Over the past 7 months I have published a series of posts related to the mysteries of Istanbul. This 7th post will be the last in this series. Further posts will cover more general mysteries related to the series of novels coming up over the next few years and updates on writing each novel.
The 7th puzzle related to The Istanbul Puzzle is about the meaning of the symbol you will find below. This symbol is discovered by Sean and Isabel during their Istanbul Puzzle adventure.
Here is the symbol:
At first glance it appears to simply be a square with some lines inside it, which form an upward shaped arrow with 4 double-headed eagles at the compass points.
As I explored what this symbol might mean I uncovered a series of interpretations. These interpretations might help you solve the puzzle and win a £100 prize. The details of that prize are after the above link.
One of the first interpretations that struck me was that the shapes were also used in a Byzantine children’s game. The objective of the game is to see how many shapes you can create with just four basic elements. The first test in the game, under the old rules, is to see how fast you can create a pyramid and a devil shape.
The second interpretation I found was that some astrological charts used the same shape to chart the positions of the planets at the moment of birth.
Here is an astrological chart taken from the Tractatus Astrologicus II, which contained the astrological charts of early European states. It was created by Luca Gaurico, one of Nostradamus’ teachers, and was published in Rome in 1524.
The third interpretation of the image is as a Byzantine magic symbol.
The square is universally acknowledged as the magical symbol of earth and the triangle as the symbol of fire. These symbols can be seen on banners from the middle Byzantine period, around the time of the 4th Crusade.
The fourth interpretation is as a Kabbalistic symbol.
After the expulsion of jews on 31 March 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain many settled in Ottoman territories. Rabbeinu ben Adaret, a rabbi and early scholar of the Kabbalah, moved to Constantinople during that period. The symbol shown is taken from a commentary on his work published in Constantinople in 1574.
There are other interpretations of this symbol too. It was used by the Marcianius family, one of the earliest aristocratic families of the Byzantine period as their family symbol.
The symbols of the square and the arrow are also alchemical symbols for soot and zinc. The combined symbol is believed to be an alchemical recipe. The Byzantine eagles were part of the formula, whose meaning has since been lost.
And finally, at this stage of the plot, and because all the books in this series will form a complete story, the seventh interpretation of the symbol is a symbolic representation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
None of the above interpretations is the answer required to win the prize, however, but in them you will find a clue.
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.
In the sixth century the word’s smallest organism, Yersina Pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, achieved its greatest growth spike. During the reign of Justinian (Emperor 527 to 565CE) the plague hit Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. Almost every city of the Empire was devastated in an apocalyptic manner.
Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) describes the effect of the epidemic as follows: Justinian’s reign is disgraced by the visible decrease of the human species, which has never been repaired in some of the fairest countries of the globe.
Cyril Mango, Professor of Byzantine Literature at Oxford University describes the apocalyptic effects in his book Byzantium, The Empire of the New Rome, in this way: it is possible that one third to one half of the population of Constantinople died in 542.
John Julius Norwich had this to say (Byzantium, The Early Centuries) about the plague: Beginning in Egypt it quickly spread across all the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean to Constantinople where it raged for four months, the toll rising to 10,000 a day and on one day 16,000, as many as the entire army in Italy…..Plague was succeeded by famine and the number of its victims was estimated at 300,000, two out of five of the population of the city.
Gibbon describes where the dead were taken as follows (Ch XLIII, The Decline and Fall): A magistrate was authorized to collect the promiscuous heaps of dead bodies, to transport them by land or water, and to inter them in deep pits beyond the precincts of the city.
Initially, burials would have taken place according to the normal Orthodox practices, anointing the body with oil, singing laments and burial in a grave. Burials of prominent individuals or clerics would have taken place in crypts or in consecrated land near great churches.
The Islamic successes of the seventh century, they quickly captured Egypt, Jerusalem and North Africa, were made possible, to a significant degree, by the devastation of constantly returning plagues at that time. The plague had returned to Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, in 555, 558, 561, 573, 574, 591, 599 and again in the early seventh century. Waves of unrest followed across the Empire. Evidence for the collapse of cities is available. The psychological effect must have been appalling. In Constantinople, during some outbreaks, John of Ephesus wrote, “no one goes out without a tag with their name on it.”
It should also be noted that the Arabian desert was typically plague free during these years. If ever an Empire was set up for defeat it was the Byzantine Empire in that period. It could be said that most of our current conflicts are a result of the impact of disease at that time and the subsequent ascent of a new religion.
In Constantinople plague pits are likely to have been dug outside the great Theodosian walls, where parkland exists today separating the old city from its new suburbs. Many bodies were also reported to have been dumped into the sea. It is likely too that bodies were buried, at least in the initial phase of the outbreaks, in the complex of Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia complex we see today, completed in 537 just before the first of these major outbreaks, included the Samson Hospice and Hagia Eirene, all in the same enclosure and governed by the same clergy. The Samson Hospice was likely to have been overrun quickly during any outbreak, but some burials nearby were very likely to have taken place.
One of the reasons Mehmed the Conqueror may have left the ground generally undisturbed under Hagia Sophia was the fact that it contained plague pits. The Black Death visited Constantinople eleven times between 1348, when the epidemic surged again in the Mediterranean world, and 1453 when he took the city for Islam.
To this day excavations under Hagia Sophia are discouraged and no proper, wide ranging, modern archeological survey has ever been conducted of the underground areas directly beneath Hagia Sophia or Hagia Eirene. But why?
And where are the plague pits that mark the beginning of our world?
When I was growing up I heard nothing about the beauty and wonders of Istanbul. I heard a lot about the wonders of Paris and Rome, but nothing positive about Istanbul. And I am a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines. Istanbul was the city of Midnight Express, a one-sided depiction of pure violence, and occasionally a political story would appear about a coup or a new government.
Imagine my surprise when I went to Istanbul to discover:
1. A museum that was the largest cathedral in Christendom for a thousand years, Hagia Sophia, which displays many of most important Byzantine artworks and mosaics ever created. This building influenced mosques everywhere and inspired millions. This is simply one the most important buildings in the world. Everyone should see this.
2. A palace, Topkapi, containinig Moses’ rod, original harem buildings, a treasury containing an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond, perhaps the most beautiful in the world, priceless art and artifacts and a view over the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn that thousands died for their masters to possess.
3. A Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, a vision of ages past, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world dating from early Ottoman times.
The list goes on too, the remains of a Roman Hippodrome, gigantic fortified Byzantine city walls and palaces, and mosques that are as beautiful as any in the world. The views everywhere in the city make Istanbul perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe and certainly one of the most beautiful in the world.
So why have all these treasures been ignored, and why do we rarely see mention of the beauty of Istanbul anywhere? Is it simply that many people just haven’t been there? I believe so. And I hope you enjoy Istanbul as much as I do if you go there.
Before you go though, one last treasure must be mentioned. The vast majority of Istanbulers are among the friendliest and kindest people in the world. Perhaps they are its greatest treasure.
To go to the 6th puzzle click here.