PART 9: Lady of the Mountains,
Panagia Sumela, Trabzon
In setting and appearance, the gutted remains of
Sumela are among the most
unforgettable sights of Turkey and compare with the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu
in their power to inspire and awe.
The site is reached from the town of Maçka by a newly paved 23 kilometer road
that follows the tumultuous Değirmenderesi Stream along a luxuriantly wooded
valley. Pines begin to be dominant around an altitude of 1000 meters. At the
deepest point of the forest, a bend in the road reveals the fantastic sight: an
enormous, seven-storey high white facade plastered on a straight drop of basalt
rock 250 meters above one's head.
Getting to the building itself requires a hard climb of 40 minutes on a forest
path sprinkled with an international collection of tourists in various stages of
exhaustion and somehow friendlier because of it. At the top, the astounding view
over the valley contributes to the feeling of breathlessness.
The main part of the monastery is actually built on a narrow ledge at the bottom
of a concavity in the cliff. The outer wall drops several stories below the
ledge, joining the rock at a very narrow angle which gives. the effect of
defying the laws of gravity.Near the entrance is the cave church that formed the
original nucleus of the monastery. Every nook and cranny of its interior,
including the rough rock surface, are covered in frescoes that are in part two
or even three layers deep. The bottom layer goes back to the 14th century and
evinces the best artistry. The layers of 1710 and 1740 are rather crude and that
of 1860 borders on the banal. All have been vandalized to an infuriating degree.
The rest of the complex includes four smaller chapels, a mostly ruined library,
the kitchen and scores of monks' cells. The canopied top floor of the farthest
part of the building was once reserved for the accomodation of guests and
travelers. One can only imagine what it would feel like to have been a traveler
at a time before the the arrival of the paved road and tourist huses, waking to
the sound of the liturgy in a simple cell suspended in the morning mist.
Back down at the base one has the choice of joining the crowds at the little
lunch stand or walking a short distance upstream to a delightful chain of
cascades and pools where one can bathe or fish for trout. An unpaved road
continues from here on to the yaylas of' Meryemana (Mother Mary) where the
predominantly Greek-speaking villagers of the area stage bacchanalian revels in
The Main Square
A Long Walk
Lady of the Mountains
The Way to