Is Trabzon on the Black Sea Coast a seedy Turkish-Russian port town or is it Turkey’s “most cosmopolitan, ever-changing city” as its tourist brochure states? It is probably both. At night, it seems to earn its reputation as the Turkish center of the “Natasha trade”, where women from nearby former-Soviet countries work on an “ad hoc” basis. Trabzon is the Black Sea’s busiest port, and business is booming… both in the port itself, filled with ships from Russia and the Ukraine, and in the dozens of cheap hotels that line the Port area.
In daylight, Trabzon is at its best in the modern, busy main square jammed with people, sidewalk cafes, modern shops and surrounded by noisy traffic. You can see both women in conservative headscarves and girls in short dresses. Everyone in Trabzon is VERY proud of its local football (soccer) team; it is one of two teams outside Istanbul to ever have won the Turkish national league.
Trabzon was founded (as Trebizond) in the eighth century BC.
When the ancient Greeks first arrived, they reported shocking stories of the Mosynoecians, “practitioners of open-air fornication who resided in wooden castles.” We didn’t see any of these folks. For centuries after the founding of Trabzon, it formed the easternmost limit of the Western World. During the Byzantine period, silk road caravans found their way here.
Trabzon’s best days followed the crusaders sacking Constantinople in 1204, when the fleeing Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus I made it the seat of his new empire with his great riches.
The city lasted as a Byzantine outpost for a century after the Ottomans took Constantinople but then inevitably declined. The Russians fought over the city in both the Crimean War and WW One and damaged the city when they captured it in 1916.
After visiting the lovely Aya Sofya Museum (originally another Hagia Sophia church), we found the most beautiful sight near Trabzon was the Sumela Monastery. About 34 miles south of Trabzon, it is a
wonderful site at 3700 feet (1,000 feet above a river) in a forest on the side of a cliff. The monastery was built by Emperor Anastasius in the 5th century AD, and some of it has been restored. It was too remote to be made into a mosque and actually had Greek monks in residence until 1923. The bus leaves you off for a ten-minute climb up the cliff, and after you walk for 45 minutes straight down from the monastery on the stairs and paths.
Overall, in Trabzon we saw a bustling and peaceful port. People were very friendly, but no one spoke English. Luckily our room cleaner was an Azeri woman from Baku, and we were able to communicate with her in Russian. We saw no other foreign tourists, other than at the monastery.