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PART 7: Boztepe, Trabzon

 

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The tall hill overlooking Trabzon in the east, now called Boztepe or "Brownhill", used to be the sacred site of the cult of Mithra in antiquity. The Persian Sun-god was, strangely enough, the dominant divinity of pre-Christian Trabzon and an all-important annual pilgrimage was made to his temple on the steep north facade of the sacred hill. The temple was successfully destroyed by St. Eugenius's Christian emulators. As it so often happens with ancient holy places, the name of "Mount Mithra" stuck until early this century as did a sense of religious awe associated with it. The Cave Churches of St. Sabas sprung up at the exact same spot as the former temple and began to attract the pilgrims. Two rock-carved chapels that survive from St. Sabas can be reached with some serious cliff climbing off the airport road. Unfortunately most of their frescoes that were visible 30 years ago are now destroyed.
Two other ruined monasteries on the sacred mountain are more easily accessible although they are rarely, if ever, visited by tourists.
The Convent of Pan agia Theoskepastos ("God-protected Virgin") is called Kızlar Manastırı, or the Girls' Monastery in Turkish. Built in 1349, it was continuously inhabited until 1923 when it was evacuated like all other monasteries in the region. In 1978 the Ministry of Tourism awoke to the site's potential and locked the building up for future restoration, expelling a thriving squatter community in the process. Ten years later the doors remain padlocked and the promised restoration has yet to begin. In order- to gain entry one has to charm an irascible old hoca who owns a key to the main door and lives in an adjacent house. The main complex is in a sad state of vandalization, and attracts the visitor mainly for the gloomy spirit that lurks amid its grandiose, gutted walls. The original medieval church is built into a cave in the courtyard, while a more
recent church stands on an upper level. Except for a few traces. the only fresco that survives is a relatively recent Christ painted under the cupola of an ivy-covered torch in the garden.
The Boztepe Park, Trabzon's favorite weekend outing and picnic site, lies just above the monastery and offers a spectacular panorama of the city. Further up is Ahi Evren Camii, the mosque and tomb of a Muslim saint often visited by the people of Trabzon ill a faithful continuation of the traditions of the sacred mountain.
From this point a long hike (or more reasonably a taxi) gets one to the Kaymaklı Monastery. Before 1923 this used to be the main Armenian religious institution in the Trabzon area. An altogether obscure gem not even recognized as an official sight by the Tourism Ministry, it is easily one of the highlights of a visit to Trabzon.
The complex is located on a grassy plateau overlooking a valley and consists of a stone-block church, built in 1431, and the original east¬ern facade of the monastery into which a local family has built their house. The church is now used as a barn. As in other cases of similar use, the owner has taken good care of the roof and has seen no reason to destroy the wallpaintings. Thus protected from bad weather, graffiti artists, treasure hunters and plaster happy mullahs, the frescoes inside the church are in an excellent state of preservation-the best in the region with the exception of those in Hagia Sophia. They date back to 1622, and reflect a sophisticated style and superior craftsmanship unlike most other examples of such late date.
From May onward the church is filled with bales of hay but the rare visitor is welcomed by the Kantekin family with genuine warmth and their children delight in pointing out their favorite frescoes. In mid morning the sun beams through the single window in the apse, illuminating a striking depiction of hell on the far wall-replete with a nefarious looking devil, the black dog of Hades and griffins galore. As the family looks on with amusement, one burrows through great heaps of hay to find the images of some biblical passage, the children break into peals of laughter, the watchdog howls with frustration and the evicted cow moos angrily.

PART 1: Imagined Empire
PART 2:
The Main Square
PART 3:
A Long Walk
PART 4:
Atatürk House
PART 5:
Bazaar District
PART 6:
Hagia Sophia
PART 7:
Boztepe
PART 8:
Rising Above
PART 9:
Lady of the Mountains
PART 10:
Obscure Monasteries
PART 11:
The Way to the Pass
PART 12:
Gümüşhane

       

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