Trabzon is one of the major cities of Turkey and the biggest one in the Eastern Black Sea region. Its population is over 808 thousand (2019) living on an area of 4,664 km2. Due to the rainy climate even in the summer months, it has lots of green forests and mountains with many rivers and highlands. There are major roads connecting Trabzon to other cities, a big harbor for international shipping traffic in the Black Sea, and an international airport. The city is famous for its fish, football (soccer) team, and the Sumela Monastery.
Some say that the name of the city comes from the Greek "Trapezous"; "trapezion" is the table, and the ending "-ous" means "the place which possesses/has something" (eg. Kerasous; the place that has cherries, todays Giresun). Trapezous indicates the flat hilltop in the old city, which is surrounded by the medieval wall.
When the Roman Empire was divided into two at the end of the 4th century, Trabzon remained under the sovereignty of the Eastern Roman Empire which later on was called as Byzantine Empire. When relations and wars between the Byzantines and the Arabs started, the Arabs called the people under the Roman Sovereignty as Rum, and the areas under the Roman sovereignty as Diyar-i Rum or Memleket-ul Rum (land of Rums). Also Turks used the word Rum, hence the Province of Anatolia was called as Eyalet-i Rum and Sultan-i Rum.
The Byzantines gave special importance to Trabzon from the military point of view. During the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century the city walls were thoroughly repaired and enlarged. A road from Trabzon to Persia was opened. Huts for defense were built at bends and effort was given to establish Christianity so that the tribe Can, the dwellers along the road would be obedient. Aqueducts of Saint Eugenius were built.
In the 8th century the Moslem Arab armies entered Anatolia, invading the area around the citadel in Trabzon. They saw hazel nuts for the first time. In the 9th century the Moslem Turkish armies started coming to the Trabzon area and outer part of the citadel went under the sovereignty of the Turks. Inside the citadel there were still the Greek colonists. It is in this period that construction of the Saint Ann Church in Ayvasil district was completed.
In the 10th century Islamism outside the citadel speeded up and the Turks around became Moslems. Two of the four routes of the Seljuk raids which began in the 11th century passed through the Eastern Black Sea region. Canik was one of the eight provinces conquered by the Turks in Anatolia and the name Turkey was given for the first time in 1081. Its principal city was Trabzon (the name Canik derived from the word Canika, the place where the Can Tribe lived near Macka area in the south of Trabzon) and moved to the west and named as Samsun later on. In the second half of the 11th century there were two Trabzon's: The outer part of the citadel was under the sovereignty of the Danismeds; The inner part of the citadel was under the sovereignty of the Byzantines.
After the fights over the throne started in Byzantium (Istanbul) in the 12th century, the Commenos family was dethroned and young Alexis Commenos escaped to Georgia. He declared his Kingdom in Georgia in 1204 and came to Trabzon with the help of Christian Georgians. He took the citadel from the Byzantian governor who was at his side and made Trabzon the capital of his Kingdom; the state of Trabzon emerged. As the King was a Christian Anatolian, the state was also called as the Trabzon Rum State and later on as Rum Pontus state.
In the 13th century the Seljuk Turks besieged Trabzon twice and bound them to tax. The King of Trabzon, Alexis Commenos, fortified the citadel and ditches were dug around it. The outer part of the citadel became a large commercial city and was mentioned as "The pupil of whole Asia". The palace of the King and official buildings were placed on the high plains of the inner fortress. The commercial life of the country that extended from Batum to Kerempe including Crimea which was in the hands of the Genoese and the Venetians. On the coast of the city there were castles and warehouses.
In the mid-13th century the Trabzon state was surrounded by the Cepnis. The Cepnis under the sovereignty of the Sungurlu tribe, from the Ucok subdivision of the Oguz division, who was the son of Kara Han and the grandchild of Turk Han, settled down on the borders of Trabzon state. While there were Christian Kings in the inner citadel, Islam was spreading quickly in the outer citadel. Ahi Evren Dede, an Islamic missionary, was buried in Boztepe after his death in the 14th century.
Moslem pirates, coming particularly from Sinop, were raiding the coasts and plundering Trabzon which became the center of Europe-Asia trade. The King of Trabzon, Alexis Commenos II (1297-1333) who had the Giresun castle built, had constructed walls against the sea which is supposed to be the Moloz District now. In the beginning of the 15th century Tamerlane invaded Anatolia and captured Trabzon too. But he did not add it to his Empire, he taxed it under the administration of his son, Halil Mirza.
Sultan Murat II attacked Trabzon in 1442 from the sea and returned home with slaves and taxes. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Sultan Mehmet bound Trabzon to tax for 2000 duke golden coins. When it was not paid, he sent Hizir Bey in 1456, the tutor of his son Sehzade Beyazid who was the governor in Amasya. Hizir Bey surrendered Trabzon and established his headquarters in the eastern section (now the Municipal building). But since the King of Trabzon declared that he would pay the tax required, he returned. The tax was sent to Istanbul in 1457 and was accepted only if the amount was increased to 3000 duke golden coins.
