Clinging improbably to the side of Melá mountain in Trabzon province at a height of 1200 metres, is the stoic face of Sümela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery dating back to the Byzantine era. Founded in 386 CE, Sümela was abandoned during the 1923 population exchange between Turkey and Greece, and converted into a museum. I have long been mystified by images of Sümela— it seemed mythical; this long, stone structure embracing a menacing cliff above a dark, storybook forest, so out of place.
I don't know how long the hike up through the forest was. I remember its steepness, the dampness, the smell of earth and impending rain, and the flashes of blue from a spying jay. We stopped part way up to sketch, sitting cross-legged on the ground, occasionally graced by the curious stares of passersby.
The depth of the valley from the monastery was intoxicating— the rushing river below reduced to a pale trickle— the pines, dark spots in a field of many greens. Ravens slipping in and out of view like shadows, lifting into the graying sky, then plunging into the green. I did not expect that behind the impressiveness of Sümela's straight face stood several humbler structures— little stone kitchens, chapels, as well as rooms for monks and visitors, huddled around a central church, which was carved into a cave in the rock— every surface painted with biblical stories.