Turkey is seeking from Greece, among other countries, the return of artefacts taken from the historic monastery of Panagia Soumela Monastery on Mela Mountain about 40km inland from Trabzon on the Black Sea.

According to Milliyet, a Trabzon newspaper, Turkish academics have visited private collectors, museums and universities in Trabzon, Istanbul, Greece, Ireland, UK and US to collect information about artefacts that once had belonged to the monastery founded in 386AD.

The monastery is set into a steep cliff at about 1200m above sea level and overlooks the Altindere Valley and is part of the Altindere National Park and is now a growing tourist attraction.

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In 1923, its monks were forced to leave the monastery along with the Greek population in the region. They were not allowed to take any monastery artefacts with them and buried the famous icon of the Virgin and Child under the floor of a chapel. A monk returned in secret in 1930 to retrieve the icon and take it to the then newly founded Panagia Soumela Monastery near Naousa in Greece.

Parts of the original monastery were destroyed in a fire in the 1930s and the site, including its famous Rock Chapel was looted and damaged by vandals. It was only 88 years later, on 15 August, 2010, that an Orthodox liturgy was held there again.

The Turkish government has been funding the monastery’s reconstruction since 2012 and pilgrims have been coming from Greece and Turkey.

The Turkish academics listed up to 77 items taken from the monastery including metal objects, manuscripts and garments. Turkey’s culture minister Nuri Ersoy handed the list to the Turkish National Assembly  saying that Sumela was “one of the most important monasteries in Anatolia” and that it would taken all necessary steps for the return of the artefacts that were illegally taken abroad.

Milliyet reports that many of the items were taken by Americans during a NATO exercise in the area in the 1950s.


Within the walls of the Panagia Soumela Monastery. Photo: Jean&Nathalie/WikiCommons
The icon-rich Rock Church of the Panagia Soumela Monastery which vandals seriously damaged over the last century. Photo: Alaexis/WikiCommons