Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Trebizond

TREBIZOND, in Greek Trapezeus, a city of Asia Minor, situated on the Black Sea, near its south-eastern angle, from the time of its foundation as a Greek colony to the present day has always been a considerable emporium of commerce, and at one time was for two centuries and a half the capital of an empire. Its importance is due to its geographical position, because it commands the point where the chief and most direct trade route from Persia and Central Asia to Europe, over the tableland of Armenia by Bayazid and Erzeroum, descends to the sea. Its safety also was secured by the barrier of rugged mountains which separates its district from the rest of Asia Minor, rising to the height of 7000 or 8000 feet above the sea-level. So complete is the watershed that no streams pass through these ranges, and there is hardly any communication in this direction between the interior of Asia Minor and the coast. For the same reason, together with its northern aspect, the climate is humid and temperate, and favourable to the growth of vegetation, unlike that of the inland regions, which are exposed to great extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter. The position which was occupied by the Hellenic and mediaeval city is a sloping table of ground (whence the original name of the place, Trapezus, or the "Tableland"), which falls in steep rocky precipices on the two sides, where two deep valleys, descending from the interior, run parallel at no great distance from one another down to the sea. The whole is still inclosed by the Byzantine walls, which follow the line of the cliffs, and are carried along the sea-face; and the upper part of the level, which is separated from the lower by an inner cross wall, forms the castle; while at the highest point, where a sort of neck is formed between the two valleys, is the keep which crowns the whole. The fortifications and their surroundings are singularly picturesque, for the towers, some round, some angular, which project from them are in many cases covered with creepers, and the gardens that occupy the valleys below teem with luxuriant vegetation. On each side, about half-way between the keep and the sea, these ravines are crossed by massive bridges, and on the further side of the western most of these, away from the city, a large tower and other fortifications remain, which must have served to defend the approach from that quarter. The area of the ancient city is now called the Kaleh, and is inhabited by the Turks; eastward of this is the extensive Christian quarter, and beyond this again a low promontory juts northward into the sea, partly covered with the houses of a well-built suburb, which is the principal centre of commerce. The harbour lies on the eastern side of this promontory, but it is an unsafe roadstead, being unprotected towards the north-east, and having been much silted up, so that vessels cannot approach within a considerable distance of the shore. The neighbourhood of this is the liveliest portion of the city, as it is from here that the caravans start for Persia, and at certain periods of the year long trains of camels may be seen, and Persian merchants conspicuous by their high black caps and long robes. The total population of the place is estimated at 32,000, of whom 2000 are Armenians, 7000 or 8000 Greeks, and the rest Turks.

