r/todayilearned Jun 28 '22

TIL about the Sumela Monastery. Built nearly 4,000 feet up the side of a cliff, it was founded in the 300s. Destroyed and rebuilt several times, mostly during the Byzantine Era, it was emptied and abandoned in the 1920s. Taken over by the Turkish government it has been restored for tourism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumela_Monastery
397 Upvotes

15

u/marmorset Jun 28 '22 edited Jun 28 '22

The most interesting part is where it's located, here's a variety of pictures.

Supposedly founded by two Greek monks in the late 300s, they were said to have been led there by and [an] angel where they discovered a relic of the Virgin Mary made by St. Luke. The "Black Madonna"* icon is now said to be in Greece. Most of the surviving structures are Byzantine and date from the 1200s or later.

Protected during the Ottoman Empire, the monastery was evacuated and abandoned after the fall of the empire during WW I when the Turks began to massacre occupiers and Christians in general in their quest for independence. Most of the religious material was brought to museums in Greece, but also a few other countries.

Very popular as a religious pilgrimage for Greeks and Russians it has now been partially restored and turned into a tourist attraction. There's been some criticism that the monastery has been used for parties and as a dance club, with the Turkish government saying it's only to promote the site.

*There are three types of black Madonnas, but "Black Madonna" on its own has a separate meeting. While icons of the Virgin Mary are often made in Africa, the Philippines, and other countries, depicted in the style and appearance of the native population, a "Black Madonna" was a fad that began during the Byzantine Empire, mostly in the 1200s and 1300s. Older icons had accumulated layers of soot from candles and general age and darkened over time, since many of these older depictions of Mary and the Baby Jesus were associated with miracles, it became fashionable to create "pre-aged" icons.

The third type of black Madonna are occasional variations thought to have been replacements for local pagan goddesses of similar design. Agricultural goddesses were occasionally depicted with black or brown skin to signify their association with the soil. This was mentioned as happening in a particular area, but it's unclear how often this actually occured.

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u/bolanrox Jun 28 '22

sounds like the place from for your eyes only.

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u/marmorset Jun 28 '22 edited Jun 28 '22

I had forgotten all about that but apparently is was filmed in Meteora, in Greece. The bishop gave permission but the monks weren't happy with the situation and didn't let them film. It went to court and it was ruled that the monks owned the inside, but they couldn't control what happened outside.

The [monks] started hanging their laundry out and placing boxes and barrels to disrupt filming. The filmmakers used matte paintings or sets for many of the scenes.

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u/Living-in-liberty Jun 28 '22

Emptied and abandoned in the 1920s. What happened in the area just before that that would have caused people to leave or die?

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u/marmorset Jun 28 '22

I mention this in my comment. I also get the sense you know the answer already.

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u/Living-in-liberty Jun 28 '22

I am not certain about the direct cause of this specific location being abandoned. I just know that in 1915 there was a genocide against Christians in the area.

Greeks were one of the targets. It is called the Armenian genocide because that is the main group targeted but Greeks and Assyrians were as well.

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u/Living-in-liberty Jun 28 '22

I am not certain about the direct cause of this specific location being abandoned. I just know that in 1915 there was a genocide against Christians in the area.

Greeks were one of the targets. It is called the Armenian genocide because that is the main group targeted but Greeks and Assyrians were as well.

5

u/marmorset Jun 28 '22

While the monastery itself wasn't attacked, the monks knew it was just a matter of time. When they left the monastery was looted and vandalized. The Turkish government has had new frescoes and painting done, but made no effort to preserve the original artwork, plastering and painting directly over the walls and ceilings.

Everything of value was either taken by the monks, looters, or just destroyed. It's similar to what happened in the Al-Aqsa mosque built on the Jewish Temple Mount. All the art and items from the Jewish period were intentionally looted or destroyed, the inside has been remodeled, and the building has been reconfigured.

They regularly sneak out garbage trucks with debris and bring it to a dump to get rid of any sign of prior occupation. A team of Jewish archaeologists has someone watching the mosque and when a truck leaves they rush to the dump to sift through the destruction trying to find any remnants of the original temple.

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u/Living-in-liberty Jun 28 '22

It is awful when cultural treasures are destroyed

2

u/stanman7 Jun 28 '22

But also the genocide.

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u/marmorset Jun 29 '22

Norm Macdonald: Patton Oswald told me, "The worst part of the Cosby thing was the hypocrisy," and I disagree.

Jerry Seinfeld: You disagree with that?

Norm Macdonald: Yeah, I thought it was the raping.

2

u/Living-in-liberty Jun 28 '22

Definitely. Any and every genocide is wrong and reprehensible.