Some 70km/45mi south of Trabzon in the Altindere Vadisi Milli Parki (Gülden Valley National Park) the Meryam Ana Manastiri (St Mary's Monastery) clings to a rock high above the Altindere. During the summer months visitors are admitted each day at 9am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm. There are two ways to get there. One very steep track leads directly up from the parking lot, while another longer, more leisurely route initially follows the valley upwards, but then at the first bend to the left a path runs back almost parallel to the monastery.
The old Greek name for the monastery was Hagia Maria tou Mela (St Mary from the Black Mountains). 67 steps lead to the inner courtyard well back behind the entrance doorway. Directly above the precipice are the main living quarters and the old library while beneath a rock face several other monastery buildings huddle around the courtyard including the painted cave chapel. The monastery in its present form with cells for 75 monks, a refectory, visitors' house and fountain (miracle-working water) dates from 1860.
According to legend, the monastery was founded in the fifth century by two Greek monks (Barnabas and Sophronios) who had intended it to house an icon (Mary) painted by St Luke. They claim the site, a spring on the rock face appeared to them in a dream. When the monastery was destroyed in the 12th century this icon was said to have survived all attempts to destroy it.
The Sumela Monastery remained a popular place of pilgrimage until the 19th century In 1923 the monks abandoned the burnt out monastery and buried the relics of the cross and St Luke's icon in the monastery's Chapel of St Barbara. The monk's successors now live some 100km/70mi west of Salonica in Greece. In 1931 the icon, the relics of the cross and Abbot Fazelon's four-volumed gospel book (644) written on gazelle skins were taken to the Benaki Museum in Athens.