World Bulletin / News Desk
Hungarian and Turkish researchers working in Szigetvar, Hungary believe that they have found the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent, the greatest ruler of the Ottoman Empire, who died at Szigetvar in early September 1566 - almost 450 years ago.
Suleiman succumbed to natural causes two months before his 72nd birthday, and only hours before his vast army finally overcame the Habsburg defenders of Szigetvar castle following a brutal and bloody siege.
Fearing the reaction of troops to the death of a sultan, who had ruled for four decades, Suleiman's aides kept his death a secret and smuggled his corpse back to Constantinople for burial at the Suleymaniye Mosque that he had commissioned.
But the weather was hot and the road home was long, so Suleiman's heart and other organs were removed here and, as legend has it, interred in a golden coffin beneath his last encampment.
As the Ottomans entrenched their rule here through the 1570s, and a growing number of travellers came to visit Suleiman's shrine, a mosque, a Dervish cloister and barracks grew up around the site, and it developed into a settlement known as Turbek - derived from the Turkish word "turbe", which means tomb".
Over time, the location of his tomb became a mystery. Norbert Pap, a professor of geography in the nearby university town of Pecs has said that the location couldn't be correct.
However one theory holds that the 18th-century Turbek church now occupies the place where the tomb stood, while another puts it close to where a Hungarian-Turkish Friendship Park was established in 1994 to mark the 500th anniversary of Suleiman's birth.
"When we started this work in 2012, we analysed lots of old sources, looked at land use and local geography, and tried to reconstruct the landscape of that time," Pap recalled.
"We realised the location must be totally different to where the church and the Friendship Park are - we thought the real place must be higher and further away from Szigetvar castle."
"People here realised there was something here because when they were planting a tree, they would sometimes hit bricks," Pap explained, as insects hummed through the flower-strewn vines and orchards that surround his team's excavations.
"Occasionally, archaeologists worked here. In the early 1970s, they excavated what we now think is a corner of the tomb. They said it was 'some kind of Ottoman public building - more research needed'."
With state funding from Hungary and Turkey, Pap and his team began digging on the hill, and soon found clear signs of Ottoman ruins.
"It was Christmas 2014 when I got the results of the geophysical survey ... I was sure this was the right place. It showed big walls under the surface, directed towards Mecca."
Turkish colleagues share Pap's certainty and excitement about the site.
"The findings of the surveys done before the excavations were so clear that it was like cleaning sands over a partially visible subterranean wreck … We were all joyful for sure," said Ali Uzay Peker, a professor of architectural history at Ankara's Middle East Technical University.
"Last year, the foundation of a square building was unearthed and identified as the tomb of Suleiman. This year, the mosque and tekke [a Dervish cloister] were excavated," he explained.
"Tools of [16th-century] daily use like coins, knives, potsherds, pipes; architectural fragments … and the layout of the buildings in relation to each other support written and pictorial documentation and technological analyses. So we can say that we unearthed Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's tomb."
After taking power in 1520, Suleiman extended Ottoman rule across the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans. By 1566, his dominions stretched from Mecca to Algiers to most of modern Hungary. At home, his creation of a legal code saw him dubbed "the Lawgiver" or "Legislator".
For Peker, Suleiman is "a symbol of Ottoman magnificence".
"He was a triumphant ruler, and at the same time a great patron of literature, arts and architecture. The age of Suleiman was an apogee in the history of Turkish art. So one can estimate how important this discovery is for the Turks," he said.
"The discovery of Suleiman's tomb is absolutely positive for us, and I hope it will help Szigetvar and the whole country develop. Tourism could become our main sector, but we need new hotels and other things. And of course, we are absolutely open to Turkish investment."
Source: Al Jazeera