Sultan Suleiman’s tomb raises hopes of economic revival

The recent discovery of the tomb of greatest Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman The Magnificent, brings hope to poor Hungarian town Szigetvar to attract more tourists.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Statues of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (R) and his opponent Miklos Zrinyi, at the Hungarian-Turkish friendship park near Szigetvar.

The discovery of the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent has raised hopes of bringing more visitors to the small Hungarian town of Szigetvar.

Considered as the greatest ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman died in early September 1566 during a battle to besiege Szigetvar castle.

Experts confirmed in July that excavations begun two years ago in the struggling town of Szigetvar, close to the Croatian border, had revealed the tomb of the 16th-century ruler.

Workers remove soil at the tomb of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, near Szigetvar. 

On Tuesday, the 450th anniversary of the siege will be commemorated by officials from Hungary, Croatia and Turkey among thousands of visitors.

"This town is dying. Young people are leaving or have already left for Germany or London, but Suleiman can bring in jobs, income and tourists," said Dr Norbert Pap, head of the team of researchers who discovered the tomb and is also a geographer and historian at the nearby University of Pecs.

"Szigetvar may be on the ­periphery now but 450 years ago it was on the main street of European history," he added.  

Born in 1494, Suleiman, whose reign from 1520 to 1566 was the longest of any sultan, greatly ­expanded the Ottoman Empire, annexing large swaths of the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa.

Taken ill before his final battle, Suleiman was found dead in his imperial camp, an hour’s walk east of the castle, according to contemporary accounts.

While his body was laid to rest in Istanbul, his heart and other internal organs were buried at the site of his death. Later a tomb was built over it.

Suleiman I was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death in 1566.

Around the tomb grew the town of Turbek, the only settlement that the Ottomans built from scratch during their reign in Hungary.

At the end of the 17th century, however, the town and the tomb were wiped off the map by the Habsburgs. That is until 2012, when Dr Pap secured funding from Turkey to use technology to try to find the ruins. 

A few days before Christmas 2014 a geophysics survey of a site nestled beneath vineyards and orchards four kilometres to the east of Szigetvar castle returned results that set Pap's pulse racing.

Excavations uncovered the remains of Turbek – the walls of a mosque, a tomb, dervish monastery cloisters, as well as a wealth of silver coins and clothing fragments, pottery, glass and metal was found in the area

As the evidence became overwhelming by July this year experts in Turkey were also convinced.

"Finally we could say for certain that we had found Suleiman’s tomb," Dr Pap said.

Local workers remove soil on the tomb of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, near Szigetvar on September 2, 2016.

Szigetvar’s mayor, Peter Vass, said he hoped the number of visitors to Szigetvar would double from the current 25,000 a year.

"Suleiman is a national cultural icon in Turkey, and as Szigetvar is easier to get to from western Europe and Turkey than Kosovo, there is a very good chance that Turkish tourists will come to visit the tomb," Dr Pap said.

Dr Pap’s team continues to dig for the rest of Turbek, including a military barracks and the town’s walls, as well as Suleiman’s heart, which according to legend is buried in a golden urn.

Five Turkish descendants of ­Ottoman princesses will give DNA samples next week in Szigetvar for comparison with samples from the tomb area.

"Hungary and Turkey have much in common, a shared cultural heritage," said Turkey’s ambassador in Budapest, Sakir Fakili.

"Many Turks can afford to travel, so why not to Szigetvar? " he added.

AFP, TRTWorld and agencies