Hunt for sultan's heart uncovers an Ottoman village in Hungary
Researchers believe Suleiman’s heart could have been buried at the newly discovered site
By Julia Michalska. News, Issue 250, October 2013
Published online: 08 October 2013
A team of scientists has discovered the foundations of a rare, historic Ottoman village on Hungarian soil as part of a hunt to find the heart of Suleiman the Magnificent, the most famous sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The village was revealed nine months into the project, which has been jointly undertaken by Hungarian and Turkish art historians and archaeologists and is funded by the Turkish government. The aim is to find Suleiman’s shrine, believed to have been built 450 years ago in southern Hungary.
Suleiman I, the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, died in 1566 during the siege of Szigetvár, aged 71. Around 2,300 Habsburg Monarch troops, led by Zrinyi Miklos, held the fortress of Szigetvár against 90,000 Ottoman forces. After a month of bloody battle, the Ottomans took the fort, but it was a costly victory, delaying the Turkish army’s advance towards Vienna for many years.
During the siege, the ageing sultan stayed in his tent, receiving verbal reports on its progress from his Grand Vizier. He died of natural causes one day before the fortress was taken, and his death was kept a secret to prevent a collapse in morale.
According to Norbert Pap, an associate professor at the University of Pécs and a member of the excavation team, Osmanic sources maintain that the Sultan’s organs were removed to facilitate the deception by helping to preserve the body. “Without removing the organs, it would have been impossible to keep his death a secret,” he says. However, this theory has been a matter of debate, since it is usual, according to Islamic tradition, to leave the body intact.
Pap says there is evidence that several years after the siege, between 1573 and 1577, a shrine was built in honour of the sultan to mark the place of his death. It was destroyed in 1692. Some historians believe that the shrine is located under Szigetvár’s Szuz Maria Church. This version of events was current during the First World War, when a local cleric told officials from Turkey (then an ally of the Austro-Hungarian empire) that the shrine was there.
Erica Hancz, one of the Hungarian scientists working on the excavation, says that no trace of the 16th-century tomb has been found there. Pap says that although “Osmanic-type bricks and debris” have been found embedded in the church wall, it appears to date largely to the early 18th century. The researchers are now considering the hypothesis that the shrine may have been built near the newly discovered Ottoman village. However, Fatih Elcil, a professor of art history at the University of Istanbul and the only Turkish researcher in the team of five, says that even if a shrine is discovered, the heart and internal organs might simply have been buried in the ground and may therefore never be found.
According to Pap, a mosque, dervish cloister and barracks were built near the shrine “to protect and to serve” it. Later, a tavern, a medrese, a hamaman and an inn were built around the shrine as well. It is this settlement that the historians believe they have found. The settlement is of a “considerable size” and is surrounded by a deep ditch, which served for “security purposes”. The remains of luxury goods such as Chinese porcelain, Persian faience and glass also indicate that the site was important. It was unusual for Ottoman forces to build their own settlements in occupied territories; they normally took over existing villages instead.
Under Suleiman the Magnificent, or the “Lawmaker”, the Ottoman Empire’s longest-ruling sultan, Turkish territory was greatly expanded. During his 46-year reign, the empire increased its dominance in the Balkans, the Middle East and northern Africa. Artistic activity flourished under his rule, which became known as a “Golden Age”. The excavations are expected to continue until 2016, the 450th anniversary of his death.
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