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Their rendezvous point with the museum contact was an ornately latticed wellhead that had once been used for ritual washing before Muslim prayer.
“Professor Langdon!” a man’s voice shouted as they drew near.
A smiling Turkish man stepped out from under the octagonal cupola that covered the fountain. He was waving his arms excitedly. “Professor, over here!”
Langdon and the others hurried over.
“Hello, my name is Mirsat,” he said, his accented English voice brimming with enthusiasm. He was a slight man with thinning hair, scholarly-looking glasses, and a gray suit. “This is a great honor for me.”
“The honor is ours,” Langdon replied, shaking Mirsat’s hand. “Thank you for your hospitality on such short notice.”
“I’m Elizabeth Sinskey,” Dr. Sinskey said, shaking Mirsat’s hand and then motioning to Brüder. “And this is Cristoph Brüder. We’re here to assist Professor Langdon. I’m so sorry our plane was delayed. You’re very kind to accommodate us.”
“Please! Think nothing of it!” Mirsat gushed. “For Professor Langdon I would give a private tour at any hour. His little book Christian Symbols in the Muslim World is a favorite in our museum gift shop.”
Really? Langdon thought. Now I know the one place on earth that carries that book.
“Shall we?” Mirsat said, motioning for them to follow.
The group hurried across a small open space, passing the regular tourist entrance and continuing on to what had originally been the building’s main entrance—three deeply recessed archways with massive bronze doors.
Two armed security guards were waiting to greet them. Upon seeing Mirsat, the guards unlocked one of the doors and swung it open.
“Sağ olun,” Mirsat said, uttering one of a handful of Turkish phrases Langdon was familiar with—an especially polite form of “thank you.”
The group stepped through, and the guards closed the heavy doors behind them, the thud resonating through the stone interior.
Langdon and the others were now standing in Hagia Sophia’s narthex—a narrow antechamber that was common in Christian churches and served as an architectural buffer between the divine and the profane.
Spiritual moats, Langdon often called them.
The group crossed toward another set of doors, and Mirsat pulled one open. Beyond it, instead of the sanctuary he had anticipated seeing, Langdon beheld a secondary narthex, slightly larger than the first.
An esonarthex, Langdon realized, having forgotten that Hagia Sophia’s sanctuary enjoyed two levels of protection from the outside world.
As if to prepare the visitor for what lay ahead, the esonarthex was significantly more ornate than the narthex, its walls made of burnished stone that glowed in the light of elegant chandeliers. On the far side of the serene space stood four doors, above which were spectacular mosaics, which Langdon found himself intently admiring.
Mirsat walked to the largest door—a colossal, bronze-plated portal. “The Imperial Doorway,” Mirsat whispered, his voice almost giddy with enthusiasm. “In Byzantine times, this door was reserved for sole use of the emperor. Tourists don’t usually go through it, but this is a special night.”
Mirsat reached for the door, but paused. “Before we enter,” he whispered, “let me ask, is there something in particular you would like to see inside?”
Langdon, Sinskey, and Brüder all glanced at one another.
“Yes,” Langdon said. “There’s so much to see, of course, but if we could, we’d like to begin with the tomb of Enrico Dandolo.”
Mirsat cocked his head as if he had misunderstood. “I’m sorry? You want to see … Dandolo’s tomb?”
Mirsat looked downcast. “But, sir … Dandolo’s tomb is very plain. No symbols at all. Not our finest offering.”
“I realize that,” Langdon said politely. “All the same, we’d be most grateful if you could take us to it.”
Mirsat studied Langdon a long moment, and then his eyes drifted upward to the mosaic directly over the door, which Langdon had just been admiring. The mosaic was a ninth-century image of the Pantocrator Christ—the iconic image of Christ holding the New Testament in his left hand while making a blessing with his right.
Then, as if a light had suddenly dawned for their guide, the corners of Mirsat’s lips curled into a knowing smile, and he began wagging his finger. “Clever man! Very clever!”
Langdon stared. “I’m sorry?”
“Don’t worry, Professor,” Mirsat said in a conspiratorial whisper. “I won’t tell anyone why you’re really here.”
Sinskey and Brüder shot Langdon a puzzled look.
All Langdon could do was shrug as Mirsat heaved open the door and ushered them inside.
The Eighth Wonder of the World, some had called this space, and standing in it now, Langdon was not about to argue with that assessment.
