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Archaeologists looking for a Sultan’s Heart

During this month a group of Hungarian researchers will publish a report on the whereabouts of Suleiman the Magnificent's heart.

But why has this become such an important historical riddle to solve?

The famous French statesman Cardinal Richelieu described it as "the battle which saved civilisation" - the siege of the Hungarian castle of Sziget, 447 years ago, almost to the day. On September 1566 and finally turkish captured the fortress but sustained such losses, including the death of their leader, so after they did not threaten Vienna again for 120 years.

Nowadays, researchers and archives digs the soil to find the heart of Sultan Suleiman. "When Hungarians walk through the grounds of the castle in Szigetvar they imagine they are walking through a Hungarian castle. But of course, that is not true" , - says Norbert Pap, Professor of Geography at the University of Pecs, as we stroll along the beautifully restored brick ramparts. "This is in fact the Turkish castle. The Hungarian one was destroyed in the siege of 1566" - researcher explained.

Like the rolling hills of the surrounding Zselic region, each fold of history concerning that siege and what followed, seems to conceal another. And each substitutes another version of events. At first sight the legend is easy to follow. Sultan Suleiman arrived here with up to 100,000 crack Ottoman troops in early August 1566. The castle was on his way to Vienna, which he confidently expected to capture, and thus pave the way for the addition of great chunks of Western Europe to his dominions. The air trembled to the beat of the big war drums - made, as they still are today, in the handsome city of Edirne.

But Miklos Zrinyi, the commander of the castle, and his garrison of only 2 300 men put up such a brave fight that the Turks were stopped in their tracks and plans. Zrinyi died in the final sortie from the burning castle.

Suleiman died in his tent - some sources say from surprise at his Pyrrhic victory. He was 72, after all, and had been fighting the Hungarians for 40 years. His body was taken back to Constantinople, but his heart was buried here, in a tomb which subsequently became a Catholic church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, or so reads the inscription on the Turbeki church, just east of the town.

But that's just a fairy story, Prof Pap explains. The plaque was put there in 1916 by the local priest, for political reasons. At that time Hungary - or the Austro-Hungarian Empire - was an ally of Ottoman Turkey, two ancient empires stumbling to their ruin in the mud and blood of World War I, and they needed symbols of undying friendship. Nowadays, Prof Pap has been tasked with finding the true burial place of Suleiman's heart, also for political reasons!

Relations between Hungary and Turkey are enjoying a big revival.

Today, this "old" friendship is experiencing a renaissance. The two prime ministers get on well. The number of Turkish tourists visiting Hungary has leapt by 45% in the last year.

But there are only 500 beds in this sleepy town, where tens of thousands once slept in tents, listening to the nightingales, preparing for battle. At stake are a five-star hotel or two, and the further restoration of the castle and a host of Ottoman-era monuments. But everything hinges on finding the resting place of Suleiman's magnificent heart.

There are several maps. One from 1689 even marks the supposed burial place. Others in the war archive in Vienna were prepared for the Habsburg troops who retook the town in the 1680-s.

There is more information in the archives of the Vatican, in Venice, in Budapest, and in Istanbul.
Prof Pap and his team of researchers have been combing through each. Their results will be made public on 20 September.
Permission has now been granted for a new dig. When the Habsburgs conquered the castle in 1689, Serbian irregulars drove out the remaining Muslims. So the german Catholics were resettled here in the 18th Century. Even the landscape has changed. A mini ice age coincided with the Ottoman occupation, Prof Pap explains.

There is a tomb for Suleiman here too, with fresh flowers - "purely symbolic," says Prof Pap. And a Bronze Age burial mound, which generations of locals mistakenly called "the Turkish graveyard".

Scientists will select the legend of the historical truth on archaeological materials, which they hope to get in the local soil. But somewhere there is still resting heart of the Sultan, which contemporaries devoted to the popular TV series ...

Anna Gridasova, Materials: http://www.bbc.co.uk

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