Trabzon is one of the largest cities that lies on the Eastern Black Sea shores of Turkey, backed by the Pontic Mountains which separate Trabzon from the central Anatolian Plateau. Covering over 1900 square miles with a population of over 750,000, Trabzon enjoys a far cooler climate than the Mediterranean or the more tourist destinations in Turkey. This coupled with the rainfall sees the area boast lush green forests set amidst stunning mountains and incorporates a number of rivers and highland areas.
Trabzon benefits from some exceptional transportation links which include a modern major road network making it really easy to travel in and out of the area. There is the International airport which makes air travel simple and a huge harbour that caters for all types of international shipping traffic.
Trabzon was originally known as Trapezus, and was among the most eastern early ancient Greek settlements and is said to have been founded around 756 BC by the dependants from Sinope, which is now modern Sinop. In the same way as many other sites on the Black Sea, this area is associated with the Amazonian women warriors. The area of Trabzon is also reported to be the place where the army known as the Ten Thousand including the writer Xenophon were said to have reached the sea following their long march after they had been defeated in 401 BC.
The city flourished whilst under the rule of the Romans right up until it was discharged by the Goths following their victory over the forces of Emperor Valerian in 257 BC.
The Byzantine port was near Armenia, and laying on a majorly critical boundary of the empire saw the city being rebuilt and then predominantly figured in the Eastern Campaigns headed by the Emperor Justinian 1 who ruled from 527 – 565. The sea at Trapezus was allegedly created by the Apostle St Andrew with Eugenius being the patron saint who was martyred at the hands of the Roman Emperor Diocletian who reigned from 284 – 305. The city was made into the capital of the new military colony Chaldia in the 9th century.
In 1204 the Crusaders dismissed Constantinople which was the modern day Istanbul, and Comnenus and Adronicus, the Emperors two grandsons fled and set up an unconnected subsidiary of the Byzantine Empire at Trapezus, which saw Prince Alexius Comnenus as the Emperor and it was his future generations, the Grand Comneni, reigning for longer than any other Byzantine family.
This meant that they had the opportunity to form a number of alliances through marriage. The marriages brought together rulers from many different countries and enabled the Grand Comneni to promote their own prestige through the use of the cult of St Eugenius.
The end of the dynasty came when its territories were joined with the Ottoman Empire. After this time Trabzon has stayed under Turkish rule with the exception of a brief period during World War 1 when the Russian’s took residence from 1916 -1918.
The contemporary city
The modern day Trabzon has managed to retain a lot of the medieval influences of old. The centre of the city is located on a triangle of land that is set amidst two ravines that boast the remains of an ancient harbour that was reportedly built by the ancient Romans. Located to the southern end of the city stands the ruins of a citadel, with the city centre enclosed by walls on the east and west which are said to date from Byzantine times.
The commercial area of Trabzon can be found between the park and large bazaar near the old Genoese castle of Leontocastron in the eastern part of the city. Finally, to the east is the spectacular harbour.
The city of Trabzon is awash with Historical monuments which include the majority of the city walls, there is also part of the palace that was the residence of the Grand Comneni, and a number of Byzantine churches which have been preserved as mosques.
Amongst the churches the best preserved and most remarkable has to be the church Aya Sofya, more commonly known as the Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum, and overlooks the sea just west of the city centre. The church, Hagia Sophia, has superb architecture which includes the domed basilica and also the most striking 13th-century wall paintings which were only uncovered during a cleaning operation in 1957–63. As well as Hagia Sophia, another of the finest Ottoman monuments has to be the mosque and mausoleum of Gulbahar, wife of Sultan Bayezid II who reigned from 1481–1512.
Trabzon was one of the biggest trade routes between Central Asia and Europe for centuries and flourished after the 13th century when it was the chief port for Tabriz and Western Iran. However when the Ankara – Erzurum railway was constructed in the 1900s, and the southern Iranian port of Khorramshahr was developed, its significance declined dramatically. The revitalisation of the city was partly due to the immense improvements that were made to the communication and port facilities. In 1963, the Black Sea Technical University was built and is intertwined by air with Ankara and by the steamer service from Istanbul.
