Trabzon, further along the Turkish coast, is our next port of call. Established round the 7th century with expectations that it would be part of the great caravan route to Persia, it is a port that you are unlikely to visit unless you travel by ship. Steeped in history of course, the port does little to give this away, it is industrial looking and in the seedy part of town. We have not chosen to do a tour of the city and visit the Agia Sophia founded in the mid 13th century, but to take the bus trip to the Sumela monastery.
Sadly it is raining. But that doesn’t stop the modern coaches which barely straddle the mountain road heading out of town and up into them misty mountains. These are the Pontic Alps, the snow is melting on the mountain tops and there are furious waterfalls crashing into the gullies crossed by the road.
The Sumela Monastery, on Mela Mountain, was founded in the 4th century when an icon of the Virgin Mary formed the nucleus for a religious order and wasn’t abandoned until 1923.
It has been rescued and is currently being restored. Attached to a sheer rock cliff, like a wasp’s nest, the monastery is an amazing feat of engineering by the monks and their workers. Self-sufficient with a bakery, a kitchen, water supplied by an aqueduct, a library and student’s rooms it is entered via the guard room after climbing steep stairs through the forest.
It is now a major tourist attraction and we were one of many parties making the trek up the mountain from the carpark.
There is much work still to be done on the monastery which has been seriously defaced by graffitti over the frescoes, but you can’t destroy the location and sheer magnitude of the construction which covers the side of the mountain and, we were told is also accessible by tunnel and from below – but that is closed to the public. When there has been more restoration work done, it will be an even more awesome piece of history.
We also have the afternoon in Trabzon – so we set off into the town. Firstly taking the wrong turn into a seedy local market, then re-tracing our steps to the central square and the hub of the town’s social life on a Saturday afternoon. We enjoy a fresh bream, split in half and grilled to perfection, accompanied by salad and tomato/chilli paste and a complimentary baclava with tea. Just next door an excellent sweet shop beckons and we buy plump dried apricots and figs, Turkish pastries and pistachio sweets to take back to the ship.