Trabzon has a dramatic location, perched on a hill overlooking the sea, with lush green mountains behind. Once the capital of the empire founded in 1204 by Alexius Comnenus, grandson of a Byzantine emperor, the city was famed for its golden towers and glittering mosaics. Today's Trabzon seems far removed from that imperial past: the city is bustling and modern, with a busy port, crowded streets, and seemingly little to distinguish it from many other provincial Turkish towns. It only takes a little digging, though, to get under the modern surface. Byzantine-era churches, such as the lovely Aya Sofya, a smaller version of the similarly named church in Istanbul, can be found not far from modern apartment buildings. Meanwhile, the city's old town with its Ottoman-era houses, pedestrian-only streets, and lively bazaar are a nice break from the concrete and crowds.
Kebabci Ahmet Usta
This sleek modern dining room on lively pedestrian Uzun Sokak is a busy local favorite. It offers all the standard kebabs and pides, plus a few rarer dishes such as talaş kebabı (sawdust kebab), lamb wrapped in pastry, and orman kebabı (forest kebab), lamb on the bone with vegetables. There are also local specialties such as kuymak, a thick syrup of cornmeal, and several dishes with lahana, the local cabbage.
There's no menu here at Trabzon's most serious seafood restaurant; you'll simply be shown the fish available (this usually includes Trabzon's local obsession, hamsi, or anchovies) and you get to choose what you want. The restaurant is decorated with photos of famous Turks dining on the premises, a hint of just how popular it is. Non-fish eaters can order the delicious akçaabat köfte (meatballs).
In an old stone building on the north side of Atatürk Alanı, you'll find this place serving a mix of seafood and local dishes like akçaabat köfte (meatballs) and kuymak fondue (made of cheese and flour). Grab a seat streetside or on the long balcony, which is a great spot for dinner on a summer evening. The free baklava dessert is a delight.
Trabzon's Byzantine-era citadel was built on part of a hill formed by two ravines, and while not much is left of the building's former glory, the soaring outside walls and massive columns are still impressive (restored after the Ottoman conquest in 1461) and a testament to the fact that no army ever took Trabzon by force, though many tried. The only remaining part of the interior is the 10th-century church of Panaghia Chrysokephalos (the Virgin of the Golden Head), which was the city's cathedral and where many of its rulers were married, crowned, and buried. The Ottomans converted it into a mosque, the Ortahisar Cami, in the 15th century.
The heart of Trabzon's social activity is its pleasing central square, Atatürk Alanı, also known as simply as Meydan, up İskele Caddesi from the port. In Byzantine and Ottoman time the camel caravans assembled here before heading across the mountains. Today the square is full of shady tea gardens and surrounded by most of the city's hotels and restaurants.
Trabzon's best-known Byzantine monument is this well preserved 13th-century church sitting on a bluff overlooking the Black Sea that was converted into a mosque in Ottoman times. The highlights are the wonderful Byzantine frescoes housed in the west porch: technicolor angels on the ceiling, Christ preaching in the Temple, the Annunciation, and the wedding at Cana—all executed in a style that shows strong Italian influences. Often overlooked are the graffiti of ships, carved into the outside of the apse by sailors for good luck. A shaded tea garden near the entrance is a popular place for breakfast. It was officially reopened as a mosque in 2013, though most of the frescoes are only visible behind large sheets of cloth.
The pedestrian-only Kunduracılar Caddesi leads into the maze of the covered bazaar, which includes a 16th-century bedestan, or market, that has been restored and now houses several cafés and some gift shops selling unremarkable trinkets. The bazaar largely sells cheap clothes to locals, but does have a small but appealing section of coppersmiths, who make a variety of bowls, trays, and pots. The city's largest mosque, the Çarşi Cami, was built in 1839 and is joined to the market by an archway.
The main attraction of the Trabzon Museum is the building itself, a 1910 mansion built for a local Greek banker. The ornate rooms of the main floor have been restored and filled with period furniture. The basement holds a small collection of archaeological finds from the Trabzon region, while upstairs you'll find a collection devoted to local people and their culture.
Trabzon's weathy citizens once retreated to villas in the hills above town. Greek banker Konstantin Kabayanidis built this attractive white gingerbread house, set in a small forest with nice views of the city below, and Atatürk stayed here in 1924, 1930, and 1937. Much of the original furniture remains in place.
Sekiz Direk Hammam
Turkey's oldest, still-functioning hammam is thought to be Byzantine, from the 12th or 13th centuries. The name comes from the 8 (sekiz) columns (direk) that support the dome of the hot room in the men's section.