Trebizond (Tραπεζούς, modern Trabzon/Turkey) was the most important city of the Pontos. It flourished because of its fine harbor and location at the head of the best route from the sea to the interior and Persia. Restored by Diocletian after a Gothic attack, Trebizond became a legionary base and a city of Pontos Polemoniakos. In the reorganization of Justinian I, it was assigned to Armenia I. Justinian conducted his Armenian campaigns from Trebizond, restored its walls, and built an aqueduct. Trebizond had bishops from the 3rd century onward; Eirenaios, responsible for the rebuildings of Justinian, played a major role in civic life. Trebizond became an archbishopric in the 8th century and a metropolis of the diocese of Lazike in the early 10th century. In the 7th century, Trebizond became a city Of Armeniakon, and, in the early 9th century, capital of Chaldia. A brief Turkish occupation after 1071 was followed by the rule of the Gabrades, nominally subject to the Komnenoi. The well-documented period after 1204 was one of great architectural and artistic activity.
The Empire of Trebizond, based in the city of Trebizond, was one of the three successor states to the Byzantine Empire, lasting from 1204 to 1461. It arose at the time of the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade. Unlike the empire of Nicaea and despotate of Epiros, however, the empire of Trebizond was established not in response to the Latin occupation, but just prior to it as a continuation of the rule of the Komnenian dynasty, overthrown in 1185 by the Angeloi. Founded by Alexios II Komnenos and David Komnenos, grandsons of Andronikos I Komnenos, the new "empire" was restricted to a narrow strip of land along the southeast coast of the Black Sea and was isolated from Constantinople. Under the rule of the Grand Komnenoi, the empire of Trebizond survived for 250 years, despite its small size and the constant threat of conquest by the Turks. Its longevity can be attributed to the natural barrier of the Pontic Mountains, the strong fortifications of the capital city, the flourishing commerce of this port city, and the astute marriage diplomacy carried out by the Trapezuntine emperors, who sought alliances for themselves primarily with Byzantine and Georgian princesses and married many of their daughters and sisters to Turkomans. For much of its history the empire was the vassal of successive stronger powers: the Seljuks of Ikonion (1214-43), the Mongols (after the invasions of 1243 and 1402), and the Ottomans (after 1456). It was the last outpost of Byzantine civilization to fall to the Turks, being forced to surrender in 1461 when besieged by Ottoman forces by land and sea.
In 1204, Trebizond consisted of a small fortified enceinte on a steep hill, with market, harbor, suburbs, and separately fortified monasteries outside the walls. Much of it was exposed to Turkish attacks, which began in 1223. Alexios II Komnenos, emperor of Trebizond (1297-1330), built a new wall that encompassed the harbor and lower city. It was strengthened in 1378; the citadel, which contained the imperial palace and government offices, was frequently repaired until the fall of the Trapezuntine Empire. The commercial district, with numerous churches and the separate fortifications of the Genoese and Venetians, lay beyond the walls. Names of many quarters are known from contemporary texts or later Turkish documents. In spite of its numerous monuments, Trebizond was surprisingly small, with only about 4,000 inhabitants in 1438. Powerful fortifications and an isolated location enabled it to survive numerous Turkish attacks until 1461.
Monuments of Trebizond include the fortifications, which manifest eight periods of construction, mostly of the 13th-14th century. Parts of the palace have also survived. Trebizond preserves the remains or memory of some 95 churches. Most important is the monastery of Hagia Sophia, probably founded by Manuel I Komnenos, emperor of Trebizond (1238-63), and extensively rebuilt in the early 15th century; a cross-in-square church with three apses, a narthex, and three porches, its interior was covered with frescoes. Also prominent are the Church of St. Eugenios of Trebizond (1291); the Cathedral of Panagia Chrysokephalos, rebuilt in 1214 as the imperial coronation church; and the earliest church of Trebizond, the Basilica of St. Anne, restored in 885. Other churches are generally small and undatable, but their characteristic pentagonal apses and porches suggest that most belong to the period of the 13th-15th century.
