Some marbles carry the writings of the Vikings, some doors carry the weight of jaw-dropping myths. The great Hagia Sophia houses many secrets within its magnificent walls. Here are some.
The Hagia Sophia, an architectural marvel built in 537 AD, has attracted visitors from all over the world. With its reconversion from a museum to mosque after an 86-year hiatus, there is no doubt that this spectacular edifice has been a headline grabber in recent weeks.
The 6th century structure will welcome people from all faiths. While a lot has been written about it, not many are aware about some fun facts that make up the building’s history.
Signature of a Viking: Halvdan
People from Northern Europe were known as Vikings a thousand years ago. Known to be ferocious warriors, they desired to discover the world beyond their shores - they, too, were visitors of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia and left their writings and signatures on its marbles and walls. Ones etched in the 9th century are visible even today.
Written in the old Viking language, the translation reads: “Halvdan was here.” People who walked past these writings barely noticed them.
The Vikings started to explore new lands in the 7th and 8th century. Since fighting wars and pillaging was a cornerstone of their survival, they always raided greener pastures. The Vikings, who were living in present-day Sweden at the time, first invaded England. They were not content with the country: it is known that the famous Viking named Eric the Red discovered America some centuries before Christopher Colombus. Then, they fronted through the east and came to Constantinople. Highly impressed by the city, they named Constantinople (Istanbul) Miklagard which means ‘Huge City’.
Halvdan was the commander of a Viking tribe based in Lofoten. As a fearless commander, Halvdan arrived in Istanbul after a journey of 1,200 days. During his visit, he decided to enter the Hagia Sophia by joining a rite despite being Pagan.
Since he was not a Christian, he started travelling to the Hagia Sophia and saw a marble on the second floor next to the stair rail. Using a sharp object, the commander started scratching something onto the marble - where he went, and what he did after this event, is not known.
Hundreds of years later, the drawing on the marble was revealed to say, in the Viking language, ‘Halvdan was here’.
Holy relics of Jesus
Another impressive secret that the Hagia Sophia holds is its ownership of the cross and nails that are allegedly the ones used in the crucifixion of Jesus. They are held in a secret chamber. According to a narrative, the precious, holy relics were brought all the way from Jerusalem and hidden within the Hagia Sophia - those who believe that Jesus will return to the world, also believe he will first appear within the marvel in Istanbul.
The addition of Islamic art
Following the conquest of the city, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. In order to create an Islamic atmosphere within it, several Islamic motifs were added.
The most important one was the verse from the Holy Quran which reads, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth”.
There are also plaques on which the holy Prophet Muhammad, and the name of four caliphs, who played a crucial role in creating a sanctuary of Islam in Hagia Sophia, are honoured. When the building was consequently converted into a museum, attempts were made to remove the art, but the authorities gave up in their attempt when they realised the placards were bigger in size than the Hagia Sophia’s doors.
Talisman of the doors
Who can ignore the myths that surround the ostentatious doors of the Hagia Sophia? There are 361 of them, and they are magnificent in their own right, but of particular interest are the 101 that are larger than all the rest. They are said to have a talisman. Why? Because, when they are counted, it is said that always one more door seems to appear.
The secret in Deesis Mosaic
Deesis Mosaic, which dates back to the 13th century, is thought to occupy the place of an earlier mosaic underneath it. Located in the Upper South Gallery, some have suggested that the figure of Jesus depicted is not the real one. Why? A scar located on Jesus’s right brow appears as the number 11. Sources believe that there is a link between the number and Apollon, who was a Pythagoras cult member. The mosaic creators were Pagans who were later Christianised by force, and who, allegedly had intended to draw Apollon rather than Jesus.
The pillar punctured by the tears of Virgin Mary
A story about the Virgin Mary makes up another important part of the Hagia Sofia. It is said that one day, when she was told that her son Jesus had been captured and tortured, she became overwhelmed by her tears. One of these tears dropped from her cheek and made a hole on the pillar on which she was leaning.
During the construction of it, the emperor brought this pillar to the Hagia Sophia in order to bless the structure. For this reason, it is believed that the stone is indeed blessed and when the building was in operation, those keen to make a wish would ritually place their finger in the hole that the tear carved, and expressed their desires.