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Archaeologists Looking for a Sultan’s Buried Heart Found a Whole Town Instead

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s missing heart still has not been found, but archeologists searching for it did discover a lost, ancient Ottoman town

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Photo: Titian

Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart was not buried with his body. His body, as AnslaMed explains, went back to Constantinople, to be laid to rest beside his favorite wife, a former slave named Roxelana. His heart was buried in Hungary, but after centuries, no one knew quite where.

The sultan’s missing heart still has not been found, but archeologists in search of the 450-year old body part received a welcome consolation prize: an entire lost, ancient Ottoman town, reports the BBC. The town sprung up around 1573 as a pilgrimage site for the devoted to lay eyes upon the Sultan’s tomb, which contained a chest holding his heart and intestines.

The newly discovered town, in other words, is not only an astounding archeological find, but also hints that the researchers must be quite close to potentially discovering the resting place of the lost heart. The “holy town,” the BBC writes, once consisted of around 50 households, and as it grew in popularity, a couple mosques and traveler inns were built, too. However, around a century after it was founded, the Austrians invaded and destroyed the entire place. The BBC explains the town’s recent emergence:

One of the peculiarities of Hungarian archaeology is that Szigetvar and its surroundings, which every schoolchild knows about as the centre of heroic resistance to the Turks, has never been properly excavated.

Months of painstaking research in the archives in Istanbul, the Vatican, Budapest, Vienna and Milan proved the existence of the town, but the breakthrough in finding the actual site came from documents found in a local church.

A document hinted at the location of “a protective wall,” which the Turkish and Hungarian researchers took to refer to protecting something important, such as the Sultan’s remains. With that hint, they successfully uncovered traces of the town.

But still, no heart. Serious excavations can’t take place until the team secures permission, the BBC says, and AnslaMed elaborates:

Many of them believe that it might be underneath the Szuz Maria (Saint Mary) church, which is thought to have been built over a small mausoleum with the sultan’s remains. Nothing has been found thus far. The Hungarian historian Erica Hancz told Hurriyet that the search will now be extended to a neighboring group of houses owned by vine growers, where Ottoman buildings are believed to have stood in the sixteenth century.

However, they may be disappointed. As the BBC points out, devout Muslims believe that the body must be allowed to turn into dust, so the heart and intestines were probably kept in a wooden box prone to decomposition. If the Sultan’s followers did a good job at their task, his remains returned to the earth years ago.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Ottoman Empire’s Life or Death Race 
Czar Treasures from the East 

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