Guest blog series: “Travel Memories” #4 A Real Mystery in Istanbul

Irish author Laurence O’Bryan is a noted crime and thriller author and today’s guest blogger. 

His first novel, “The Istanbul Puzzle,” was released in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Irish crime novel in that same year. The Irish Independent said this: ‘This stylish conspiracy thriller is a Turkish delight. O’Bryan’s compelling debut thriller combines plenty of stirring action with fascinating historical detail.’

I know I’m thrilled to have him write the following mystery essay for you to ponder – and for becoming my friend. 

Now, let’s travel to Istanbul – and to the iconic Hagia Sophia.


Hagia Sophia is one of the most important buildings in the world. It has been in continuous use since the seventh century.

No other building has been the headquarters of both Sunni Islam, the seat of its last Caliphate, and before that the seat of a major Christian denomination, Orthodox Christianity. Hagia Sophia, the seat of two great religions, was turned into a museum bythe first President of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, in 1935.

Hagia Sophia was named after Sophia, Holy Wisdom, a Greek Orthodox concept that reaches back to a time before Christianity. Its present incarnation is largely the structure dedicated on the December 27th 537AD. The purpose of this post however is not to reiterate a litany of facts about Hagia Sophia, but to explore one of its greatest mysteries; what lies beneath it?

And there is a real mystery here. This is the only building designed as a great church not to have extensive and well-explored underground areas, whether they be crypts, burial chambers or catacombs.

The original Hagia Sophia church, the present building is the third, was inaugurated on the site of the current building on the 15th February 360. It was the largest church in the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople.

Both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, constructed at a similar time, in 326-330, and Old St. Peter’s in Rome, constructed 330-360, have original and extensive underground areas.

And the underground areas are the most sacred parts of these buildings. It seems odd to me that there are no underground areas that the public is aware of, aside from a few drainage tunnels, under Hagia Sophia.

So did the famous designers of Hagia Sophia, physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles, (known for constructing flood defences) simply forget to design underground levels for Hagia Sophia? Or is there another explanation, were the underground areas in Hagia Sophia hidden?

The Black Death was one of the most destructive epidemics ever to strike humanity. It raged in Europe around the year 1350. Constantinople was one of the largest cities on the European continent. It fell victim to the Black Death early, in 1347.

One of the first places to be used to bury victims, especially senior members of the clergy and the aristocracy would have been in any underground crypts in the Hagia Sophia complex. The complex included the hospital of Sampson, where some underground areas have been revealed within metres of Hagia Sophia.

I suggest therefore that any original crypts under Hagia Sophia may have been used for the burial of prominent plague victims. Such crypts would then have been sealed up, for obvious reasons.

A proper modern investigation, a geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar and the latest magnetometer equipment would likely reveal significant underground areas at Hagia Sophia. So far the Turkish authorities have not permitted such a project.

It is true that there has been some limited small-scale explorations under Hagia Sophia, a few narrow 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.


Thank you so much, Laurence. It is indeed fascinating to learn that the area under the Hagia Sophia has never been extensively explored.  And to think that when I visited it, way back in 1996, all I could think of was how much the inside of the great former mosque stank of feet – due to the fact that visitors had to remove their shoes before entering. (Note: A wonderful reader who lives in Turkey, just pointed out I made a mistake – You don’t have to take off your shoes at the H.S.  – that’s the Blue Mosque across the street. So my apologies at my poor memory!) 

To read more about mysteries in Istanbul, you can purchase Laurence’s first book by checking out your local bookstore, or going to  Laurence O’Bryan’s second book in his on-going series of mysteries, “The Jerusalem Puzzle” has recently been released and, some say, even more thrilling than the first! 

For those of you who have ever traveled to Turkey, did you visit the Hagia Sophia? What did you think?  If you have a travel story you’d like to share, mysterious or not, please write to me at I’d love to hear. 

Safe travels and happy writing.




One thought on “Guest blog series: “Travel Memories” #4 A Real Mystery in Istanbul

What do you think? Baci!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s