Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Clinging improbably to the side of Melá mountain in Trabzon province at a height of 1200 metres, is the stoic face of Sümela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery dating back to the Byzantine era. Founded in 386 CE, Sümela was abandoned during the 1923 population exchange between Turkey and Greece, and converted into a museum. I have long been mystified by images of Sümela— it seemed mythical; this long, stone structure embracing a menacing cliff above a dark, storybook forest, so out of place.

I don't know how long the hike up through the forest was. I remember its steepness, the dampness, the smell of earth and impending rain, and the flashes of blue from a spying jay. We stopped part way up to sketch, sitting cross-legged on the ground, occasionally graced by the curious stares of passersby.

The depth of the valley from the monastery was intoxicating— the rushing river below reduced to a pale trickle— the pines, dark spots in a field of many greens. Ravens slipping in and out of view like shadows, lifting into the graying sky, then plunging into the green. I did not expect that behind the impressiveness of Sümela's straight face stood several humbler structures— little stone kitchens, chapels, as well as rooms for monks and visitors, huddled around a central church, which was carved into a cave in the rock— every surface painted with biblical stories.


Julia Kelly said...

Okay-another place i want to go when we make it over to Europe-actually my husband would love to hike up there-ihate heights but would go to sketch, send him on his way to explore!!

Bob Mrotek said...

Okay, so why is it called "Sümela" which means "Scarlet"?

szaza said...

Oh Julia, you should go to Sümela— it's a wonderful place.

I don't know why it is called Sümela, Bob, but I did read that the name of the mountain it hugs is called Melá, which meant 'dark' in Greek.

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks for the clue szaza. The name “Soumela” comes from the Greek “Stou Mela”, i.e. “at the mount Melas”. The monastery originally held the icon of "Panagia Soumela". The word "Panagia" means "most holy" and refers to the Virgin Mary. The icon was believed to
be painted by Saint Luke and it looks very similar to the Byzantine icon of the Virgen at Chestohova in Poland which is also supposed to have been painted by Saint Luke. I just love pulling at these little interesting threads to see where they lead. Thank you very much for this story. I really like your photos too.

szaza said...

Wow, that's really interesting, Bob!
Thank you for your kind words, I'm glad you like the post and photos.

History is a wonderful mystery, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Wow, those scratchy frescos are impressive - the scars of people throughout the years adding to their patina - thanks for showing, its fun to follow your wanderings!

Beth said...

Just stunned by these photographs - especially the monastery embedded in the rocks. I've seen such things before but this one has a dark mystery about it: foreboding and compelling at the same time.

szaza said...

Thank you, Sheryl and Beth!
It is a strange place, and really does feel like it came out of the pages of a dark, dark book.