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Church of St. Anne
The Church of St. Anne is located north of the citadel in an old quarter of Trebizond (modern Trabzon). Basil I had many churches repaired that had suffered during the iconoclastic period. It is possible that St. Anne was one of them. Triple-apsed barrel-vaulted basilica with clerestory and crypt arranged for graves, now gutted. The apses, unusual for Trebizond and indicating an early date, are semicircular. There are west and south doors. Its inscription, recording the restoration of the church in 884/85, refers to the present structure, the church must have been rebuilt from its foundations, for it is all of a piece. Beside the south door relief, classical Ionic capitals were reused, the earliest paintings have been dated to the twelfth century and its latest portrait is dated 1413. It remained in Greek hands until 1923, when it became known in Turkish Küçükayvaz Kilisesi (“Little Servant Church”).
Plan by Balance
Church of St. Eugenios
The Church of St. Eugenios (Yeni Cuma Mosque) is around 190 m east of the Citadel of Trebizond located on a small hill overlooking the eastern ravine. It was originally a basilica rebuilt in its present form of a domed triple-apsed church, with central apse pentagonal on the exterior, and pastophories slightly horseshoe-shaped in plan. The building retains an added north porch; probably there was a southern porch also and almost certainly a narthex or west porch.
The monastery is known to have existed in 1223, so the first period of the church may be earlier than that and bearing in mind its resemblances to the Chrysocephalos. The rebuilding in its present form is likely to have taken place either in 1291 or after the catastrophe of 1340. It had lost frescoes depicting portraits of the Grand Komnenoi from Alexios I to Alexios III (1204-1349).
Its location meant that it tended to get sacked by any invading army that reached the city but failed to take it. In 1222 the Turks got possession of the monastery and destroyed or severely damaged it; and it was burnt down during a civil war in 1340. When Mehmet II finally took Trebizond in 1461 he first said his prayers in this church, which is therefore known as Yeni Cuma (“New Friday”) Mosque.
Plan by Balance
Nakip Mosque was probably the Church of St. Andrew, perhaps dating to the 10th or 11th century. It lacks a narthex, though it has a north porch which is a later addition; it has three apses, horseshoe in plan internally but with the central one polygonal externally and the side ones rounded. The arcades have a most curious lopsided stilt due to the west pair of columns being 75 cm. taller than the east pair: as all the columns are reused and three of the capitals are inverted bases, this was probably due to materials available rather than to any aesthetic conception. Large blocks of masonry which are almost certainly of the classical period are used in the apses, which are of good masonry except for the top 1 -50 m., which is much rougher; the rest of the walls are of smaller blocks with liberal use of mortar and the vaults are of mortared rubble, though the lower part of the porch vault is of brick. All the arches are of brick, including those over the original windows. There are still traces of frescoes in the main apse, which perhaps date to the 15th century. The church itself must be considerably older: since it was clearly a humble one but even so had access to classical fragments, the supply of which must eventually have given out, it is probably reasonable to hazard a guess at the 10th or 11th century.
Photo from Talbot Rice (1929–1930)
Plan by Balance
Church of St. Philip
The Church of St. Philip (Kudrettin Mosque) was located outside of the walled part of Trebizond. After the Chrysokephalos was converted into a mosque in 1461, St. Philip became the cathedral of Trebizond; in about 1665 it was transformed into a mosque, and St. Gregory of Nyssa became the third and last cathedral. The church was built in three stages. The building of the first stage consists of a single apse, pentagonal on the exterior and semicircular on the interior, a square domed naos, and a narrow western bay, a somewhat larger version of the Panagia Evangelistria. The second stage includes a substantial rectangular barrel vaulted extension to the west, to enlarge the naos. The third is an even larger addition to the north. The second extension can reasonably be dated to after 1461, when the church became the metropolis of Trebizond, and the third to after about 1665, when it was converted into a mosque .
Plan by Balance
Citadel of Trebizond
The Citadel of Trebizond has eight phases of construction, mostly dating to the 13th and 14th century. Parts of the palace have also survived.