As the group stepped across the threshold into the colossal sanctuary, Langdon was reminded that Hagia Sophia required only an instant to impress upon its visitors the sheer magnitude of its proportions.
So vast was this room that it seemed to dwarf even the great cathedrals of Europe. The staggering force of its enormity was, Langdon knew, partly an illusion, a dramatic side effect of its Byzantine floor plan, with a centralized naos that concentrated all of its interior space in a single square room rather than extending it along the four arms of a cruciform, as was the style adopted in later cathedrals.
This building is seven hundred years older than Notre-Dame, Langdon thought.
After taking a moment to absorb the breadth of the room’s dimensions, Langdon let his eyes climb skyward, more than a hundred and fifty feet overhead, to the sprawling, golden dome that crowned the room. From its central point, forty ribs radiated outward like rays of the sun, extending to a circular arcade of forty arched windows. During daylight hours, the light that streamed through these windows reflected—and re-reflected—off glass shards embedded in the golden tile work, creating the “mystical light” for which Hagia Sophia was most famous.
Langdon had seen the gilded ambience of this room captured accurately in painting only once. John Singer Sargent. Not surprisingly, in creating his famous painting of Hagia Sophia, the American artist had limited his palette only to multiple shades of a single color.
The glistening golden cupola was often called “the dome of heaven itself” and was supported by four tremendous arches, which in turn were sustained by a series of semidomes and tympana. These supports were then carried by yet another descending tier of smaller semidomes and arcades, creating the effect of a cascade of architectural forms working their way from heaven toward earth.
Moving from heaven to earth, albeit by a more direct route, long cables descended straight down from the dome and supported a sea of gleaming chandeliers, which seemed to hang so low to the floor that tall visitors risked colliding with them. In reality, this was another illusion created by the sheer magnitude of the space, for the fixtures hung more than twelve feet off the floor.
As with all great shrines, Hagia Sophia’s prodigious size served two purposes. First, it was proof to God of the great lengths to which Man would go to pay tribute to Him. And second, it served as a kind of shock treatment for worshippers—a physical space so imposing that those who entered felt dwarfed, their egos erased, their physical being and cosmic importance shrinking to the size of a mere speck in the face of God … an atom in the hands of the Creator.
Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him. Martin Luther had spoken those words in the sixteenth century, but the concept had been part of the mind-set of builders since the earliest examples of religious architecture.
Langdon glanced over at Brüder and Sinskey, who had been staring upward and who now lowered their eyes to earth.
“Jesus,” Brüder said.
“Yes!” Mirsat said excitedly. “And Allah and Muhammad, too!”
Langdon chuckled as their guide directed Brüder’s gaze to the main altar, where a towering mosaic of Jesus was flanked by two massive disks bearing the Arabic names of Muhammad and Allah in ornate calligraphy.
“This museum,” Mirsat explained, “in an effort to remind visitors of the diverse uses of this sacred space, displays in tandem both the Christian iconography, from the days when Hagia Sophia was a basilica, and the Islamic iconography, from its days as a mosque.” He gave a proud smile. “Despite the friction between the religions in the real world, we think their symbols work quite nicely together. I know you agree, Professor.”
Langdon gave a heartfelt nod, recalling that all of the Christian iconography had been covered in whitewash when the building became a mosque. The restoration of the Christian symbols next to the Muslim symbols had created a mesmerizing effect, particularly because the styles and sensibilities of the two iconographies are polar opposites.
While Christian tradition favored literal images of its gods and saints, Islam focused on calligraphy and geometric patterns to represent the beauty of God’s universe. Islamic tradition held that only God could create life, and therefore man has no place creating images of life—not gods, not people, not even animals.
Langdon recalled once trying to explain this concept to his students: “A Muslim Michelangelo, for example, would never have painted God’s face on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; he would have inscribed the name of God. Depicting God’s face would be considered blasphemy.”
Langdon had gone on to explain the reason for this.
“Both Christianity and Islam are logocentric,” he told his students, “meaning they are focused on the Word. In Christian tradition, the Word became flesh in the book of John: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and He dwelt among us.’ Therefore, it was acceptable to depict the Word as having a human form. In Islamic tradition, however, the Word did not become flesh, and therefore the Word needs to remain in the form of a word … in most cases, calligraphic renderings of the names of the holy figures of Islam.”
One of Langdon’s students had summed up the complex history with an amusingly accurate marginal note: “Christians like faces; Muslims like words.”
