When Ataturk turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934 and gave the powers of the Sunni Caliphate to the Turkish parliament, he enraged many in the Islamic world. Indeed, some are still trying to resurrect the Caliphate. That has been one of the main objectives of many Islamist extremists for the past eighty years. To understand why, just imagine what the reaction would have been if Mussolini had turned the Vatican into a museum and had then ordered the Pope to leave town.
The Hagia Sophia we see today is, despite the rebuilding work carried out after regular earthquakes, the building that was consecrated on the 27th December 537 by the Roman Emperor Justinian. It would be the greatest church in Christendom for a thousand years, until St Peter‘s in Rome was completed. And after the city was captured by the Ottomans, it was the greatest mosque in the world for nearly five hundred years.
There is no other building in the world with anything like that history. Hagia Sophia’s massive dome, its unprecedented proportions, were believed by many to have been the work of the divine. Its architecture influenced mosques and churches worldwide. Its grandeur was said to have led Russia to convert to Orthodox Christianity, not Catholicism. Relics such as fragments of the true cross, the undefiled lance, the most sacred tunic, and the God-bearing winding sheet (this was probably the Turn shroud) were only some of its treasures, until the city was ransacked by a Catholic army during the Fourth Crusade. That list was taken, by the way, from a military harangue delivered to Byzantine troops on behalf of Constantine VII (905 – 959).
Underground architectural features were well known at the time the first Hagia Sophia was designed. Both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, constructed in 326-330, and Old St. Peter’s in Rome, both constructed around the same time, have extensive underground areas. Indeed, they are the most sacred parts of these buildings. Justinian’s Hagia Sophia was designed by Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles. Both were well known for their interest in tunnels. There are also major underground structures, including the Basilica Cistern, in the vicinity. Did they simply forget to design underground levels for Hagia Sophia? Or were they hidden later for a reason?
Isn’t, I hear someone say, the tomb of the Doge of Venice located in Hagia Sophia? Yes, it is, but it wasn’t constructed until 1205, and it’s not impressive. It’s a slab in the floor of the upper gallery. But was that it’s original location?
Tomb of Dandolo, Doge of Venice, Hagia Sophia.
When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman armies in 1453, it would have been clear to the guardians of Hagia Sophia that the great church, the Vatican of the Christian Orthodox world, would be desecrated and probably turned into a great mosque if the city fell. Those in charge before the city walls were finally overrun, on Tuesday, 29 May 1453, had motivation and plenty of time to conceal many things, to sow many deceptions. Ottoman intentions had been clear for years.
So, why hasn’t there been a proper modern investigation, a geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar and the latest magnetometer equipment?
It is true that there has been some small-scale explorations under Hagia Sophia, tunnels and cisterns have been discovered, but isn’t it time for the whole area to be properly explored and documented? The publicity, and increase in tourists alone, would justify the costs. What is everyone afraid of? Hagia Sophia has been a museum for seventy five years. In The Istanbul Puzzle you will find one fictional answer to these questions.
The photographs you see below, and the one above, of the newly uncovered tunnels under Hagia Sophia, will become part of a documentary film. This documentary needs sponsors. You can follow this link for details and more images: http://bit.ly/11QEb5x
If you are interested in finding out what really lies under Hagia Sopha, this project will help to promote a proper search of the whole area. I can’t wait to see what happens.
Click here to go to the 2nd Puzzle: The Lost Book of Magic.
My Oxford dictionary defines useful as, “that can be used to advantage; helpful, beneficial.”
And that’s exactly why I keep these books nearby.
1. Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein. First published in 2005 this is the essential guidebook on how to write for our times. Broken up into sections and covering both fiction and non fiction it contains a mother lode of practical advice on issues from the writer’s job, to the keys to swift characterisation, to adding resonance.
What grabbed me about this book though was the focus on practical advice. Almost every page of my copy has a section underlined and a corner turned. This is the book I turn to again and again. If you can only afford one book on writing make it this one.
2. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maas. First published in 2004 this is the workshop book for Mr Maas’s famous Writing the Breakout Novel book and training modules. Its three sections cover a wide range of topics under the section headings character development, plot development and general story techniques.
I went for the workbook version because I like to fool myself that I’m focused on the practical. The exercises at the end of each chapter made real sense to me too. They made me think about how to apply the excellent writing observations Donald describes so well. My copy of this book is heavily underlined and there are notes sticking out of it. I also return to Donald’s book at critical points in the development of a manuscript. This workbook should definitely be in your library, especially if commercial success is something you aspire to. If you want to write and then starve, you definitely won’t need it.
3. Conflict, Action & Suspense, by William Noble. First published in 1994 this book provides step by step guidance on setting the stage, creating and building suspense and bringing it all to a gripping conclusion.
My copy is poodle eared. For me suspense is one of the most important aspects of any novel. It’s why I keep reading. It’s what keeps me turning those pages. It’s what Michael Connelly does to make me want to buy every book he writes. What Harlan Coben does to make every book he writes go to the top of the bestseller lists. If you want to write suspense well, this is the book for you.
4. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. First published in 1991 Diane’s book is a grand tour of the realm of the senses. In it she describes the evolution of the kiss, the sadistic cuisine of eighteenth century England, the chemistry of pain and a lot more.
Structured into chapters for each sense, including synthesia (yes, it’s the combining of constituent elements into a single or unified entity), this unusual and thought provoking book is a treasure filled garden for those who are interested in helping readers see what they see and feel what a character feels.
5. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Subtitled, A writer’s guide to staying out of the rejection pile, Noah’s book covers a lot more than just five pages.
Sensible advice about creating an opening hook, the use of phony adjectives and absolutely incredible adverbs is mixed with sage advice on how not to use metaphors, like stale confetti, and how not to turn melodramatic. The life and death of a writer are contained in these pages. For anyone who wants to avoid having their work head straight for the great landfill in the sky this is an excellent book.
6. Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, by Jessica Page Morrell. First published in 2008 Jessica’s book is dedicated to those who want to get to know a character’s sinister side.
For me, there is something endlessly fascinating about the dark side. You could ask my psychiatrist what that means, if I had a psychiatrist. But actually it’s simple. Great stories need great conflict. And great conflict often comes from situations where some of the characters insist on being bullies or bastards or bitches. If you want to understand the differences between unlikable protagonists, anti-heroes, dark heroes and bad boys read Jessica’s wonderful book. It may open up a whole new dimension for you.
7. The 3rd Act, by Drew Yanno. Drew’s book helped me understand how to build a good ending. It’s mainly aimed at script writers and it features lots of references to many of the best movies of all time. But I don’t think that makes it any less relevant to fiction writers.
There are so few books about how to construct a good ending this one deserves a place on your shelf not only for that reason, but also because it makes planning the build up, the final battle and the denoument so much more pleasurable when you understand how the masters do it. The check list at the end of the book is worth the price of admission alone.
I don’t suggest slavishly following the rules in any of these books, but to know the rules is useful, particularly if you’d like to bend them, and then break them, with your fist in the air and your hair flying out behind you. I hope you enjoyed the list.
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In early April 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror, Sultan of all the Ottomans, and only 21 years old, began the last great siege of Constantinople. He had an army of 200,000 men and a navy of 320 vessels at his command. When the city fell 57 days later a tremor passed through Europe. Ottoman Muslim armies appeared to be unstoppable.
The voyages of Christopher Columbus, financed to avoid Ottoman control of the spice trade, were one outcome. Constantinople’s change of name to Istanbul was another. A third was the birth of the legend of Dracula.
Vlad the Impaler, Prince Drăculea, from the Latin draco meaning dragon, was 22 when Constantinople fell. He had spent four years while a teenager as a prisoner in the Ottoman court. For much of that time he was beaten and abused for his stubbornness, particularly his unwillingness to convert to Islam. For his courage he was later inducted into the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order of the late Holy Roman Empire, which required its members to defend Christianity, by whatever means necessary.
When Vlad came to power a few years later he decided to impose law and order the hard way. He had his enemies impaled and raided his rivals territories, forcing one to read his own eulogy while kneeling before a grave prepared for him. Rampant criminality, treachery and the wars all around him were the backdrop to what happened next.
When Dracula refused to pay tribute to Mehmet, a small matter of 10,000 ducats and 500 boys, the Ottomans decided to put down the upstart Prince.
So began a war of infamous savagery. Raids, where men, women and children who were not Christian were impaled, burnt alive or beheaded were a feature of Vlad’s tactics.
Mehmet then marched on Vlad’s home town on Targoviste in Wallachia with an army of 90,000. The Prince had about 30,000 troops at his command.
When Mehment saw the decaying remains of 20,000 Ottoman soldiers on the road into Targoviste he was sickened. Legend tells that he returned to Constantinople leaving the conduct of the war to his generals.
The Prince’s territories were occupied and devastated. So began a guerilla war of night attacks and endless raids that became celebrated across Europe.
The Genoese later thanked Vlad, as he saved them from an attack by Mehmet’s ships, so absorbed were the Ottomans in campaigns against the Prince.
Prince Dracula died fighting the Ottomans after treachery on his own side undermined him. Soon after his name became associated with unmitigated cruelty. Pamphlets detailing grisly impalements of whole villages were circulated by his enemies.
There is no doubt though that Prince Dracula was an exceptionally cruel ruler. Thieves, adulterers and liars could expect no mercy. Skinning alive, boiling and slow impalement were some of the treats he enjoyed inflicting on those unfortunate enough to cross his path.
The legend of vampires, people who live forever and drink the blood of their victims, was common in Wallachia and Moldovia, the Prince’s hunting ground, long before the Irish author Bram Stoker married such cruelty with a tale of the undead. Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, about an English solicitor who travels to a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains has never been out of print since.
Whatever your view on the clash of civilisations, the cruel way that Europe once defended itself from Islamic conquest is the ultimate source, in my opinion, behind the Dracula and vampire stories that are now so popular they need their own section in many bookshops.
Cruelty has a fascination that lasts for a hell of a long time.