The province of Trabzon province produces a wide variety of crops which include tobacco, fruits and hazelnuts, the people of Trabzon also work with small lead, copper and iron deposits.
Climate in Trabzon
Trabzon enjoys a climate that one would expect from the Black Sea region. The climate could be described as humid subtropical with summers that are warm and humid reaching an average maximum temperature of 26.4 °C, about 80 °F, in the height of summer. The winter months are cool with the lowest average temperature dropping to the region of 5 °C, which is about 41 °F, in January.
During the autumn and winter month’s, precipitation is at its highest and there is a noticeable reduction in summer. It is also common for snow to fall for a couple of weeks between December and March.
Trabzon is very accessible by air with daily planes from Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul to Trabzon, as well as planes from Adana and Bursa. There are also a number of scheduled international flights from European and regional cities.
There are buses that depart from all of the major Turkish cities. The bus journey from Istanbul takes about 18 hours and several buses depart at different times of the day. There are also bus services available from Kayseri, Tbilisi and Georgia which take about 12 hours to reach Trabzon, with Tbilisi and Georgia serving as a particularly useful entry point to the country for visitors. There is also a free shuttle bus service that runs from the bus station to the city centre many times a day.
There are ferries twice weekly that run from Sochi on the Russian Black Sea Coast.
For those looking to explore the area there are frequent Dolmus connections throughout the city which are inexpensive and a great way to see everything.
Trabzon is quite a conservative city and as so does not attract the usual holiday makers or those looking for night time excitement. The area is far more suited to those who are looking for a more relaxed stay in stunning surroundings with a wealth of ancient ties and wonderful places and attractions to visit.
Things to do
The Sumela Monastery is situated within the Mela Mountain which is part of the Pontic Mountain range in Macka, a district of Trabzon. This Greek Orthodox monastery is said to have been dedicated to our lady Mary, mother of Christ. The monastery is situated at about 3,900 feet amidst a steep cliff that faces the valley of Altindere. The site is of great general historical and cultural significance, as well as being a really popular attraction within the area of the Altindere National Park with tourists.
The monastery was founded in AD 386 whilst Emperor Theodosius I reigned, and it is thought that the monastery was founded by two monks from Athens, and became famous due to the icon of the Virgin Mary, mother of God which was said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke. During its long history the monastery has fallen into ruin several times and undergone restoration by a number of emperors.
In the period 1916 – 1918 the monastery was seized by the then Russian Empire that occupied Trabzon and the site was then abandoned in 1923 following the forced population exchange that took place between Greece and Turkey. In 1930 all of the wooden parts of the monastery were destroyed by fire and the years that followed saw looters and vandals damage many other areas.
The primary function of the monastery today is as a tourist attraction, not only is it a draw for the cultural and religious significance but it is also extremely popular for the fabulous location that overlooks both the forests and streams.
Aya Sofya Mosque & Museum
The Aya Sofya Mosque and Museum was originally called Hagia Sophia meaning the Church of Divine Wisdom. The Aya Sofya is located 4km west from the centre of Trabzon in close proximity to the sea. Aya Sofya was originally built between 1239 and 1262 and was of Georgian and Seljuk influenced design, although the mosaic floors and wall paintings were added in line with the fashionable Constantinople style of the time. Aya Sofya was converted to a mosque in 1461 after the Ottoman conquest and was used as an ammunition store and also a hospital by the Russians before it was completely restored in the 1960s.
The religious authorities regained control of Aya Sofya in 2013 and it then underwent another transformation but remained a mosque. It was a ruling made by a local judge that deemed the transformation to be illegal and has ordered that the site be kept and maintained as a museum. Currently the site is both museum and mosque, however a number of the floor mosaics and ceiling frescoes are under cover.
