a pilgrimage place for Christians. 
The icon in Sumela Monastery could also be black by the black wooden surface. Enough research could not be done so we do not have clear information about the age of the icon or if it is a true Black Madonna or not. There is an old photograph of the icon and in this photo the wooden surface and the silver frame surrounding the icon is seen clearly.
Foolin' around with Sevki, while waiting to climb the stairs up to Sumela. :)

 During the reign of Theodosius I (375 – 395), two Athenian priests named Barnabus and Sophronius, while travelling from Athens to Trabzon, found a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary in a cave on a mountain, and decided to build a church there to create a house for the icon. This cave or hollow today forms the center of the monastery.
 According to the legend, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, St Luke, made the icon and after his death the icon was sent to Athens. However, during the reign of Theodosius I, the icon wished to leave Athens and it was carried by angels from Athens to Trabzon and put into this cave for Barbanus and Sophronius to find it. 
The icon is believed to be of a great age and to possess miraculous properties. In the center of the Monastery, there was a sacred pool into where large drops of water from thirty or forty meters above were falling. Not only in Christianity but also in Muslim religion Mother Mary is believed to bring health to people. So over the centuries, Christians and Muslims came to the monastery to seek for health from these sacred water drops after offering gifts and sacrifices to the monastery. 

Today, Sumela Monastery stands on the high cliffs of Zigana Mountains on an attitude of 1200 meters, in the Macka region of Trabzon province at the Black Sea region of Turkey, 46 km (26 miles) away from Trabzon. The monastery is inside the Altindere National Park surrounded by a beautiful forest and at the bottom of the mountain flows one of the arms of Degirmendere Creek. The vehicles can reach up to the parking lot at the 950 meters height near to the river, and from that point one needs to hike uphill through the path way approximately 1 km (0.7 mile) to reach the entrance of the monastery which is located at an attitude of 1200 meters from the sea level.
 The Rock Church is the oldest part of Sumela Monastery. The icon of Virgin Mary was found by two Athenian monks named Barnabus and Sophronius, and the monks decided to cover the Icon by forming the cave into a church. So the church was formed by carving the cave deeper, smoothing the surfaces and putting a straight wall to the entrance. A small chapel was added jutting the wall on a later period.
The church formed the foundation of the Monastery and the construction expanded in centuries which became a big complex. 
The inner and outer walls of the church are covered with beautiful frescoes with scenes from the Bible about Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. However a closer examination shows that there are older and more valuable frescoes at the layers below the recent ones. The wall facing the courtyard has the frescoes dating from the period of Alexios III. In one of these frescoes Alexios III, his sons Manuel III and Andronikos were described, which are totally ruined today. The frescoes at the chapel next to church are in three layers belonging to three different periods starting from the 18th century.
 After the invasion of Trabzon by Sultan Mehmet II in 1461, Sumela Monastery started to have the influence of Turkish art and design in its structure. This influence can be observed in details such as cupboards, niches on the walls, and the fire-places in the rooms surrounding the courtyard. The pointed arches of the fountain that is collecting the sacred water are reflecting the characteristics of the Turkish architecture as well. Another Turkish influence can be observed on some of the paintings on the walls colored with dark red which resembles the brick pointing designs used in 18th century Turkish buildings.

 Inside the Rock Church.
 On our way back to the city. Just a quick photo stop at a fall...
 Although the weather wasn't perfect...(it rained), I had a lot of fun and this place was absolutely amazing...I was always smiling.  :)
See ya soon!
Love, Gab~

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