I first encountered Trebizond as an adolescent. I can't remember the name of the book but it took place in the 14th century when the city was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond. An emperor in the story would sometimes disguise himself so he could visit his common people. I don't recall the rest but the exotic setting on the Black Sea stayed with me. Later, I learned that Jason and the Argonauts stole the Golden Fleece and to Jason's regret, Medea from somewhere close by. Historically, the Greeks colonized the place as they did much of the Black Sea coast. Eventually, the Romans incorporated Trebizond into their eastern empire.
What set Trebizond apart for me was what happened here in the late middle ages. Just as Constantinople was about to fall to the fourth crusade, two brothers of the powerful Comnena family slipped out of the city and set up a separate empire here. It lasted for an improbable two hundred and fifty years. To distinguish themselves from the family that once ruled the Byzantine Empire, they called themselves the Grand Comnena. Thus Trebizond became a center of late Byzantine culture and learning. The descendants of the two brothers built churches, palaces, patronized scholars and established an independent and rich trading city. They were good survivors not conquerors, who compromised, allied and often submitted to their more powerful neighbors. They were especially good at marrying off one of their endless supply of famously beautiful princesses to dangerous Khans and Sultans. Thus, as a tributary state of the Mongols, Trebizond became wealthy as a main funnel from goods on the Silk Road. Eventually, weary of Trebizond's byzantine diplomacy, the Ottomans ended the Empire of Trebizond in 1461.
Evidence of the Trapezian Emperors is still here, but one has to search for it. The current literature put out by the Tourist office of Trebizond mentions the Grand Comnena only in passing as it goes on to concentrate on the later Ottoman period. The current Trebizond Soccer teams gets a much larger section than the centuries of the Empire of Trebizond. This is understandable because modern Trebizond is very much a Turkish city and reminders of the Greek past elicits awkward responses. One is reminded of how political and ideological the interpretation of history is in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, my trusty Blue Guide--the only travel guide to have for a history hound--insisted that substantial evidence of the Empire of Trebizond can still be found. I had the day so I set off. The Cathedral where emperors were crowned was easy to find. Its architecture betrayed its Byzantine origins although the frescos inside were whitewashed over. More difficult to find was the palace. However I followed the instructions in the guidebook and wound my way hill until I came across a large complicated and overgrown ruin with dilapidated modern houses built into it. My guidebook insisted that if one followed the path that went through back gardens one could get inside. Again, my trusty Blue Guide was correct and out I came into an weedy and crumbling wall. Above, one could make out sumptuous windows where emperors and courtiers once pondered the Black Sea. A little intimidated by barking dogs, to say nothing of the three foot wide passage along the wall with a twenty foot drop in one direction and a hundred foot drop in the other, I nevertheless made my way around the extant walls trying to make out what the palace once looked like. Later, I found a tiny chapel dedicated to St. Anne, locked but in reasonable shape on a side street. Evidence of the Empire of Trebizond was still here although, as far as the modern residents of the city was concerned it is mostly worth forgetting.