The church is depicted by a cross-in-square plan and topped with a single dome that shows the real Georgian influence. There is a stone frieze located on the porch in the south and this represents when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. The vaulted narthex on the western side of the building offers some of the best preserved frescoes which depict a host of biblical themes and the facade boasts an eagle which was the symbol of the Comnenus family who were the original founders. The majority of paintings that are within close proximity of visitors are unfortunately heavily defaced, but the best paintings are still visible and can be found in the main apse.
The museum sits in stunning gardens which include a square bell tower that was erected in the 1420s. The site is relatively easy to find with signposting from the coastal highway and it can also be reached by dolmus from the southeast end of Ataturk Alani.
The Trabzon Museum was originally known as the Kostaki Mansion, and was built in 1913 for a Russian merchant by an Italian designer and comprised of a mix of styles including rococo, art nouveau and neoclassical architecture. This is currently one of the most spectacular museums in the province and still boasts ornate rooms complete with beautifully painted ceilings, expertly carved wooden doors and many original furnishings. There are also a number of interesting ethnographic and Ottoman artifacts, which are nearly all labelled in English.
There are some more significant pieces located in the archaeological basement and these include a flattened bronze statue that depicts Hermes and was only discovered in 1997 at Tabakhane, there are also a number of stunning wooden Byzantine icons that date back to the 5th – 15th centuries.
The Ataturk Mansion can be located in the leafy neighbourhood hilltop of Soguksu which is about 5km southwest of Ataturk Alani. This fabulous three storey building was built in 1903 and is a huge white mansion that boasts breath taking views and a stunning garden. The mansion was originally built for a wealthy Trabzon family of bankers, and was of the Black Sea style that was really popular in the Crimea. The mansion was later bequeathed to Ataturk after he had visited it in 1924. Be sure not to miss the simple table that is in the study as this holds a map of WW1 Dardanelles campaign that is actually scratched into the wood.
The Ataturk Mansion is easy to get to from the city using the buses that are labelled 'Kosk' and leave from opposite the Post office on Kahramanmaras Caddesi and will drop you right outside of the mansion at a reasonable cost.
The Kunduracilar Caddesi is now only accessible on foot, and is situated in the Carsi better known as market quarter. Located very close to the recently restored Carsi Camii that was built in 1842, and in the centre is the Tas Han which is the largest mosque in the city centre. This is complete with an open courtyard that was built around 1553 and the Bedesten which is Trabzon's oldest marketplace and is now complete with workshops, stores and cafes.
Uzungol is a lake that is situated in the mountains about 95km from Trabzon and 20km from Caykara and has an altitude of 1090m. There are a huge number of broken rocks that have fallen from the slopes into the Haldizen stream and this is how the Uzungol was created. The lake stretches 1000m in length and 500m wide with a depth of 15m.
The lake is flanked by lush forests and offers a very interesting view with the village houses surrounding it. There are other small lakes situated on the mountains which are located about 15 – 20 km from the Uzungol. Uzungol is also surrounded by a number of tracks that are perfect for hiking. There are a few bungalows and other establishments close by.
Local transport will get you to Uzungol, however local tour agents also offer tours to the area for a day throughout the summer.
Sekiz Direkli Hamami
The literal meaning of Sekiz Direkli is 'With 8 Pillars' and while most of the building has been modernised, the original coarse sculpted columns can still be seen inside and date from Seljuk times.
The Carsi Camii in the lively market district has recently undergone restoration and is worth visiting. It is located to the west of Ataturk Alani, in the market area and can be accessed on foot using the Kunduracilar Caddesi which will prevent you from getting caught up in the bustling streets of the ancient bazaar.
The Tas Han is a single domed building which is believed to be built in around 1647, it is located near to the recently restored market mosque and is the oldest marketplace in the whole of Trabzon and now houses many stores and workshops.
Bedesten is Trabzon's oldest marketplace and today makes a great place to spend a day looking in the stores, workshops and cafes.