Located 46.6 km from Zorlu Grand Hotel in Trabzon’s Maçka township, the Sumela Monastery rises majestically on a steep cliff overlooking the Altındere valley near the village of Altındere. Known locally as “Meryam Ana” (a reference to the Virgin Mary), the monastery stands some 300 meters above the valley below and reflects ancient traditions of building such structures in rather inaccessible and remote locations that were far from inhabited places but nevertheless near sources of water.
The monastery was founded during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I (r 375-395) by two priests named Barnabas and Sophrianios. In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian commanded his general Belisarios to restore and enlarge the monastery.
Sumela Monastery’s present form dates to the 13th century. The complex gained importance during the reign of Alexios III (r 1349-1390) of the Komnenian Empire of Trebizond, which was established in 1204, and it was at this time that the monastery was granted an imperial charter stipulating its sources of revenue. Additional edicts during the reigns of Alexios’s successors beginning with his son Manuel (III) further increased the monastery’s revenues.
After the eastern Black Sea region came under Ottoman control in the 15th century, Sumela and many other monasteries continued to be occupied by monks and to enjoy imperial protection and rights–now granted by sultans–just as they had done during the days of the Byzantine emperors.
Many parts of Sumela were renovated in the 18th century, at which time some of its walls were also decorated with frescoes. The monastery owes the impressive presence that we see today to the addition of a number of major structures that were put up in the 19th century, when Sumela reached the pinnacle of its wealth and brilliance and became a destination for travelers and a subject for authors from all over the world.
Although the frescoes of the monastery have suffered from the passage of time and neglect, they are still worth a visit. Their subjects are mainly New Testament scenes telling the story of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Sections of the monastery that were in imminent danger of collapse have been restored. Other restoration and conservation work is currently in progress.
Located 3.8 km from Zorlu Grand Hotel, the Hagia Sophia Museum was originally built as the Church of Saint Sophia (Church of the Divine Wisdom) during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1238-1263). A bell tower dated to 1427 by the British traveler and historian George Finlay, stands at the western side of the church.
Following the Sultan Mehmed II’s conquest of Trabzon in 1461 the church was converted into a mosque at which time it also became a waqf endowment. For hundreds of years Saint Sophia has attracted the attention of travelers and historians visiting Trabzon. The peripatetic Evliya Çelebi described it 1638 as did Pitton Tournefort (1701), William John Hamilton (1836), Charles Texier (1864), Trabzon Şakir Şevket (1878), and Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (1893) to mention but a few. In 1868 the mosque, by then quite dilapidated, underwent a substantial restoration as a result of the efforts of Bursalı Rıza Efendi.
During the first world war, the building did service first as a military depot and then as a hospital, eventually becoming a mosque again. It underwent a major restoration in 1958-1962 in a project undertaken jointly by the General Directorate of Foundations and Edinburgh University. Closed for a time, it reopened as a museum in 1964. Most of the frescoes decorating Saint Sophia deal with New Testament themes. The main dome is dominated by a depiction of Christ Pantocrator (Christ Almighty). Surrounding the image is a band of inscriptions and below that is a frieze of angels. The spaces between the windows contain depictions of the Twelve Apostles while the dome’s pendentive supports are decorated with scenes from the life of Jesus such as the Nativity, the Baptism, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Circular medallions on the rear arches of the building contain portraits. The vaults contain more New Testament scenes.
Located 6.4 km from Zorlu Grand Hotel on the Soğuksu Heights with a commanding view of the city of Trabzon, Atatürk’s Mansion was originally built in the early 19th century by Konstantin Kabayanidis. Its flamboyantly grandiose architecture reflects the traditions of the European Renaissance.
When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk visited Trabzon in 1930, he stayed at the mansion and was very much impressed by it. He stayed there again in 1937. Today the building houses period rooms and serves as a monument to the memory of the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.
Located in the downtown Kemerkaya district not far from Zorlu Grand Hotel, this 19th-century Catholic church was constructed by Sultan Abdülmecid in obedience of an imperial edict as a house of worship for foreigners visiting Trabzon. Consecrated in 1874, it is still in active use.
A short walk from Zorlu Grand Hotel is the Trabzon Museum. Originally a mansion built in the early 20th century, it is an outstanding example of this genre of civil architecture. The walls of all the storeys above the basement level are richly embellished with painted decorations. After undergoing a lengthy (1988-2001) but thorough restoration conducted by the Culture Ministry, the building reopened on April 22nd of the latter year as the Trabzon Museum.
The basement serves as the archaeological section. The ground floor is given over to the architecture and history of the mansion itself while the upper storey contains ethnographic works. The museum’s administrative offices occupy the mezzanine.
Kızlar (Virgins’) Monastery stands on the slopes of Mount Boztepe with a commanding view of the city of Trabzon. The complex occupies two terraces and is enclosed by a high wall. Founded during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Alexios III (1349-1390), the structure subsequently underwent several major repairs and did not acquire its present form until the 19th century.
The original core of the complex was a rock church containing a sacred spring on the south side, the chapel at its entrance, and a few cells occupied by monks. Inside the rock church there are inscriptions and portraits of Alexios III, his wife Theodora, and his mother Irene.
Uzungöl (literally “Long Lake”) is a natural lake located where the Soğanlı and Kaçkar ranges conjoin. It is surrounded by rain forests that contain some of the oldest trees still living in the northern temperate zone. An abundance of rain and a mild climate keep the lake’s surroundings green all year long. More than 60 species of plants have been identified as being unique to the Demirkapı ve Soğanlı mountains. Uzungöl is designated as a Natural Protected Area, a Special Protected Environment, and a Nature Park.
Located 161 km from Trabzon in the Çamlıhemşin township of Rize province, Ayder is a pine-forested yayla (upland) whose average altitude is 1,350 m above sea level. The route leading up to the region passes through the stunningly beautiful valley of the Fırtına (“Tempest”) river. Therapeutic hot springs flow amidst dense pine forests and profusely flowered meadows that serve as the source of the deservedly famous local honey.
Hıdırnebi is an upland located 1,600 meters above sea level 36 km from Zorlu Grand Hotel. Enjoying a deserved reputation for its natural beauty and refreshing climate, Hıdırnebi is the site of a traditional festival that is held every year on July 20th.
Sera Gölü is a lake 12.3 km west of Trabzon. Situated just a kilometer inland from the sea, it was formed when debris from a landslide dammed the Derecik river valley in 1950. Measuring between 150 and 200 meters in width, the lake is today a popular resort.
Karaca Mağarası is a limestone cave located in Torul-Cebeli in Gümüşhane province 97.5 km southwest of Trabzon. The cave is rich in dripstone formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, cave flowers, cave pearls, and travertine steps. Situated 1,550 meters above sea level, the humidity inside Karaca Cave reaches as high as 75% and creates a microclimate that is cool in summer and warm in winter.