The lost tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent, one of the greatest rulers of the Ottoman Empire, may have been unearthed in southern Hungary. The 71-year-old Ottoman sultan died in his tent in 1566 during a military campaign against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was finally buried in Istanbul (then known as Constantinople), and Suleiman’s embalmed body is now housed at the Süleymaniye Mosque there. But the Ottomans also placed a small memorial tomb at the spot where he died. Historians knew the rough location of this memorial tomb, but the exact location was lost in the intervening 450 years.
Suleiman the Magnificent is often considered one of history’s greatest rulers. He rose to the throne in 1520 at the tender age of 26 and quickly began a series of military campaigns, expanding Ottoman control from Algiers in the west to Baghdad in the east. In addition to his military prowess, Suleiman “the lawgiver” simplified Ottoman legal code and funded the construction of some of Istanbul’s most gorgeous architecture. His personal life was also full of drama.
He died in his imperial tent outside the castle of Szigetvár in southern Hungary before his troops vanquished the Hungarian forces. His advisers wanted to avoid a power vacuum before his son, Selim II, could take the throne. To maintain the charade, his advisers created elaborate ruses, faking his handwriting on official documents. They even had a servant dress up in his clothes, then faked the death of another servant so that they could carry the sultan’s body out of the camp in the servant’s coffin, Börekçi said.
To find Suleiman’s lost tomb, Pap and his colleagues have spent the last three years surveying areas around the castle for traces of the tomb, using historical records as a guide. Remote sensing revealed several buildings that seemed to have similar layouts to Suleiman’s mausoleum in Istanbul, including dervish monasteries, military barracks and a mosque, Pap said.
When the team started excavating, they found a large brick building with walls covered in stone tiles. The central room was about 26 feet by 26 feet (8 by 8 meters), and robbers had dug a large trench through the middle of it some time in the 17th century. Luckily, many of the decorative elements remain intact, and those elements echo the style of the decorations in Suleiman’s mausoleum, Pap said.