“Here before us,” Mirsat went on, motioning across the spectacular room, “you see a unique blending of Christianity with Islam.”
He quickly pointed out the fusion of symbols in the massive apse, most notably the Virgin and Child gazing down upon a mihrab—the semicircular niche in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca. Nearby, a staircase rose up to an orator’s pulpit, which resembled the kind from which Christian sermons are delivered, but in fact was a minbar, the holy platform from which an imam leads Friday services. Similarly, the daislike structure nearby resembled a Christian choir stall but in reality was a müezzin mahfili, a raised platform where a muezzin kneels and chants in response to the imam’s prayers.
“Mosques and cathedrals are startlingly similar,” Mirsat proclaimed. “The traditions of East and West are not as divergent as you might think!”
“Mirsat?” Brüder pressed, sounding impatient. “We’d really like to see Dandolo’s tomb, if we may?”
Mirsat looked mildly annoyed, as if the man’s haste were somehow a display of disrespect to the building.
“Yes,” Langdon said. “I’m sorry to rush, but we’re on a very tight schedule.”
“Very well, then,” Mirsat said, pointing to a high balcony to their right. “Let’s head upstairs and see the tomb.”
“Up?” Langdon replied, startled. “Isn’t Enrico Dandolo buried down in the crypt?” Langdon recalled the tomb itself, but not the precise place in the building where it was located. He had been picturing the dark underground areas of the building.
Mirsat seemed confounded by the query. “No, Professor, the tomb of Enrico Dandolo is most certainly upstairs.”
What the devil is going on here? Mirsat wondered.
When Langdon had asked to see Dandolo’s tomb, Mirsat had sensed that the request was a kind of decoy. Nobody wants to see Dandolo’s tomb. Mirsat had assumed what Langdon really wanted to see was the enigmatic treasure directly beside Dandolo’s tomb—the Deesis Mosaic—an ancient Pantocrator Christ that was arguably one of the most mysterious pieces of art in the building.
Langdon is researching the mosaic, and trying to be discreet about it, Mirsat had guessed, imagining that the professor was probably writing a secret piece on the Deesis.
Now, however, Mirsat was confused. Certainly Langdon knew the Deesis Mosaic was on the second floor, so why was he acting so surprised?
Unless he is indeed looking for Dandolo’s tomb?
Puzzled, Mirsat guided them toward the staircase, passing one of Hagia Sophia’s two famous urns—a 330-gallon behemoth carved out of a single piece of marble during the Hellenistic period.
Climbing in silence now with his entourage, Mirsat found himself feeling unsettled. Langdon’s colleagues did not seem like academics at all. One of them looked like a soldier of some sort, muscular and rigid, dressed all in black. And the woman with the silver hair, Mirsat sensed … he had seen her before. Maybe on television?
He was starting to suspect that the purpose of this visit was not what it appeared to be. Why are they really here?
“One more flight,” Mirsat announced cheerily as they reached the landing. “Upstairs we shall find the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, and of course”—he paused, eyeing Langdon—“the famed Deesis Mosaic.”
Not even a flinch.
Langdon, it appeared, was not, in fact, here for the Deesis Mosaic at all. He and his guests seemed inexplicably fixated on Dandolo’s tomb.
As Mirsat led the way up the stairs, Langdon could tell that Brüder and Sinskey were worried. Admittedly, ascending to the second floor seemed to make no sense. Langdon kept picturing Zobrist’s subterranean video … and the documentary film about the submerged areas beneath Hagia Sophia.
We need to go down!
Even so, if this was the location of Dandolo’s tomb, they had no choice but to follow Zobrist’s directions. Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom, and place thine ear to the ground, listening for the sounds of trickling water.
When they finally reached the second level, Mirsat led them to the right along the balcony’s edge, which offered breathtaking views of the sanctuary below. Langdon faced front, remaining focused.
Mirsat was talking fervently about the Deesis Mosaic again, but Langdon tuned him out.
He could now see his target.
The tomb appeared exactly as Langdon remembered it—a rectangular piece of white marble, inlaid in the polished stone floor and cordoned off by stanchions and chains.
Langdon rushed over and examined the carved inscription.
As the others arrived behind him, Langdon sprang into action, stepping over the protective chain and placing his feet directly in front of the tombstone.
Mirsat protested loudly, but Langdon continued, dropping quickly to his knees as if preparing to pray at the feet of the treacherous doge.
