2011
03.21

SYNOPSIS:

Trabzon – what else is there to do?  About a church and a villa, nothing else was open.

Despite reconciling with my hotel, Trabzon still leaves a lot to be desired.  The first bad news of the day was that the Sumela Monastery – the sole reason for my being here – was supposedly closed today!  Lonely Planet and the monastery website on one hand and the hotel receptionist at the other hand were at odds with each other, but the receptionist won, backed up by the local tourist information and a former tour guide who happened to come through the lobby.  And it was Monday which meant that the other two marginal museums in town were also closed…

What the hell am I doing here?!  I went 800 km out of my way and invested 5 days of this trip to make it all the way to this stupid port town but the monastery is closed and it is Monday!  This is about all I needed to keep me limping along in my depressed state, which was not helped in any way by the weather that had gone from the gray haze of yesterday to a constant dark drizzle today.  But the most depressing place of all is my hotel room, so I had to get out, anywhere, doing anything.

Two sites looked promising:  Aya Sophia, a church museum, and an Ataturk house museum in a suburb which both did not adhere to the “closed on Monday” rule.

A dolmus, or shared mini-van/taxi, got me to the Aya Sophia.  Give me a Byzantine church with a few frescoes inside, and my mood improves.  It was my kind of a place:  Quiet, unassuming, and in a nice geographical location.  And aside from a Japanese tourist, there was nobody; and he was gone in no time.  At Aya Sophia I recovered.  Yes, it was still drizzling and wet; yes, the hotel was still a stink hole; yes, the monastery was still closed unexpectedly, but the grassy park that surrounded the church bordered a bluff that overlooked the Black Sea and there was such peace there!  Who could be depressed?

The frescoes are nothing on the order of the Chora church in Istanbul, but they certainly could be from the same time period.  Data about the Aya Sophia are scarce and the possibilities range from the 6th to the 18th Century.  Take your pick.  The narthex contains the most complete fresco coverage in the darkest and richest colors.  The dome – too far out of reach for the iconoclasts and the later Muslim invaders – had the next most impressive set of images.  And then there were fragments in arches, pendentives, halls, aisles for which you would need a lot of imagination.

The church is laid out nearly symmetrically with four equally long arms extending from a central, domed square.  One end of the church extends into an apse with side aisles; the opposite end leads to a full length narthex.  Only the south entrance still contains relief carving on its exterior.  Much has been lost to iconoclasm, neglect, alternative use, and abuse.  But enough remains to make this an important local monument, witness of a time when Christians fared better in Anatolia than they do today.

If the museums in town had been open I might have focused on those, but since it’s Monday and in March, pickings for more activities were slim:  The Ataturk Villa in a suburb which cannot be spelled with our ordinary alphabet, sounded interesting.  Here was another chance to learn more about the man – so I hoped.  Despite several sets of misinformation, I found the city bus stop that took me up and up and up the hill to the outskirts of Trabzon.  Trabzon is located on a mountain slope by the sea.  From my hotel window I could see this morning that the clouds were literally hanging in the upper regions of town, practically covering the houses up there.

When we arrived at the villa I realized I had arrived inside one of those clouds.  Visibility was about 50 feet!  The white villa was invisible from the entrance gate and only emerged, barely visible, as if hiding under a veil of fog.  This house museum was even worse than the one in Erzurum.  There, a lot had been written in Turkish.  I was just too stupid to get it.  Here, there were little more than photographs and stuff without any explanation of its historical context.  I have to assume that all of the objects in the house got there by virtue of having been touched by “the man”.  The pool table, the piano (did he play?), the sofas, the chairs, the typewriter, the bed, the bathtub.

The sign at the entrance said that the house had been given to Ataturk after the “people exchange”…  Now there is euphemism for you for dispossessing somebody who was expelled for whatever reason!  I have to say that I am particularly disappointed about the apparent lying by omission which is going on seemingly everywhere about Ataturk.  About the man who demanded objective reporting of history!

The villa was given to him because he liked it – that’s pretty amazing by itself.  The sign continued to say that he spent only two days there after it had been bequeathed to him!  From his estate it eventually was purchased back by the city which furnished it with memorabilia and opened it up as a museum for the people in the 1960’s.

The setting was spectacular, at the top of the mountain, surrounded by forest.  This was the Grosse Point of Trabzon; the getaway for the rich folks.  Even today, there are some pretty nifty villas up there which I barely could make out from the window in the bus.  The villa itself feels very European; not big, but stately, symmetrical, and baroque.   A perfect place to visit; but from a museum perspective, there is a ways to go.

For the rest of the afternoon, I walked around in Trabzun, looking for some of the remains of the old city wall, and observing some city life before returning to my stinkhole.

I had dinner at one of the many Lokantari – fast food joints in which about six quite fine local dishes are cooked which you can order at reasonable prices; like goulash, or soups, or meat balls, etc.  I had hot fermented beet juice, only palatable with a yoghurt drink which I had also ordered. One sip of it canceled out the fire of the beet juice.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but this seems to be a local specialty!  Wow!  Once is enough for me.

Tomorrow, the monastery’d better be open.  And it’d better not be hanging in a foggy cloud!

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Fermented beet juice????? A little of that would serve a lot of people at our house. Are you sure it is not meant to be cough medicine?

  2. Keep your spirits up! Oh, please tell me you’ve eaten some turkey, in Turkey.