The city of Trapezus was a colony of Sinope, but it first comes into notice at the time of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand, who found repose there. Notwithstanding its commercial importance, the remoteness of its position prevented it from being much known to fame either in the Hellenic or the early medieval period; its greatness dates from the time of the fourth crusade (1204), when the Byzantine empire was dismembered and its capital occupied by the Latins. During the confusion that followed that event a scion of the imperial family of the Comneni, called Alexius, escaped into Asia, and, having collected an army of Iberian mercenaries, entered Trebizond, where he was acknowledged as the legitimate sovereign, and assumed the title of Grand Comnenus. Though only twenty-two years of age, Alexius was a man of ability and resolute will, capable of establishing order in a time of an archy; and thus he succeeded without difficulty in making himself master of the greater part of the southern coast of the Black Sea. The empire that was thus founded continued to exist until 1461, when the city was taken by Mohammed II., eight years after he had captured Constantinople. The cause of this long duration, and at the same time the secret of its history, is to be found in the isolated position of Trebizond and its district, between the mountains and the sea, which has already been described. By this means it was able to defy both the Seljiiks and the Ottomans, and to maintain its independence against the emperors of Nicsea and Constantinople. But for the same reason its policy was always narrow, so that it never exercised any beneficial influence on the world at large. It was chiefly in the way of matrimonial alliances that it was brought into contact with other states. The imperial family were renowned for their beauty, and the princesses of this race were sought as brides by Byzantine emperors of the dynasty of the Palaeologi, by Western nobles, and by Mohammedan princes; and the connexions thus formed originated a variety of diplomatic relations and friendly or offensive alliances. The palace of Trebizond was famed for its magnificence, the court for its luxury and elaborate ceremonial, while at the same time it was frequently a hotbed of intrigue and immorality. The Grand Comneni were also patrons of art and learning, and in consequence of this Trebizond was resorted to by many eminent men, by whose agency the library of the palace was provided with valuable manuscripts and the city was adorned with splendid buildings. The writers of the time speak with enthusiasm of its lofty towers, of the churches and monasteries in the suburbs, and especially of the gardens, orchards, and olive groves. It excited the admiration of Gonzales Clavijo, the Spanish envoy, when he passed through it on his way to visit the court of Timur at Samarkand (Clavijo, Historia del Gran Tamorlan, p. 84); and Cardinal Bessariou, who was a native of the place, in the latter part of his life, when the city had passed into the hands of the Mohammedans, and he was himself a dignitary of the Roman Church, so little forgot the im pression it had made upon him that he wrote a work entitled " The Praise of Trebizond " (EyKca/j-iof Tpairfovt>Tos), which exists in manuscript at Venice. Little was known of the history of the empire of Trebizond until the subject was taken in hand by Prof. Fallmerayer of Munich, who discovered the chronicle of Michael Panaretus among the books of Cardinal Bessarion, and from that work, and other sources of information which were chiefly unknown up to that time, compiled his Geschichte des Kaiserthums von Trapezunt (Munich, 1827). Finlay's account of the period, in the fourth volume of his History of Greece, is based on this. From time to time the emperors of Trebizond paid tribute to the Seljiik sultans of Iconium, to the grand khans of the Mongols, to Timur the Tartar, to the Turcoman chieftains, and to the Ottomans; but by means of skilful negotiations they were enabled practically to secure their independence. We find them also at war with many of these powers, and with the Genoese, who endeavoured to monopolize the commerce of the Black Sea. The city was several times besieged, the most formidable attack being that which occurred in the reign of Andronicus I., the second emperor, when the Seljuks, under the command of Melik, the son of the great sultan Ala-ed-din, first assaulted the northern wall in the direction of the sea, and afterwards endeavoured to storm the upper citadel by night. They failed, however, in both attempts; and in the latter, owing to the darkness, and to the occurrence of a violent storm which suddenly swelled the torrents in the ravines, their force was thrown into inextricable confusion, and they were compelled to abandon their camp and make the best of their escape from the country. So great was the strength of the fortifications that, when Mohammed II. turned his thoughts towards the subjugation of this state, he might have experienced much difficulty in reducing it, and might have been disposed to offer favourable terms, had it not been for the pusillanimous conduct of David, the last emperor, who surrendered the place almost unconditionally.

Several interesting monuments of this period remain at Trebizond in the form of churches in the Byzantine style of architecture. One of these is within the area of the old city, viz., the church of the Panaghia Chrysokephalos, or Virgin of the Golden Head, a large and massive but excessively plain building, which is now the Orta-hissar mosque. On the further side of the eastern ravine stands a smaller but very well proportioned structure, the church of St Eugenius, the patron saint of Trebizond, now the Yeni Djuma djami, or New Friday mosque. Still more important is the church, of Haghia Sophia, which occupies a conspicuous position overlooking the sea, about two miles to the west of the city. The porches of this are handsomely ornamented, and about a hundred feet from it rises a tall campanile, the inner walls of which have been covered in parts with frescos of religious subjects, though these are now much defaced. But the most remarkable memorial of the Middle Ages that exists in all this district is the monastery of Sumelas, which is situated among the mountains, about 25 miles from Trebizond, at the side of a rocky glen, at a height of 4000 feet above the sea. Its position is most extraordinary, for it occupies a cavern in the middle of the face of a perpendicular cliff a thousand feet high, where the white buildings offer a marked contrast to the brown rock which forms their setting. It is approached by a zigzag path at the side of the cliff, from which a flight of stone steps and a wooden staircase give access to the monastery. The valley below is filled with the richest vegetation, the undergrowth being largely composed of azaleas and rhododendrons. An antiquity of 1500 years is claimed for the foundation of the monastery, but it is certain that the first person who raised it to importance was the emperor Alexius Comnenus III. of Trebizond; he rebuilt it in 1360, and richly endowed it. The golden bull of that emperor, which became thenceforth the charter of its foundation, is still preserved; it is one of the finest specimens of such documents, and contains portraits of Alexius himself and his queen. The monastery also possesses the firman of Mohammed II. by which he accorded his protection to the monks when he became master of the country. (h. f. t.)