Fascinating Facts About Sumela Monastery

A picture of the Sümela Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Trabzon, Turkey. The monastery is built into a cliff face and is a popular tourist destination.

10 Fascinating Facts About Sumela Monastery

Sumela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox marvel nestled within the picturesque Pontic Mountains of Turkey, holds a rich history and cultural significance that continues to captivate visitors from around the world. From its stunning cliffside location to its turbulent past, here are ten unbelievable facts about Sumela Monastery

1.Sumela Monastery meaning

The name “Sumela Monastery” is derived from the Greek words “Panagia Sumela,” which translates to “Virgin Mary of Sumela” or “Our Lady of Sumela.” “Panagia” is a title in the Eastern Orthodox Church to refer to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. It emphasizes her holiness and importance in Christian theology.

Therefore, Sumela Monastery’s name signifies that it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary (house of Virgin Marry ), and the site holds significant religious and cultural importance in Greek Orthodox tradition. The monastery is considered a sacred place of worship and pilgrimage, attracting visitors from various parts of the world who come to pay their respects and experience the spiritual atmosphere of this historic site. There is also The Church of Virgin Marry in Ephesus Turkey. You may want check it out. If you are into history, You should read our blogs about Gobekli Tepe, Karahan Tepe and Boncuklu Tarla!

2. Cliffside Marvel

A close-up of the facade of the Sümela Monastery, showing the intricate stonework and Byzantine-style architecture.

Perched dramatically on a sheer cliff face approximately 1,200 meters above sea level, Sumela Monastery offers breathtaking views of the Altindere Valley. The stunning location has made it not only a place of spiritual significance but also a major tourist attraction within the Altindere National Park.

3.Meticulous Restoration of Sumela Monastery

Throughout its long history, the monastery has been restored by various emperors during times of ruin. One such significant restoration took place during the 6th century when the Byzantine general Belisarius, under the command of Emperor Justinian, undertook the task.

4.Foundation and Mystery

wall paintings of a religious place

Though the exact date of its founding remains uncertain due to a lack of historical documentation, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism places the establishment of the monastery around AD 386 during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great. Legends attribute its founding to two Athenian monks.

5. Sumela Monastery as a Educational Hub

Sumela Monastery played a vital role in Greek education. It housed the renowned Phrontisterion of Trapezous from 1682/3 until 1921. This educational institution significantly expanded Greek education across the Pontus region and the southern coast of the Black Sea.

6. Abandonment and Resettlement of Sumela Monastery

figures on the walls of sumela monastery describing virgin marry and Jesus

Disestablished: 1923

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, a population exchange between Greece and Turkey occurred, leading to the abandonment of Sumela Monastery. However, in 1930, the migrants founded a new Panagia Sumela Monastery on Mount Vermion in Greece.

7. From Monastery to Museum

Today, Sumela Monastery stands as a captivating museum, showcasing its rich historical and religious heritage. The Turkish government funds its restoration efforts. The site continues to attract pilgrims and tourists from Greece, Georgia, and Russia.

8. Divine Liturgy

wall paintings on the walls of sumela monastery describing a religious ceremony

On special occasions, like the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Orthodox divine liturgy has been allowed to take place within the monastery compound. However, attendance requires a special pass issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

9. Unusual Promotion of Sumela Monastery

In 2022, Sumela Monastery made headlines when video footage revealed modern music and dancing taking place within its sacred walls. The controversial event was explained as a tourism promotion effort, although it sparked debates about the preservation of its sanctity.

10. Fading Frescoes

wall painting of describing a meeting for a religious purpose

The interior of Sumela Monastery features exquisite frescoes, depicting biblical scenes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Sadly, over the centuries, these frescoes have been deliberately damaged, though the exact reasons behind the destruction remain a mystery.

Sumela Monastery continues to stand as an awe-inspiring testament to centuries of history, spirituality, and architectural brilliance. Its unique location, rich heritage, and cultural significance make it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking to explore the wonders of Turkey’s past.

