PART 10: Obscure Monasteries
More than a half dozen ruined monasteries are said to exist in the mountains of
Maçka district. Hardly any visitor ever disturbs their peace. None rival the
Sumela, but two of them. in particular. may impress the adventurous
traveler even more with their unspoiled ambience.
The Monastery of St. George in Peristera (known locally as Hızır Ilyas Manastırı
is found near the village of Şimşirli (formerly Kutul). a bad 15 km drive from
the tow n of Esiroğlu below Maçka. It crowns a rocky promontory which calls for
a 45 minute climb. Its history is typical: founded under Justinian, it was
rebuilt in the Middle Ages and aban¬doned in 1923. Very little that is worth
seeing remains of the building itself, but the panorama arguably surpasses that
of Sumela: the broad expanse of the Kuştul Valley is directly underfeet and
Trabzon visible as a speck in the distance. The premises are overgrown with
poison ivy and one suspects that no more than a handful of stray souls attempt
the strenuous climb in any given year.
The Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Vazelon is even less accessible but far
better preserved and more impressive. Built under Justinian and rebuilt in 1410,
Vazelon used to rank next to Sumela in wealth and influence. As late as in 1903
its library contained an invaluable collection of manuscripts relating to the
history of the Trebizond Empire.
The monastery is reached from the tinv village of Kiremitli 14 km above Maçka on
the main road. The six kilometers on the dirt road from there to Vazelon are not
easy ones but aside from a bruised muffler a car should survive.
Although the building itself is in ruins, a sense of monastic serenity pervades
the grounds. Hidden chambers and cave-like enclosures abound, arousing the
strong temptation to look for some undiscovered gem-an ancient icon or maybe
some silver coins? The triple-naved church is covered with a collection of
vibrantly colored frescoes which apparently date to the 16th century. As in
Sumela, each vandal has signed his name proudly along with the date next to the
gaping hole from where he lifted a fresco piece: a Greek in 1907, an Armenian in
1921 and a Turk in 1987. Despite the plunder one can still admire some very fine
scenes, including a powerful Last Judgement.
The Main Square
A Long Walk
Lady of the Mountains
The Way to