Sumela Monastery, within the borders of Altındere Village of Maçka District, was built on steep rock cliffs at the skirts of Karadağ Mountain which overlooks the Altındere Valley. Among the populace it is known as Virgin Mary Monastery. The location of the monastery proves the tradition that the monasteries were generally built outside the city, in forests, and nearby the waterside and caves.
Sumela Monastery was built in the honour of Virgin Mary, and took its name from the word ‘Melas’ which means Black. Although it can be thought that this name derives from the dark colour of the Karadağlar Mountains, the name Sumela comes from the black colour of the depiction of Virgin Mary.
Tradition has it that the monastery was founded by two priests named as Barnabas and Sophranios during the time of Theodosius I (375- 395 AD), the Emperor of Byzantium. On the order of the Emperor Justinian, the monastery was repaired and expanded in the 6. century by Belisarius, one of the generals of the Emperor.
During the time of Alexios III of the Comnenos Princedom (1349-1390), the Monastery gained more importance and its revenues increased by the ﬁrmans. Sumela was also enriched by the ﬁrmans of Manuel III, the son of Alexios III and the following Princes.
Like most of the monasteries, the rights of the Sumela Monastery were also protected by the Ottoman Sultans, and given some privileges after the eastern Black Sea Coast had become under the sovereignty of the Turks.
In the 18th century, the Sumela Monastery was mostly renovated and some of its walls were decorated with frescoes. Aﬅer it had been expanded with larger buildings in the 19th century, it took on a magniﬁcent appearance. During this period, it experienced its heyday, and it had become a haunt for many foreign travellers who mentioned about it in most of their writings.
The monastery was dominated by the Russians during the occupation of Trabzon between 1916 and 1918, however, it was completely rescued from the occupation in 1923.
Including the Rock Church, several chapels, kitchen, student rooms, guest rooms, library and the Holy Spring of Orthodox Greeks, the building complex of the monastery was built on a large area. At the entrance of the monastery there is a big aqueduct which supplied water to the Monastery in past.
A long and narrow staircase leads one to the main entrance of the Monastery. Next to the entrance are the guard rooms, and the interior court is reached by a staircase from here. On the leﬅ, in front of the cave which was turned into a church are some monastery buildings. The library is on the right side. Again on the right is a building with a large balcony, covering the front side of the slope, which includes rooms for monks and guests. This building dates back to 1860.
The frescoes on the wall that face the courtyard inside the Rock Church date back to the reign of Alexios III. On the other hand, the frescoes of the chapel date back to the early of the 18th century and these frescoes were in three layers, all of which belong to diﬀerent periods. The one at the bottom is more superior then the others. All these frescoes illustrate the Biblical scenes, Christ and Virgin Mary.