Sumela Monastery is originally a monasterial complex dedicated to Virgin Mary. The monastery was built on a steep hill and it was a place of seclusion in the early years of Christianity. You can find facts about the history of Soumela Monastery in this article. In addition, the Sumela Monastery entrance fee & opening hours are also noted.
The monastery is located at Macka, on the skirts of Mount Karadag. It’s 1200 meters above the sea level and it overlooks Altindere Valley. The words that name the monastery, “Sou Mela” is actually the former name of the mountain. Therefore, the monastery was named Soumela Monastery originally.
Sumela Monastery was active both during the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, however, it was deserted after the Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
And, due to a fire that broke out in 1930s, a big part of the monastery burnt down and turned into a ruin. However, thanks to the restoration works in recent years, the Sumela Monastery has been largely repaired and reopened to visitors as of 2023.
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Monastic Life in Early Christianity
Monastic Life in Early Christianity was on the rise in the 4th century, when the Sumela Monastery was established. Although the valleys of Cappadocia stand out when it comes to monastic life, Sumela was also an important place.
The period when Christianity was under the pressure during the Roman Empire lasted for 300 years. During the period between 30s, the death date of Jesus Christ, and 313, Christians faced heavy mistreatment.
Finally, the Edict of Milan was declared by Emperor Constantine in 313 and the Christians were given the right to practice their religions freely. After the First Council of Nicaea in 325, it began to spread in the empire rapidly.
It was also the time when the philosophical foundations of Christianity were laid and the most important religious leaders in the history of Christianity came out. A big portion of these figures were born, grew up, and became clergyman in Anatolia (Modern Turkey).
The followers of Christianity in its early years had practiced their religions secretly in rural areas or underground cities. After centuries of oppression, it was now time for Christians to live their religion as they wished.
As Jesus Christ advised, they wanted to live a simple life and seclude themselves from material things. Therefore, there was a tremendous rise in seclusion and living the life of a monk.
And Sumela Monastery was built at such a time. It was one of the hundreds of monasteries built in the Byzantine Empire (aka Eastern Roman Empire) that included vast lands from the Balkans to Caucasus.
History of the Sumela Monastery
The history of the Soumela Monastery goes back to the 4th century. According to tradition, the location of this monastery was decided by two monks, who were later promoted to be saints.
The monks named Barnabas and Sophronios saw Virgin Marry carrying baby Jesus in their dreams and they saw that the maiden was pointing at a hill. When they woke up, the monks began their journey to find this place and came across each other exactly where Sumela Monastery stands today.
They realized they had the same dream and concluded that it was a divine sign. This area was regarded as holy and Sumela Monastery was built in 386. The period when the monastery was built coincides with the reign of the pious emperor Theodosius I of Rome.
It was Belisarius, the famous general of Emperor Justinian, who initiated the extensive restoration of the monastery in the 6th century. Sumela reached the peak of its importance especially during the Empire of Trebizond (late Middle Ages).
What Makes Sumela Monastery Sacred?
In Christianity, sacred items play an important role. For instance, you can see important icons as well as relics of various saints in churches. If there are relics related to disciples or saints, these relics increase the sentimental value of such churches.
What made the Soumela Monastery sacred was the icon of Panagia Soumela, which had a great spiritual significance in the eastern Christianity. According to a belief, this icon was made and painted by Saint Luke, the disciple of Jesus and one of the authors of Bible.
Since this icon was believed to be associated with miracles, the fame of the monastery spread throughout Anatolia and even throughout Eastern Rome. So much so that the presence of this icon made Soumela have a special position among all Christian monasteries in the East.
The Icon of Panagia Soumela
The Icon of Panagia Soumela was buried underground of a church named St. Barbara Monastery by monks who left Turkey due to Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey and the icon stayed buried here for around 8 years. Later, the Greek PM Venizelos asked Turkish PM Ismet Inonu to return the icon in 1931.
Thanks to the special permission by Turkey, one of the monks that buried the icon during the exchange period came back to Trabzon. The icon was found at St. Barbara Church and it was returned to Greece. This icon, highly sacred for the Christians, was preserved in Benaki Museum in Greece.
Later on, it was agreed that the icon should be preserved in a church due to its sentimental value. To that end, a church was built named “New Sumela Monastery” and the icon was placed in this church. Today, this church that houses the icon is regarded by the Orthodox believers as a spot on the way to pilgrimage.
Trabzon Sumela Monastery Entrance Fee 2023
Sumela Monastery entrance fee is 450 Turkish Liras as of 2023. Museum Pass Turkey is valid at the entrance to Soumela Monastery in Trabzon. The information on the ticket price was last updated on August 6, 2023.
The Sumela Monastery in Trabzon has undergone a long restoration during the pandemic period. However, although the restoration took longer than expected, the monastery can now be visited as of 2023.
Trabzon Sumela Monastery Opening Hours 2023
Sumela Monastery opening hours are between 08:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening. Please also note that ticket sales at the box office end at 18:30. The monastery can be visited everyday of the week. Information on visiting hours was last updated on August 6, 2023.
Visiting times of the museum may change due to some events and renovations. Before going to the museum, I recommend you to visit the official website of the monastery in Trabzon and review the latest situation.
The Sumela Monastery is one of the most important parts of the deep-rooted Christian heritage in Turkey. Although you will have to climb hundreds of stairs to reach this mysterious place, it is definitely worth it.
When you visit the Sumela Monastery, you will see magnificent icons from the Byzantine period. A similar experience can only be seen in Byzantine churches in Istanbul and in rock churches in Cappadocia.
On this website, I introduce the important museums of Turkey. Among these, Gobekli Tepe in Sanliurfa, Mount Nemrut in Adiyaman, Cave Church of Saint Peter in Antakya and Troy Ancient City in Canakkale stand out with their interesting stories.
Written by Serhat Engul