The King of Trabzon Commenos IV began to search remedies to get rid of this pressure and tried to bring together all nations from Caucasia and the coasts of Euphrates River to France and Vatican in opposition to the Ottoman State. He also engaged his beautiful daughter to Uzun Hasan Bey, the ruler of Akkoyunlu, provided that he should defend Trabzon against the Ottomans. When Mehmet the Conqueror heard about this alliance, he set off to Trabzon in 1461 and surrounded the city from land and sea. The King of Trabzon David Commenos surrendered the city, and this was the end of Trabzon State that lasted 250 years in history. The Commander of the Fleet and the Governor of Gelibolu, Kazim Bey, took over the administration. Sultan Mehmet II converted Panaghia Krys Krysokephalos church into a mosque; called as Ortahisar Mosque, now it is called Fatih Mosque. Later he turned Saint Eugenes church into a mosque and the first Friday Prayer was performed; it was called as Yenicuma Mosque. The ex-king of Trabzon settled in Pera neighborhood in Istanbul and accepted Islam. Trabzon became a "Sancak" (outpost) which was later bounded to the Anatolian State.
In 1489 Yavuz Selim, the son of Sultan Beyazid Han, became the governor of Trabzon and settled here. Due to the threat of the Shiis developing in Persia, he constructed the city walls around the city. He fought against Shah Ismail and won the battle in 1508. Then he attacked Georgia and Caucasia. In 1512 he went to Istanbul and get on the throne. A beautiful mausoleum was built over his mother Ayse (Gulbahar), the daughter of Dulkavidli ruler Aleaddevler, who died in 1505. Haci Kasim Fountain dating 1409 and Seydi Haci Mehmet fountain dating 1500 on Kavak Meydan street survived from the time of Yavuz Sultan Selim's governance. Hatuniye Mosque which was built for his mother, was completed in 1514. It is one of the greatest master pieces in Trabzon.
After Yavuz Sultan Selim left in 1512, Iskender Pasha became the governor of Trabzon. In 1514 Erzincan became a state and Trabzon was bounded to it. He built the Iskender Pasha fountain at Belediye Square in 1519, another fountain at Hoca Halil Mahalle, Asagi Hisar in 1523 and a mosque at Belediye Square and a medrese (which isn't there anymore) in his name in 1529. Iskender Pasha, died in 1533, was buried within the mosque built by him.
During Kanuni Sultan Suleyman's reign (1520-1566), the Anatolian state was divided into two; Rumeli (Thrace) and Anatolia. The capital of the new Anatolian state was Trabzon and the subdivisions called Kemah, Bayburt, Kahta, Malatya, Divrigi and Darende were joined to Trabzon. But in 1534 the administrative system changed again; Erzurum became the capital and Trabzon was joined to Erzurum. In 1514 the city walls were restored by Sirvanzade Mirza Mehmet Bey. In 1563 Governor of Trabzon Kasim bey (Kasim Celebi) built Pazarkapi Mosque. In 1582 the Trabzon - Batum state, whose capital was Trabzon, was established. The Hagia Sophia church was turned into a mosque.
In the 17th century the Russian Don Cossacks began to plunder the coasts of Black sea. Omer Pasha, the governor of Trabzon then, organized a fleet and stopped these attacks.
In 1640 Evliya Celebi came to Trabzon and gave a great deal of information about the city in his book titled "Seyahatname". He describes the citizens of Trabzon as cleanly dressed, educated people fond of good talkers, fond of reading and writing poems. He divides the people into seven classes as: Notables and Nobles with Sableskin coats, scholars in special array, Merchants wearing Ferace made of broadcloth, Kontos and Dolman, Craftsmen who can mint and can masterly make all kinds of gold and silverware and weapons, Sea conveyors and Merchants with Shalwvar and Dolman made of broadcloth, i.e. the sailors, gardeners and fishermen.
In the middle of the 17th century the raids of Kazak pirates to Trabzon shore turned into Russian attacks. That's why Trabzon governors were generally in charge of guarding the castles on the border as an additional duty. Trabzon was often left without a governor and was governed by Aghas instead of governors. Public order began to deteriorate. In 1828 war with Iran broke out and this time the governors, in order to participate in the Iranian war, were handing Trabzon over to their assistants called Mutessellim. By then public order had deteriorated entirely, Laz and Cepni Aghas were attacking each other. In 1741 Omer Pasha established peace again. Hekimoglu Ali Pasha, one of the famous grand Viziers and the governor of Trabzon in 1749, improved the public order.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Russian attacks to Trabzon shores strengthened. The Russians captured the Azak, Anapa and Fas Castles on the border and in 1810 they landed on the Sargana shores of Akcaabat. Sakaoglu Mahmut Agha, the chief of Akçaabat, opposed the enemy in fierce battles and they drove the enemy to the sea with the support of Trabzon governor Carhaci Ali Pasha.