Sumela Monastery history

a stone building with paintings on the side of sumela monastery

Opened 386 AD, Sumela Monastery, also known as the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, is a remarkable religious site steeped in history and perched on a cliffside in the Pontic Mountains of northeastern Turkey. With its exact founding date shrouded in mystery, legend attributes the establishment of the monastery to two Athenian monks, Barnabas and Sophronius, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I around AD 386. Its awe-inspiring location, nestled approximately 1,200 meters above the Altindere Valley, not only provided a strategic defensive position but also created a serene environment for spiritual contemplation. Over the centuries, the monastery underwent several restorations and expansions, including significant work during the Byzantine era under Emperor Justinian’s orders. The interior of Sumela Monastery is with intricate frescoes, portraying scenes from the Bible, life of Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, showcasing the artistic brilliance of the Byzantine period.

Throughout its long and eventful history, Sumela Monastery has witnessed various cultural shifts and challenges. During the Ottoman period, the monastery thrived and even became the home of the Phrontisterion of Trapezous, a renowned Greek educational institution from 1682/3 until 1921. However, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 led to a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. It resulted in the abandonment of the monastery. The once-thriving religious center fell into disuse until restoration efforts began in recent times. Today, Sumela Monastery stands as a testament to the enduring religious heritage of the region. Transformed into a museum, the site attracts visitors from around the world who come to admire its breathtaking location, architectural beauty, and the profound cultural and spiritual significance it holds within the heart of Turkey’s historic Pontic Mountains. If you are into history, You should read our blogs about Gobekli Tepe, Karahan Tepe and Boncuklu Tarla!

Sumela Monastery tours

There are lots of tours in Trabzon or other nearby locations for you. We can’t write a blog for every one of them. What we have done is to call them get a general tour information. Let’s learn what we got!

Sumela Monastery day trips from Trabzon

Sumela monastery tours generally start between 9:30-10:00  and they pick you up from Trabzon.

  • they will pick you up from centralized hotels in Trabzon.

Guided tour Sumela, Karaca Caves and more

  • Your first stop will be the Altindere National Park with its natural waterfalls, babbling brooks, and verdant forests. You’ll have the chance to admire the scenic views across the landscape, and take some photos to memorialize this splendid experience.
  • From the waterfalls, you will take a 15 minute walk to the Sumela Monastery Observation point. Admire the marvelous monastery that was carved into the cliffs over a 1,000 years, and suspended 300 meters above the rolling valley below. Don’t miss the breathtaking views over the forest below.
  • The next stop will be Cosandere Valley, where you have some free time to explore the nature on your own, from the roiling river to the towering trees.
  • You will stop for a lunch break at Zigana Pass, a strategic trading point along the ever-important Silk Road trade route.
  • After lunch we will continue to the ancient Tortul Castle. Take a walk on the 240 meter high glass observation platform and experience the unmatched views from above.
  • One of the highlights of our tour will be the guided tour of the Karaca Caves, located 1,150 meters above sea level, with an otherworldly underground beauty. 
  • The final stop of the day will be the Hamsikoy region, made of 5 villages. They work and live together as one community. The Hamsikoy region is famous for its agricultural products and traditional recipes such as the “Sutlac” pudding. Don’t worry, you’ll have the chance to taste for yourself!

Drop off: 18:00 in Trabzon.

  • They will drop you off at the same location they picked you up from.

Sumela Monastery location

Dress of the Sumela Monastery: Altındere, 61750 Maçka/Trabzon, Turkey

Sumela Monastery entrance fees and opening hours

Wednesday 9 am–7 pm
Thursday 9 am–7 pm
Friday 9 am–7 pm
Saturday 9 am–7 pm
Sunday 9 am–7 pm
Monday 9 am–7 pm
Tuesday 9 am–7 pm

As of 2023 June, The fees are around 300 Turkish lira per person. What we recommend is to get a museum pass that is for all attractions in Turkey. You can get mobile pass on museum card official site.

Heritage designation: UNESCO World Heritage Site

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