It’s said that when Suleiman the Magnificent died on a Hungarian battlefield, his followers built a tomb on the spot where his tent once stood. Now, after centuries of searching, historians might have finally uncovered the 16th-century Ottoman sultan’s lost tomb.
Norbert Pap of the University of Pécs in Hungary has spent the last three years combing through historical evidence and excavating dig sites during his search for Suleiman’s tomb. If his findings are correct, Pap believes that the tomb might be located in the ruins of the former Ottoman settlement of Turbek in southern Hungary, according to the Associated Press.
"Currently everything suggests that this building could have been Suleiman's tomb. However, in order to be able to assert this with 100 percent certainty, further examinations and the excavations of the other surrounding buildings are necessary," Pap tells Tia Ghose for LiveScience.
When Suleiman died in 1566 at the age of 71, he was the Ottoman Empire’s longest-serving sultan, having ruled the expansive empire for 46 years. During his reign the Ottomans swept through the Mediterranean, gaining control over territory in the Balkans, North Africa and down through the Middle East, Sarah Laskow reports for Atlas Obscura. He died on the battlefield while besieging the fortress of Szigetvar in a campaign against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
However, Suleiman’s death was hidden from the troops for 48 days, as his advisors figured it would be bad for morale if the Ottoman soldiers found out their sultan was dead in the middle of a war. As historian Günhan Börekçi, who was not involved in the excavations, tells Ghose, his body was taken back to Istanbul (then called Constantinople) and hidden until Suleiman’s son, Selim II, could take over the throne. But while his body was buried in a mausoleum in Istanbul, Suleiman’s heart and other organs were buried at the tent where he died. After the battle, the Ottomans built a small memorial tomb at the site to commemorate Suleiman’s death.
Unfortunately for the Ottomans, the siege at Szigetvar ended their push towards Vienna, and the tomb was destroyed along with the Turkish settlement of Turbek in the 1680s by Austro-Hungarian forces. But while the tomb itself was lost, Pap and his colleagues scoured historical documents that indicated the tomb had been located in this region around Szigetvar. When Pap’s team discovered the site of Turbek in 2013, remote sensing revealed evidence of several buildings, including one oriented towards Mecca and another with a similar layout to the sultan’s Istanbul mausoleum that could be Suleiman’s tomb, Laskow writes.
"We know from archival registers what kind of a structure it was," Börekçi tells Ghose. "This was Hungary, so it's a little far away from the capital. It's not something really huge, it's a relatively small one, like the ones we see constructed for dignitaries of the era."
When Pap started excavating the site, his team discovered a brick building covered in tiles. While it was damaged by robbers at some point during the 17th century, enough of the decorations survived to indicate that it once looked strikingly like Suleiman’s final resting place in Istanbul. Pap and his colleagues won’t know for sure whether this site is truly the location of Suleiman’s tomb until the team returns for further excavations in April 2016.