Ruins of the Palace of Grand Komnenoi
Plans from Bryer & Winfield
İçkale Mosque in the Citadel (1470)
Church of St. John Exoteichos (1856)
Engraving of Manuel I Komnenos at Hagia Sophia
From Grigorii Gagarin (1897)
Alexios III and Theodora Kantakouzene
Chrysobull of Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos (1374)
Alexios III founding Dionysiou Monastery
Coin of John II Komnenos (1280-1297) with St. Eugenios
Seal of David Komnenos
Reliquary Casket of Trebizond (late 14th-15th century)
Cassone with painted front panel depicting the Conquest of Trebizond (after 1461)
Attributed to workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso Italian at the MET
Trebizonde by Tournefort (1717)
Port of Trebizond in 1840
View of Trebizond by Charles Texier (1882)
Monastery of Panagia Theoskepastos
Photo by Dosseman
The Monastery of Panagia Theoskepastos (Turkish Kızlar Manastırı) is located on the slopes of Mount Minthrion, midway between the harbor of Daphnous and the Citadel of Trebizond. Its save cave was perhaps originally associated with the cult of Mithras. The evidence of earlier layers of paintings suggests that the cave was a church before it was incorporated into the Theoskepastos nunnery, which was probably founded, refounded, or endowed by Eirene of Trebizond in the 1340s. The nunnery housed the tombs of Despot Andronikos (d. 1376), of the Grand Komnenos Manuel III (d. 1417), and of the Grand Komnenos Alexios IV (d. 1429) before the latter's remains were transferred to the monument outside the Chrysokephalos. By 1609 the cave church seems to have been served by four or five monks who lived outside the nunnery enceinte; they were guardians of the somewhat idiorrhythmic nuns, who had their own chapel. By the time of the restorations of 1843 the cave church seems to have been again within the nunnery enceinte, but was a parish church out of the nuns' hands. The Theoskepastos was the only known nunnery in the Empire of Trebizond and remained a house of women religious until 1922.
Photos of exterior of the cave church by William Harper (1895)
Portraits of Irene Palaiologina, Alexios III Komnenos and Theodora Kantakouzene at Theoskepastos by Texier (1864)
Monastery of the All Savior
Photo by Bertramz
Kaymaklı Monastery (Armenian Amenaprgič Vank, Monastery of the All Savior) is located on the eastern slopes of Mount Minthrion. It was perhaps part of the building activities of activities of the local patron Hodja Stepanos Shemsedli in 1421-1424.
Photo by Dosseman
Church of St. Michael at Platana
The Church of St. Michael in Platana (Akçaabat), located around 15 km west of Trebizond (modern Trabzon). The structure, which was relatively recently functioning as a house, perhaps dates to the 13th or 14th century. While its present dome is entirely restored, it is probably similar to the original dome. It has an opus sectile floor in black, white, green and terracotta red. Its exterior is unique, perhaps indicating Armenian or Georgian influence.
Photos by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
Soumela Monastery (Μονή Παναγίας Σουμελά) is located in a spectacular site on the face of a cliff on the western slopes of Mt. Melas, about 40 km south of Trebizond. The origins of the monastery, which was dedicated to the Virgin, are shrouded in legend. Pious tradition, going back at least to the 10th century., places the foundation of Soumela in the 4th century. and attributes its establishment to two Athenian monks, Barnabas and Sophronios, who supposedly discovered in a cave at Soumela an icon of the Virgin painted by St. Luke. The monastery prospered during the reign of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond, especially Alexios III Komnenos who was responsible for the restoration of Soumela in 1360-65. A chrysobull of Alexios of 1364 lists the properties owned by the monastery in the Matzouka region and characterizes the relations between Soumela and its paroikoi: the monastery had the right of jurispru-ence over them, could levy military recruits, and so forth. The document also granted Soumela immunity from taxes and other financial and military obligations. The monastery was called imperial as well as patriarchal and stauropegial. The main grotto church contains fresco portraits of Trapezuntine emperors, including Alexios III and Maneul III Komnenos. The monastery was abandoned in the 20th century.
Photo by Herbert Frank
Photo by Bynyalcin
The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos by Anthony Bryer & David Winfield
Byzantium’s Other Empire: Trebizond by Antony Eastmond
Byzantine Painting at Trebizond by Millet and Talbot Rice
The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos by Anthony Bryer
Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango
Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture by Richard Krautheimer
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan
“Religious Buildings of Trebizond” by D. Talbot Rice
“The Byzantine Churches of Trebizond” by Selina Balance
“La Sainte-Sophie de Trebizonde” by N. Brounov
“Les Monasteres et les Eglises de Trebizonde” by G. Millet