The public order was in a disorderly state again in Trabzon Region. The Aghas and the notables didn't take the government into consideration. The social tension caused by the Aghas went on. Hazinedarzade Osman Pasha, who was sent to Trabzon as a governor in 1827, was taking protective precautions in his region against the Russian attacks and he was also trying to prevent the frequent revolts of the Aghas. In 1834 he completely stopped the revolts and improved the public order.
The commercial life and public works became active. Charles Texier who came to Trabzon in 1832, gave many information about Trabzon in his famous book named Asia Minor and mentioned Trabzon as the transit center of the East. As steam ships began their voyage on the Black Sea in 1836, the commercial transportation in the Mediterranean was directed to the Black Sea. The trade in Trabzon harbor started to expand continuously, hazelnuts were exported to Belgium and other countries. There was a regular sea transportation between Trabzon and Istanbul every fifteen days first, and then once a week Trabzon was the center of one of the 39 provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Sebinkarahisar, Samsun, Batum and Maradit were counties under the rule of Trabzon.
The Çarsi Mosque was built in 1841. In 1842 the Fetvahane Library was constructed. Hatuniye and Fatih Libraries were constructed in 1844. Kalcioglu Memis Agha Fountain was built in 1845. In 1849 Abdullah Pasha Fountain was put into service. In 1850 the Saraczade, in 1851 the Pazarkapi Medreses were founded, the Imaret Library was widened. In 1850 the construction of Erzurum - Trabzon highway began. Aziziye Mosque was built in 1862.
The provinces were abolished and the big cities were organized in the second half of the 19th century. Trabzon became a big city and three more provinces were added to Trabzon:
- Central province of Trabzon (Giresun, Bulancak, Tirebolu, Of, Rize)
- Province of Canik (Samsun, Unye, Bafra)
- Province of Lazistan (Batum, Arhavi)
- Province of Gumushane (Torul, Kelkit)
An American school was opened in 1865, a French school in 1875, and a Persian school in 1883. Foreigners ran a hotel in the city. The shopping district was rich and lively. The Kavak Square was the center of sports and people on horses used to play jereed (Javelin) there. The population of the city was about 40 thousand. When the Russian - Turkish war started in 1876, Trabzon was used as a supply center of the army
Towns under the rule of central Trabzon, such as Akcaabat which was known for its tobacco; Yomra famous for its fruit and therapeutically waters; Macka as the center of making quilts, covering copper goods with tin and carving stones, were very popular at that time. Butter, corn and beans were exported from the harbor. In accordance with the Ayastefanos agreement, Batum remained under the Russian rule and Rize became the capital of Lazistan in 1877. Of, Surmene, Akcaabat, Vakfikebir, Gorele, Tirebolu, Giresun, Yomra, Macka, Sarli, Ordu, and Tonya were sub-districts of Trabzon by the end of 19th century. Trabzon continued to be the starting point of international road to Iran and an important seaport town of Eastern Anatolia.
When World War I broke out in 1914, the Government couldn't keep its neutrality and was obliged to enter the war on the side of Germany. The city was bombed by 23 Russian warship on 1st November 1914. Also, a large group of young people from Trabzon died in the battle of Sarikamis in the east of Turkey. As the bombardments were continuing, Russian land troops passed the shore border on 24th February 1916, occupied Rize and came to the border of the town of Of. The inhabitants in Of and its sub-districts joined under the command of Gurcu Avni Pasa, the commander of that region. They stopped the Russian Army on the border of Trabzon, but Russians occupied Of on 5th March 1916 and Trabzon on 18th April 1916 anyway. Trabzon was saved from the enemy invasion on 24th February 1918 and joined to the Motherland.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
Hagia Sophia church was built in covered Greek cross plan during the reign of King Manuel I Kommenos in 13th century. The construction of the bell tower and belfry of the church was completed in 1427 and the drawing of the pictures on the arches of the entrance door of the Church was terminated in 1444. The church continued to serve until 1670 when Ottomans captured the region; it was converted into a mosque, and then used as a storage and hospital during World War I. Later it served as a mosque again. In 1863 the the mosque was restored, frescoes were covered with plaster, stairs were built for the bell tower which was used as a minaret.
Hagia Sophia Church was converted into a museum in 1964 and then into mosque again in 2013. It is located 3 kilometers west of the city and not to be confused with Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul. Its name comes from Greek: Hagia Sophia means Divine Wisdom.
The mansion, which was built by a rich Greek banker named Konstantinos Kappagianidis, is a good architectural example of 19th century European houses. Atatürk stayed in this house when he visited Trabzon in 1930 and in 1937. After his death in 1938 in Istanbul, the mansion was bought by Trabzon Municipality in 1964 and has been exhibited as a museum since then. It is 7 kilometers from downtown and is located in Soguksu district.