Painstaking, risky work underway to protect Sümela Monastery
The Sümela Monastery stands carved into the steep cliffside of the mountain 300 meters above the picturesque Altındere Valley and is one of the most important tourist attractions in Trabzon.
The iconic structure was closed to visitors earlier this month for the fourth time in five years due to restoration and slope improvement projects.
This time, experts are trying to fix the 360-ton rock mass, which poses serious risks, right above the monastery’s entrance to the slope with 16-meter-long steel stakes. They initially used steel wire mesh to secure the rock in an attempt to prevent rock blocks from falling. But apparently this method was not enough, therefore, they decided to use steel stakes as well.
“Works have been ongoing for five years to make the monastery into a safer structure. However, the strategy was wrong from the very beginning. No accidents happened or there were no risks of rocks falling before the renovation work began. Explosives were used to drop some rocks, which led other rocks to fall,” said Professor Osman Bektaş, a geological engineer.
He noted that now it is difficult to remove this massive rock block above the entrance. “If the right methods were used, the monastery would not have been closed four times already.”
Steel ropes could have been used to cover and stabilize the rocks instead, Bektaş said. “This could have resolved the problem in a safer way, and it could have been cheaper.”
The monastery, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List since 2000, is also known as the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary and is believed to have been constructed by two monks in the late fourth century.
After the current renovation work is completed, the monastery is expected to be reopened on Jan. 31, 2022.