Mists of Sumela

In spring 2014 I visited Trabzon and the surrounding area over a weekend. This was the second time I was in Trabzon, but the first time being about 30 years back, it was about time I went a second time.

Trabzon is in the eastern Blacksea region of Turkey, with a long history; it was the ultimate destination of the ill-fated expedition recounted in the Anabasis of Xenophon, the place where they returned to the Greek civilization. It is spread along the Blacksea coast and surrounded by the green hills and mountains that the region is famous for.

 Sumela monastery in the rain, Trabzon, Turkey

Sumela monastery in the rain, Trabzon, Turkey

My main goal for the trip was visiting Sumela Monastery, located in the middle of a national park about 45km and one hour south of Trabzon. The monastery was founded in the 4th century, and over the centuries, it was several times abandoned and rebuilt, both under the Byzantine and Ottoman rulers. It was finally abandoned after the population exchange of 1923 and today it is a museum.

Sumela is located about 1200m above sea level in a forested mountain valley, clinging to the side of a rock face that rises several hundred meters above the valley floor. You can either take the steps going up from the valley floor, or drive up to the same level as the monastery and walk a few kilometers to reach it. Either way, the views are breathtaking.

On the day of my visit, the weather was rainy, sometimes a light rain that we call 'idiot wetter', and sometimes what the English call 'it's raining cats and dogs.' I put up two views of the monastery, one clear and the other during heavy rain. In my view, the rainy view is infinitely more in character. There are several other photos of the valley, trees, the lush undergrowth, rocks and even a snail contently munching a leaf.

Most of the rest of the trip was spent driving around in the hills and valleys of the Trabzon area. The hillsides (some so steep, they should be called cliffs, really) are covered with forests and tea plantations, as the mild and rainy climate allows the subtropical bush to be cultivated here. As any visitor to Turkey notices, tea is the national drink of Turkey, but maybe you didn't know that most of it is grown domestically.

As you drive along the mountain roads, misty vistas of hills, valleys, small villages, gardens and plantations open up one after another. Of course, the villages are less picturesque close up. The reason even cliffs are covered with gardens is the scarcity of arable land in this region, and even though the people have a reputation for being resourceful and hardworking, they are also quite poor. You can see that they waste nothing; one of the photos show a barn door made out of a large cable spool. They have plugged the holes with strips of scavenged tinplate from cans, splashed on some paint for good measure and created an interesting abstract painting/found art installation. Just imagine it hanging on a gallery wall in Art Basel.

Since I didn't have the time to sample the local cusine properly, I will not comment on it.