The architect’s wife was beginning to worry. It was getting late, and her husband still hadn’t returned from the palace. Her husband was one of Sultan Abdul Hamid’s architects. The architect and his wife belonged to an old and venerable Greek community in Constantinople. The Ottoman sultans showed great tolerance and sought the services of Greeks, Jews, and Armenians without distinction. Greeks were largely involved in sailing and foreign affairs, the Jews usually practiced medicine, and the Armenians were renowned architects. Abdul Hamid made an exception for this Greek.
The sultan had sought the architect’s services for the construction of an underground tunnel running between the Yildiz Palace, placed high above the Bosporus, and the sea far below, a passageway that would allow the sultan to escape if necessary, should revolution break out. It was a project that required the upmost discretion, and the sultan showed immense confidence in the Greek, in hiring him for a project that required absolute secrecy.
The architect had told his wife that the project was nearly complete, and that he had to return to the palace for a few finishing touches. The hours passed, and there was still no sign of him when a courier arrived from the palace. He informed the wife that her husband had fallen ill, and had been moved to the palace infirmary. The good wife trembled, the whole situation felt wrong, and Abdul Hamid had a proven reputation for employing expeditious methods. She remained awake all night in total agony. At dawn, another courier arrived, and informed the wife that her husband had appendicitis and was being operated on in the palace. The wife was taken aback by the news. Her husband had already been operated on for appendicitis three years earlier, in France. The sultan didn’t know this. The wife began to expect the worst, which arrived a few hours later. Yet another courier came to the home and announced that her husband had died during the operation. He then handed the woman a camel skin sack on behalf of the Sultan. The wife opened the sack, and found it filled to the brim with precious stones. A consolation offered by the sultan for having killed the architect so he wouldn’t speak.
The story was told to me by the granddaughter of this same architect when she came to visit me on the island of Patmos.