Next, in a move that elicited shouts of horror from Mirsat, Langdon placed his palms flat on the tomb and prostrated himself. As he lowered his face to the ground, Langdon realized that he looked like he was bowing to Mecca. The maneuver apparently stunned Mirsat, who fell mute, and a sudden hush seemed to pervade the entire building.
Taking a deep breath, Langdon turned his head to the right and gently pressed his left ear to the tomb. The stone felt cold on his flesh.
The sound he heard echoing up through the stone was as clear as day.
The finale of Dante’s Inferno seemed to be echoing up from below.
Slowly, Langdon turned his head, gazing up at Brüder and Sinskey.
“I hear it,” he whispered. “The sounds of trickling water.”
Brüder vaulted the chain and crouched down beside Langdon to listen. After a moment he was nodding intently.
Now that they could hear the water flowing downward, one question remained. Where is it flowing?
Langdon’s mind was suddenly flooded with images of a half-submerged cavern, bathed in an eerie red light … somewhere beneath them.
Follow deep into the sunken palace …
for here, in the darkness, the chthonic monster waits ,
submerged in the bloodred waters …
of the lagoon that reflects no stars .
When Langdon stood and stepped back over the stanchions, Mirsat was glaring up at him with a look of alarm and betrayal on his face. Langdon stood almost a foot taller than the Turkish guide.
“Mirsat,” Langdon began. “I’m sorry. As you can see, this is a very unusual situation. I don’t have time to explain, but I have a very important question to ask you about this building.”
Mirsat managed a weak nod. “Okay.”
“Here at Dandolo’s tomb, we can hear a rivulet of water flowing somewhere under the stone. We need to know where this water flows.”
Mirsat shook his head. “I don’t understand. Water can be heard beneath the floors everywhere in Hagia Sophia.”
“Yes,” Mirsat told them, “especially when it rains. Hagia Sophia has approximately one hundred thousand square feet of rooftops that need to drain, and it often takes days. And usually it rains again before the drainage is complete. The sounds of trickling water are quite common here. Perhaps you are aware that Hagia Sofia sits on vast caverns of water. There was a documentary even, which—”
“Yes, yes,” Langdon said, “but do you know if the water that is audible here at Dandolo’s tomb flows somewhere specific?”
“Of course,” Mirsat said. “It flows to the same place that all the water shedding from Hagia Sophia flows. To the city cistern.”
“No,” Brüder declared, stepping back over the stanchion. “We’re not looking for a cistern. We’re looking for a large, underground space, perhaps with columns?”
“Yes,” Mirsat said. “The city’s ancient cistern is precisely that—a large underground space with columns. Quite impressive actually. It was built in the sixth century to house the city’s water supply. Nowadays it contains only about four feet of water, but—”
“Where is it!” Brüder demanded, his voice echoing across the empty hall.
“The … cistern?” Mirsat asked, looking frightened. “It’s a block away, just east of this building.” He pointed outside. “It’s called Yerebatan Sarayi.”
Sarayi? Langdon wondered. As in Topkapi Sarayi? Signage for the Topkapi Palace had been ubiquitous as they were driving in. “But … doesn’t sarayi mean ‘palace’?”
Mirsat nodded. “Yes. The name of our ancient cistern is Yerebatan Sarayi. It means—the sunken palace.”
The rain was falling in sheets as Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey burst out of Hagia Sophia with Langdon, Brüder, and their bewildered guide, Mirsat.
Follow deep into the sunken palace, Sinskey thought.
The site of the city’s cistern—Yerebatan Sarayi—was apparently back toward the Blue Mosque and a bit to the north.
Mirsat led the way.
Sinskey had seen no other option but to tell Mirsat who they were and that they were racing to thwart a possible health crisis within the sunken palace.
“This way!” Mirsat called, leading them across the darkened park. The mountain of Hagia Sophia was behind them now, and the fairy-tale spires of the Blue Mosque glistened ahead.
Hurrying beside Sinskey, Agent Brüder was shouting into his phone, updating the SRS team and ordering them to rendezvous at the cistern’s entrance. “It sounds like Zobrist is targeting the city’s water supply,” Brüder said, breathless. “I’m going to need schematics of all conduits in and out of the cistern. We’ll run full isolation and containment protocols. We’ll need physical and chemical barriers along with vacuum—”
“Wait,” Mirsat called over to him. “You misunderstood me. The cistern is not