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The search for a 450-year-old heart

Zahoor Raja-Jani

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The search for a missing 450-year-old heart and its golden box has led researchers to a small town in south-west Hungary. The organ once belonged to an Ottoman sultan.

Where do you pitch your tent when you arrive with your army to besiege a city? When you've tramped for weeks through an unusually wet summer, when some of your camels even drowned in the Danube? Where else but the high, dry ground, a good vantage point from which to see the enemy castle, and where your troops can see you, to gather courage from your mere presence.

But where do your men bury your heart, if you are careless enough to die of old age, in your tent, as poor Suleiman did on 6 September 1566, on the eve of victory? While his body was taken back to the imperial capital, to Constantinople, to be buried in what became the Suleimaniye Mosque, his heart remained forever in Hungary, as they say.
Suleiman was one of only two sultans to die on the battlefield. The tomb of the first, Murad, still stands lonely and proud on the Field of the Blackbirds in Kosovo, where he fell in 1389. But when Austrian Habsburg troops retook Szigetvar in 1692, they razed every Ottoman building to the ground. And historians have puzzled ever since about Suleiman's resting place. The more so since there were rumours that his heart had been buried in a golden case.

A team of Hungarian and Turkish geographers, historians and archaeologists, generously supported by Ankara, believe they have the answer. On a vineclad hilltop to the east of Szigetvar, beneath a carpet of broken Ottoman tiles, they claim to have unearthed not just the tomb of Suleiman, but a mosque, a dervish lodge, a military barracks and a city wall.
The heart, alas, is no more. The researchers found a deep hole, dug by treasure hunters when the building was destroyed. The rubble they left behind, according to the experts, proves this was indeed a royal tomb.

For three years, the archives of Istanbul, Budapest, Vienna, and a host of small towns, churches and libraries, have been ransacked for clues. The latest aerial and soil research techniques have been employed to calculate the erosion of hilltops by wind and rain, and the draining of marshland over 450 years. Even the shards of Ming dynasty vases, such as Ottoman rulers might have kept in their places of worship, have been identified in the soil beneath ageing Hungarian apricot and apple trees.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A fragment found at the site in Szigetvar, Hungary
The best clue, Prof Norbert Pap, who led the team, tells me, was a 17th Century copper-plate engraving of the Hungarian nobleman, Count Pal Esterhazy. Behind the rear hooves of his horse is a view of the town of Szigetvar, and just to the east, on a hilltop, another town, or cluster of imposing buildings, marked Turbek.

However the claim of Turbek's church, St Mary's, to be the final resting place of Suleiman's heart has been discredited. Even the Hungarian-Turkish friendship park, on the shore of the Almasi stream, has been ruled out. All lines of enquiry led to the vineyards which have long served the people of Szigetvar.

Who was Suleiman?
Image copyright iStock
  • Sultan Suleiman I, born c. 1494, died 1566
  • Known as the Magnificent, or the Lawgiver on account of his creation of a legal code which lasted hundreds of years
  • He ruled the Ottoman Empire at the height of its military, financial and cultural power
  • When he died, the empire stretched into parts of North Africa, the Balkans and present-day Hungary
But why does all this matter? Why invest hundreds of thousands of euros, Hungarian forints or Ottoman lira in yesterday's man, however magnificent?

For the Turkish government, because they are empire-building again. Seeking an influence they lost in the Middle East when Ataturk dismantled the Islamic Caliphate in the early 1920s. And in eastern Europe, they are quietly restoring iconic Ottoman sites. A reminder to modern European Union states to treat Turkish heritage, Turkish investors, and Turkish tourists, with the respect they deserve.

The Hungarian government, at least, is open to that message. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has compared himself to the captains of Hungarian castles, defending Christian Europe against invading Muslim hordes, in the guise of modern-day migrants. But he also tells another tale, what he calls Hungary's "opening to the East", and recently delighted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by reminding him that both Turks and Hungarians are, as he put it, grandchildren of Attila the Hun.

But what would Suleiman make of all this fuss about the search for his old campsite? I ask Prof Pap. I'm sure he would have a good laugh, he says.
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35101068
 

Zahoor Raja-Jani

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The Tomb of Suleiman The Magnificent’s Heart Found

Suleiman I, the only son of Selim I, was born November 6th, 1494 on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. At the age of 26 he became the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in 1520. In his homeland he was known as Kanuni (the lawgiver), but to Europeans he’s always been Suleiman the Magnificent. Now it seems the long lost tomb where his heart and other internal organs were buried in Hungary has been found.

In the summer of 1566, Szigetvár Castle in Hungary was the site of a bloody siege. For five desperate weeks the castle’s garrison – the hopelessly outnumbered forces of the Austrian Empire – held off an advancing army of more than 100,000 Ottoman troops led by Suleiman, who was by then a graying veteran leading his thirteenth military crusade.

All accounts from the time describe a heroic fight which ended in what can only be called a cavalry charge of death and glory. None of the Austrian troops survived, but the weeks of bitter resistance had cost the Turks over 20,000 men and stopped their campaign in its tracks.

Suleiman never saw the castle fall. Just the night before the sickly sultan died in his tent, two months before he would have turned 72. The sultan’s body was taken home to be buried in Constantinople, leaving behind the legend along with his heart and internal organs in Hungary, buried under the military tent where he died, in a golden casket.


When the Austrian Habsburg Empire forced the Turks out of Hungary more than 100 years later in the 1680’s, both the town of Turbek and the tomb were destroyed. Turbek, a small settlement and the location of Suleiman’s encampment during the siege, was discovered in 2013 and has been the site of ongoing excavations since then. In addition to the building they believe to be the sultan’s tomb, researchers have uncovered a small mosque, military barracks and a dervish monastery, arranged in a pattern which matches a 1664 town map. They’ve also discovered decorations on wall fragments which match those found in Suleiman’s Turkish tomb. The actual building believed to be Suleiman’s tomb contains a large pit, an indication it was the victim of looting sometime towards the end of the seventeenth century.

Suleiman’s Hungarian tomb was supposedly built on the very spot where his tent stood during the siege, and where he ultimately died. According to Norbert Pap, department head of Political Geography, Regional and Development Studies at the University of Pecs in Hungary, objects found during the dig and other historical evidence strongly suggest this is in fact the remains of the great sultan’s tomb. Pap is hopeful further excavations, which have stopped for the winter and are scheduled to resume in April, will provide conclusive evidence.

Until his death at the age of 71, Suleiman was the longest ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire. During his 46-year reign (1529 – 1566) the Turks dramatically expanded their dominance across the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East and eastward into Egypt. The empire nearly doubled in size in these years. His fleet, under the command of the fearsome Admiral Barbarossa, was master of practically the entire Mediterranean.

As sultan, Suleiman was responsible for modernizing the judicial system and the military, while he himself was an accomplished goldsmith and poet. This was an uplifting and prosperous period not only for Istanbul, but the whole Ottoman Empire as well. Numerous buildings were constructed which still survive today; new dams and aqueducts were built, as were schools, Turkish baths, bridges and botanical gardens.
http://www.newhistorian.com/5576-2/5576/
 

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