Sümela Manastırı

Μονή Παναγίας Σουμελά - Moní Panagías Soumelá - Saint Sumela Monastery

Useful Information

Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.
Historic Postcards, Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.
Location: South of Trabzon, at Karadağ mountain in the Pontic Mountains.
(40.69, 39.658333)
Open: All year daily 8-19.
Fee: Adults TRL 10.
Classification: cave monastery SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=1,200 m asl.
Guided tours: V=500,000/a [2019]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Trabzon Müzesi, Gazipaşa, Zeytinlik Cd. No:7, 61030 Trabzon Merkez, Tel: +90-462-326-07-48. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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386 founded during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I.
1923 monastery abandoned.
1937 a fire destroyed the wooden parts of the Sumela Monastery.
2000 listed on the UNESCO WH Tentative List.
15-AUG-2010 reopened for religious use with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
22-SEP-2015 closed for renovation.
18-MAY-2019 reopened after restauration.


Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.
Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.
Historic Postcards, Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.
Historic Postcards, Sümela Manastırı, Turkey. Public Domain.

The Sümela Manastırı (Saint Sumela Monastery) is an impressive cave monastery built into the overhanging cliff face of the Altındere valley, near Maçka in Trabzon Province. The Greek Orthodox monastery is a major tourist attraction of Altındere National Park. It was closed for renovations for three years and nevertheless 290,000 visitors per year visited the place just to look at the outside.

The icon of Panagia Soumela was iconographed by the Evangelist Lucas (Luke) who was both a physician and an iconographer. Whenever Luke drew icons of Panagia, the Holy Mother was very pleased and blessed his works, and she encouraged him to draw more icons. When Luke died, his disciple named Ananias, took the icon and transferred it to the church in Athens dedicated to Panagia. The icon was venerated as Panagia Athiniotissa.
Two Athenian monks were called by the Virgin to follow Panagia Athiniotissa from the Church in Athens to Mount Mela in Asia Minor. Their names were Barnabas and his acolyte Sophronios. At Mt. Mela, the icon was found at the end of the fourth century A.D. in a cave, and the monastery was built at this place to the glory of God. The icon was renamed Panagia Soumela.
According to another version of the legend the icon was brought to a cave high up in the mountains by two angels after the death of Lucas and was discovered by two priests in 386 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I (375-395) in a cave on the mountain. The miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was the reason why a monastery was founded at this place and called the monastery of the Mother of God of the Black Mountain

The monastery was inaugurated by the Bishop of Trapezunta in 386 A.D. During the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the monastery was a centre of education.

Some websites state that the celebration of a liturgy is not allowed in modern Turkey, which is the reason why it was abandoned. Actually it was different: after the Russian occupancy in Trabzon (1916 - 1918) the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1923 and the independent Turkish Republic was founded by Ataturk. As a result the Turks left Greece which they had occupied and according to the Treaty of Lausanne Greek population in Turkey and turkish population in Greece were exchanged. Sumela Monastery was abandoned because the greek monks were relocated to Greece. They founded a new monastery which they named the New Panagia Soumela Monastery on the slopes of Mount Vermion, near Naousa in Macedonia, Greece. The monastery was abandoned and became a ruin, and in 1930 a fire destroyed the wooden parts of the Sumela Monastery. Subsequently the remaining parts of the monastery were damaged by treasure hunters.

The monastery was re-discovered by tourists in the late 20th century, it was renovated as a museum funded by the Turkish Government. Since 2010 Orthodox divine liturgy is again allowed to take place in the monastery compound On 15-AUG every year, the day of the Dormition of the Theotokos or Feast of the Assumption, when a divine liturgy is held. Only 450 to 500 visitors are allowed inside the monastery, and a special pass issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is required to visit. But the event is broadcast life to a cafe some hundred meters where it may be observed on widescreen tv.

The monastery looks from the valley like a huge building which was built into the overhanging rock face. Actually the buildings are located at the portal of a huge cavern with a backyard behind. At the entrance is a large aqueduct which was built against the side of the cliff, and supplied water to the Monastery. A long and narrow stairway leads up to the Monastery entrance. Behind the guard-room next to the entrance stairs lead down to the inner courtyard. Around the courtyard are numerous monastery buildings like chapels, kitchens, student rooms, a guesthouse, a library, and a sacred spring. The Rock Church which was built into the far end of the cave is the center of the monastery.

The inner and outer walls of the Rock Church and the walls of the nearby chapel are decorated with frescoes. The frescoes are dating from the era of Alexios III of Trebizond and from the early 18th century. The main motive are biblical scenes telling the story of Christ and the Virgin Mary. As they were seriously damaged due to vandalism they were completely restored between 2015 and 2018. During the works formerly unknown frescoes were rediscovered. Also a secret tunnel was discovered which leads to a hidden chapel.