Located at 46 km south of Trabzon, the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary, better known as Sumela Monastery (Sümela Manastırı), is certainly one of the highlights of a visit to the Black Sea region. Sumela Monastery was founded in AD 386 and was famous for the posession of an icon of the Virgin Mary, said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke. The name Sumela derives from the Greek Panagia tou Mela, meaning Virgin of the Black Rock, which was shortened and in the Pontic dialect was pronounced sou Mela (at the Black Rock). After the conquest of the Black Sea region by Sultan Mehmed II in 1461, the monastery came under the protection of the sultan himself and was given rights and privileges that were renewed by the following sultans.
After the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and the forced exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, it was abandoned. Before fleeing their monastery, the monks buried the holy icon and other sacred objects at the nearby the Church of St. Barbara. In 1930, a fire destroyed the wooden buildings of the monastery. Afterwards, weather conditions, looters and vandals severely damaged the remains. With the help of the Turkish government (and not in secret as is claimed by some guidebooks), the icon and other sacred objects were retrieved and brought to Greece in 1931. The famous icon of the Virgin Mary is now kept at a monastery near Mount Vermio in Greece. Since 1992 reservation works have been carried out and Sumela monastery is now a major tourist attraction, a well as a place of pilgrimage to Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians. Sumela is a mysterious place with the monastery that clings to a sheer rock wall and mists swirling through the tree-lined Altındere valley. A visit to the monastery takes a 30 minute climb along a often slippery woodland trail, but there is an alternative path that is more convenient.