The site, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List, was closed to visitors in September 2015 for carrying out restoration work due to the risk of rocks falling over the structure.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of Sumela Monastery in in Turkey's Black Sea province.
FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of Sumela Monastery in in Turkey's Black Sea province. (AA Archive)

The majestic Sumela Monastery in northeastern Turkey has reopened its doors for mass for the first time in almost five years after being closed for restoration.

Overlooking a lush valley near the Black Sea coast, the monastery reopened its doors on Saturday to Christian Orthodox services after undergoing four years of restoration work.

Saturday's service coincided with Christians celebration of the Assumption of Mary.

Local officials are taking necessary measures to ensure security and social distancing. 

They also made arrangements to provide accommodation and transportation to worshippers.

The service is headed by officials from the Patriarchate. 

The service in the previous years were led by Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I.

This year, only a certain number of people are attending the mass due to restrictions over the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The mass will commence from 0600 until 0900GMT, and no other visitors will be admitted onto the premises for two hours after its conclusion. 

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Restoration work

The site was closed to visitors in September 2015 due to the risk of rocks falling over the structure.

The building had been carved into the Pontic Mountains over 1,600 years ago.

The first phase of environmental planning, as well as fortification efforts and geological and geotechnical research, were conducted on the surrounding rocks, with one part of the monastery, including its yard, was opened for public in May 2019.

After completing the second phase of restoration, 65 percent of the monastery reopened on July 28, 2020, in a ceremony attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan via teleconference, and by Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy who was onsite.

Rich history

Sumela Monastery, which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List, is located 300 metres above forests that cover Altindere Valley in the northeastern province of Trabzon.

It is known locally as Meryem Ana (Virgin Mary).

Most parts of the monastery were renovated in the 18th century and some walls were adorned with frescoes. 

The addition of large buildings in the 19th century brought the structure to its contemporary form and experienced the richest era of its history.

Major sections of the monastery include the main stone church, some chapels, a kitchen, teaching rooms, guest rooms, library and holy spring.

A large aqueduct, which had been used for water distribution, can be seen at the entrance of the monastery leaning on the cliffside.

By the entrance are guard rooms, from which one can descend via stairs into the inner yard.

The church sits in front of a vast cavern in the side of Mount Karadag, which also houses various other monastery buildings.

Frescoes in the chapel date back to the beginning of the 18th century with three layers constructed in three different eras. 

The lowest-layer frescoes are of the highest quality.

The frescoes, some of which faded over time, depict biblical scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Source: AA