This one came out of nowhere.
This past weekend, I was sitting quietly by myself, eating my Saturday morning breakfast cereal and reading The Oatmeal (or I may have been eating oatmeal and reading Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, I can’t be sure). Boyfriend emerged into the living room then, barely awake, his hair pushed and lopping on one side of his head, like a cow had literally licked it.
“Oh, hey! You’re up,” I said. “Want breakfast?”
Boyfriend stared at me, bleary eyed. And then he responded with this:
“Did you know that Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart was removed from his body when he died, and buried somewhere in Hungary?”
I really don’t know what this guy must have dreamed about for this to be the first thing he said after he woke up, but I know better than to ask.
Suleiman the Magnificent, also known as Suleiman Kanuni (from the Arabic Qanun, which means “law”), was possibly the greatest monarch of the Ottoman Empire. He was a patron of the arts and literature, and under his rule the Ottoman Empire went through what is now known as its Golden Age. Suleiman himself was a polyglot poet and goldsmith, and contributed his own work to the great bodies of cultural work that had come together with the Empire’s assistance. Basically, if you went to school with him, Suleiman would be that guy who wrote exquisite essays, solved all the math problems before they were up on the blackboard, always had his hand up to answer questions in geography, and sat in the front row so he could jump up and help all the teachers as they walked into class with a pile of notebooks. (He would also be the kid with the weird hat, but more on that later.)
Despite his cultural achievements, Suleiman is best known for his military prowess. (Yeah, he wasn’t your stereotypical nerdy kid. He would ace it in the physics lab and then kick your ass on the football field too.) Under him, the Ottoman Empire conquered much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, something his father and grandfather had both failed to do. In 1521 he conquered Belgrade, and in 1522 he reached the island of Rhodes. In 1526 he tasted his first victory in Hungary, but not before honoring and lamenting the death of his archenemy, Louis II. (Seriously, I hate this guy!)
Following the fall of Hungary there was a bit of a scramble for power in the region – Suleiman wanted John Zapolya to govern it, but the Hapsburgs of Austria thought it was theirs by right. Eventually the Hapsburgs took over the region of Hungary, and Suleiman vowed to take his empire to Vienna.
Obviously, that wasn’t as easy as his previous conquests. But as you may have guessed, he wasn’t one to give up. Between 1529 and 1541 Suleiman attempted to reach Vienna three times, losing all three of those wars. In 1566 he launched yet another attack through Hungary, this time with a troupe of 100,000 soldiers. And this battle holds the key to his heart.
On the way to Vienna, the Ottomans besieged the Hungarian castle of Sziget. Zrinyi Milklos led a group of less than 2500 Hungarian Hapsburgs from within the castle, and though they were thoroughly outnumbered, the Hapsburgs managed to hold out for a long time, causing great losses to Suleiman’s men. Suleiman, who was 70 years old at the time, could not take part in the battle himself, but directed it from his tent, by giving word to his Grand Vizier. And on the night before the castle fell – it was a battle of attrition, and it had become clear the castle was about to fall – Suleiman decided it was an opportune moment to die.
Some people have just the worst timing in the world.
The monarch’s inner circle decided to keep the news of his death to themselves, in the fear that if the troops heard, it would deal a massive blow to their morale. Of course, this meant that they had to find a way of making him seem alive, so archeological legend has it that they eviscerated all his organs and embalmed his body. And while there is enough proof that his body was taken back to Istanbul (then Constantinople), the question that haunts archeologists to this day is, Where are Suleiman’s organs?
Most people believe the organs were buried somewhere in Hungary, an idea that has led to a treasure hunt lasting several years, and persisting in the face of several false starts. There are some maps from the sixteenth century that mark various spots where his heart may have been buried, but these differ wildly from one another, and have yielded no results. There are suggestions that in 1577 a shrine was built in Sziget, over the spot where his organs were buried. The shrine was destroyed in the late seventeenth century, and a church for Virgin Mary took its place. This church still stands today, and brickwork indicative of Ottoman architecture has been found in its walls, but archeologists are not convinced: they believe the overlap in the locations of the shrine and the church is a story that was manufactured around World War I, when the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians were allies.
Recently, archeologists have discovered the ruins of en entire Ottoman town neat Sziget, designed in a manner that suggests something or someone of great importance was buried there – it has a mosque, barracks, a dervish cloister, a tavern, and a bath, among other things. And it is surrounded by a deep moat to protect it. The discovery of this town leads archeologists to believe that they are close to finding the spot where Suleiman’s organs were buried, but thus far, they’ve only drawn blanks.
It’s an absorbing mystery, the search for Suleiman’s organs. Some people challenge the theory in its entirety, because it is against Islamic religious beliefs to cut open the bodies of the dead. Suleiman, however, was known to be flexible with his religion. He married a Christian woman from his harem, and the mosque in the newly discovered town has dervish pictorial representations of God, which is also against Islamic religious belief. Then there are those who believe Suleiman’s organs were carved out, but that they were buried in the ground somewhere, and will therefore never be found. This general skepticism hasn’t stopped archeologists from looking, of course, and I trust they won’t stop until they have a clear answer.
As for me, I only have one question for those who have dedicated their lives to searching for his organs: Have you looked under his hat?