The 1st Puzzle Updated: What’s Hidden Beneath Hagia Sophia?

Posted by on Dec 27, 2011 in Historical Puzzles

Hagia Sophia is the only building in the world to have served as a Catholic Cathedral and as the seat, the real focal point, of two religions, Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam, each of which has hundreds of millions of followers. Yet no guidebook shows any part of the building below ground level. Why? and 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...

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The 7 most useful books about how to write fiction

Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 in On Writing

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...

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Dracula, Vampires and Islam

Posted by on May 6, 2011 in Research

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...

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