The Sumela Monastery – the only reason for me to travel the distance to the Black Sea Coast. Rising out of the trees, surrounded by snowcapped mountains, the Monastery could only be reflective of man’s determination to create a something that would last forever. Now believed to be over 2000 years old, the Monastery defies imagination. We had a hard enough time walking up to it – despite being dropped off pretty close to the site – I wonder just how (and why) monks 2000 years ago found this place to build the site and (again) covered the interiors with frescoes and carvings that continue to (despite the damages) attract visitors today.
A brisk walk from the drop off point (carry water and wear good shoes – no high heels, you are only going to regret it) brought us up to the entrance. Here you need to think STONES. Everything is made of or carved out of stones. The government has done a good job of maintaining the place installed security cameras everywhere and littering is frowned upon – but standing right there facing the long heavenward flight of stairs does something to you. It did to me for sure. I couldn’t get enough of the fascinating landscape around me and the views from the monastery were simply brilliant. A wee bit of disappointment was in store though. Much of the site is closed to visitors – and I did wonder if I had spent so much time and money to look down at the valleys below?
But only briefly – the sheer excitement of touching history overcame any disappointment – and there were the happy faces of strangers who shared my bus! This is also where I met Irene (Pei-Ling) and two young Iraqi men on their way to Georgia after a quick visit to the monastery. The reason I bring this up is because, when some time later we reached the pick-up point, the bus was gone! This meant we had to walk downhill in the shivering cold (see what I meant about the shoes? You never know when you will need it), hungry and tired – and it took us healthy four over an hour to reach the main gate.
But that is another story – a meal of fresh trout and cabbage soup put us back in good mood – the earlier downhill walk forgotten – but it was hard to forget Sumela. The frescoes are beautiful and it is a wonder how, all those years ago, monks found paint that lasted centuries of snow, wind and rain – but it is good to remember that inside the ‘church’ which has the best paintings on the walls, you are not allowed to use flash – if you do, you put yourself and the camera at the mercy of the armed guard.
Only some areas are open to the public – and what you see of the monastery from across the valley is not what you see once inside. The tour of the monastery can be undertaken in under half hour, if you don’t stand around too long to photograph every minuscule room, such as the library or the priest room. Many of the rooms are reinforced lately – and all of the rooms are stripped bare of every article of importance (if there were anything when the monks abandoned it) – so really all you get to see are the paintings.
The one interesting sight is the Sacred Well – if you reached out towards the well, you could be lucky enough to collect the sacred water that trickles down the mountains – or you could simply toss a few liras into the well and make a wish. I am yet to figure out if my wish has come true or not.
Please Note: While you can visit this place on your own – if you are pressed for time it is a good idea to book a day tour. The tours include pick up and drop, lunch and entrance fee. Please remember that you will have to pay 8L which is not included in the tour price to actually enter the site.
People with time and an inclination to undertake steep climbs can easily undertake this monastery trek. It is definitely one of the best walks around these parts.