Sumela Monastery, built on a ledge of a steep cliff on the slopes of the Black Mountain (Karadag) overlooking the Altindere valley, located inside the territory of the Altındere village in the Macka district of the Trabzon Province, is called “Meryem Ana” (Mother Mary) among the people. This building, about 300 m above the valley, continued the tradition of building monasteries outside of cities, in forests, caves and near bodies of water.
According to the legend, this monastery was built by two priests, Barnabas and Sophranius, who came from Athens during the reign of Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius I (375-395). It was restored and enlarged upon the request of Emperor Justinian by one of his generals, Belisarius, in the 6th century.
It is known that the site of the Sumela Ruins has preserved its present form since the 13th century. During the reign of Alexios III (1349-1390), ruler of the Empire of Trabzon (Trebizond) founded in 1204, the monastery gained prominence and its revenues increased thanks to imperial decrees. During the reigns of Manuel III, son of Alexios III, and the subsequent princes, the Sumela Monastery was enriched by new decrees.
After the establishment of the Turkish rule in the Eastern Black Sea region, Ottoman sultans protected the rights of the Sumela Monastery, like those of many others, and granted some privileges. In the 18th century, many parts of the Sumela Ruins were renovated and some walls were decorated with frescoes. In the 19th century, with the addition of large buildings, the monastery attained a magnificent appearance, and passed through its most prosperous and bright era.
During the Russian occupation in Trabzon between 1916 and 1918, the monastery was seized, and it was completely abandoned after 1923. The main sections of the Sumela Ruins are the main rock church, many chapels, the kitchen, student rooms, the guesthouse, the library and the holy spring. This group of buildings was constructed over a quite large area.
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