Cultural Heritage, Stories

Hagia Sophia – The Hidden Treasure (Part 2)

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The three friends rushed towards a group of tourists and tried to mingle with the crowd. The guard followed them. They went through one group but the guard was right behind them. They passed through another group of tourists, but they still didn’t manage to give the guard the slip. Finally, when they were passing through the third group of people, Pola pulled Rascal and Tola towards her. There were three holes under the stairs leading to the pulpit. The treasure hunters jumped into one of them, ran under the stairs and hid behind them.

Then, they froze almost right in front of a richly decorated niche. It used to be a mihrab – in mosques it showed the direction to which Muslims should turn while praying. It was not surprising that everyone wanted to see it, but unfortunately for our friends, there was a crowd of tourists gathered in front of it.

‘Phew, that was close,’ said Pola gasping for breath. ‘But I’m afraid that we’re not much safer in here. Look at this crowd of people! I bet a guard will turn up in a second. What do we do now?’ She was truly worried. ‘If we try to go back to the column, that guard will surely recognise and catch us.’

‘You’re right, but we won’t find the angel from here. We don’t even know where it is – on the ceiling, on a column or on the floor?’ barked Rascal.

‘Over there!’ Tola squealed suddenly.

‘What? Who’s there? The guard?’ called Rascal anxiously.

‘No, not the guard! There’s the angel!’

They looked up and noticed that right between the place where they were standing and the weeping column, there was a fresco of a blue angel.

‘That’s it!’ they called cheerfully.

‘Yes, but what next?’ asked Pola again and recited the clue one more time.

Hide beneath his wings, but don’t wait for any miraculous scene,

Out of stone make the key to corridors hidden below what is seen.

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‘OK. So what do we do? Do we take a risk and run over there, beneath the angel?’

‘In 3, 2, 1… go!’

Friends rushed towards the angel and after a few seconds, they were right beneath the fresco. They were all looking around carefully because they wanted to find the place where the stone might turn into the key.

Then, Pola looked down at the floor and made a huge discovery.

‘Tola, give me the stone. Look, there’s a hole beneath us, I think it’s as big as our piece of marble. Let’s try to fit it in there.’

Tola immediately placed the stone into the hole and then…

A cracking noise came from the mosaic and it began to separate. Within a second, the floor collapsed and the three friends fell into a mysterious underground chamber. It turned out that the stone activated the mechanism of a hidden trap door. Everything had taken only a few seconds and, luckily, nobody was around at the time to see what happened.

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‘Ahh! Where are we?’ asked frightened Tola.

‘I can’t see anything!’ added Rascal.

The only thing that was visible in the darkness were the friends’ glowing eyes.

‘Calm down, I can see well in the darkness,’ said Pola, who was collected as usual. ‘I think there’s a torch hanging next to us. Rascal, give me a lighter, we’ll light it and you will be able to see’ she added.

Scratch, scratch – the owl lit the torch and the warm light illuminated the darkness. The friends were standing in a dark, cold and humid chamber. There was only one corridor leading outside, but it was also completely dark.

‘I think we’ve found the hidden corridors from the clue… Rascal, give me the map. If it really shows where the treasure is, we have to follow it’ said Pola.

One minute later the friends were bravely walking along the dark corridors. They took only a few turns by the time they reached the end of the corridor… or rather the flooded part of it. It looked like an underground river. The friends saw a small boat moored next to the wall.

‘I guess we have no choice. We have to go along this canal. Rascal, Tola, get into the boat. We’ll sail it,’ said Pola decidedly.

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When everyone was on board, the owl gave Tola the torch and took out her compass.

‘If something dangerous happens, the compass will take us home. Tola, be careful with the torch, don’t let it go out. Rascal, row slowly,’ she advised her friends.

Rascal started rowing and Tola was lighting the way and after a while, they all felt much more confident. The kitten even started to carefully lean from the boat to light their way. Suddenly, Pola called:

‘Look at the wall! There’s the same symbol that we saw on our map! I think it’s the right way.’

‘Where?’ asked Rascal and Tola at the same time.

They didn’t manage to spot the symbol, because their boat suddenly swung to the sides. Tola wanted to look at the symbol, so she turned right, but then she lost her balance and… splash! She fell into the water, still holding the torch. Again, they were surrounded by complete darkness.

‘Ah! Help! I don’t like water! Rascal, help!’ cried the kitten, afraid and soaking wet.

The dog managed to carefully catch her by the neck and lift her up from the water. Tola was safe in the boat, but they had lost the torch.

‘Oh, great!’ Pola huffed, getting angry. ‘Do you always have to be first to see everything? Now we not only can’t see the corridors, but also the symbol. We don’t even know what it is… a strange hand maybe? I have no idea how we’re gonna find any treasure in such darkness,’ she added angrily.

‘I’m sorry, Pola. I didn’t want to…’ said Tola, embarrassed. ‘But if the symbol on the wall is the same as the one on the map, it’s the hamsa, also called the Hand of Fatima,’ said Tola.

‘How do you know?’ asked Pola sharply.

‘Come on, I saw the map. You didn’t ask about that symbol, so I didn’t say anything. For us, Muslims, the Hand of Fatima is the symbol of happiness. It’s supposed to defend us against evil.’

Pola sighed but didn’t want to comment on that.

‘OK, Rascal, now we have to sail in the darkness. In a while, our eyes will get used to it. I counted the corridors… the first, the second… in a while, we’ll pass the third one and then we have to turn right,’ said the owl quietly.

When they took the last turn, the canal suddenly widened and they saw light coming into the tunnel. A few minutes later, friends sailed into a huge underground chamber. There were a few holes up in the ceiling through which beams of light were coming into the chamber alleviating them from the darkness.

‘Oh, this place is beautiful!’ Tola cried, astonished.

Friends jumped out of the boat and looked around.

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‘Now, where’s the treasure?’ asked Rascal loudly. ‘I can’t wait to find it!’

Then, they spotted a small wooden trunk standing in the middle of the chamber.

‘Oooh! There must be gold inside!’ called Rascal with a dreamy smile.

‘Or diamonds and rubies!’ called Pola.

‘Let’s open it!’ barked the doggy and ran towards the trunk.

Not waiting for his friends, he lifted the lid and…

And saw only a small stone and a letter lying at the bottom of the trunk.

‘Oh no, someone must have been here before us and found the treasure,’ he snarled, annoyed.

Pola and Tola ran towards the trunk and were also disappointed.

‘Can you read it, Tola? It’s also in Turkish,’ said disheartened Rascal, giving Tola the letter.

My dear,

Here is the greatest treasure I have received from my uncle.

He was a renowned Turkish traveller who had visited Europe, Asia and half of Africa. Before his death, he had sold all his belongings, bought a gold nugget and ordered his servant to make inscriptions on it in all the languages spoken in the world. The inscription says ‘The greatest treasure I’ve been given in my life was the other person. Religion, race and ancestry are meaningless – when you can look at the world through your heart.’

My uncle asked me to place this gold nugget in the highest point of Hagia Sophia. It was impossible at the time and I wasn’t able to fulfil his wish.

If you, my great-great-great-grandson or my great-great-great-granddaughter, read this letter and are able to make this wish come true, I want to ask you to place the gold nugget on the highest point of Hagia Sophia. If it’s not possible, close the trunk and hide the map and the key for the next several or several hundred years.

Yours, Ali

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Pola and Tola were moved. After some time, the friends made their way back to the museum. The owl took the gold message with her talons and flew up high… the message, after many, many years was finally where it should be.