The Sumela Monastery is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, located on Melá Mountain within the Pontic Mountains in the Trabzon Province in northeast modern-day Turkey. Built in the 4th century, the monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the Christian world, though it is no longer located in a Christian country. In this article, Culture Trip explores the history of this architectural feat.
The Sumela Monastery, sitting at the foot of a cliff facing the Altindere Valley in Maçka, in the Trabzon province, is known to locals as ‘Meryem Ana‘ (The Virgin Mary). The origins of its name are uncertain. Some sources say it comes from ‘Melas,’ which means black, or from the mountains on which it stands, called the Karadaglar (Black Mountains). Other experts believe that the name comes from the black color of the icon of the Virgin Mary, a very likely hypothesis as Black Madonnas in the region are a very common sight.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
According to one historian, the monastery was founded by two priests, Barnabas and Sophronius, from Athens during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I (AD 375-395). It was later restored in the 6th century by General Belisarius at the request of the Emperor Justinian. It was in the 13th century that the monastery took its present-day form when it received monetary richness from the likes of Alexios III (1349-1390) of the Komnenian Empire of Trabzon (or Trebizond), an empire established in 1204.
Like many other monasteries, the rights of the Sumela Monastery were preserved by the Ottoman Sultans, with some special privileges awarded after the Eastern Black Sea region was under Ottoman rule.
During the 18th century, the Sumela Monastery expanded and grew richer under the aegis of the Voivodas, as many parts were rebuilt and restored, with some wall surfaces being adorned with frescoes. However, it was during the 19th century that the monastery had its impressive golden years, with the addition of large buildings and magnificent decorations, paid for with the numerous gifts sent from Greek Orthodox communities all over Anatolia. It was also during this time that many travelers started to come from all corners of the world to visit the majestic complex, built 1200 meters above sea level.
From April 18, 1916 until February 24, 1918, the Russian invasion of the region of Trebizond gave hope to the restoration of a Christian state in Pontus. But in 1923, after the War of National Liberation, the monastery was deserted following the forced population exchanges between Turkey and Greece.
In 1930, tragic events continued at Sumela Monastery when a large fire caused major destruction of the site, in which all the wooden parts of the monastery were destroyed.
Set in the beautiful Altindere National Park, overlooking lush forests and water streams, and blessed with a rich history and religious importance, it is no wonder that the monastery now serves primarily as a tourist attraction. And though this historical site is another subject of discord between Turkey and its neighbor, Greece, it may finally be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, after undergoing a year of renovations.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.