Peerless Turkish architect claimed to be headless in tomb


The author of a soon-to-be-released book has said he can prove that the skull of the Ottoman era’s most acclaimed architect was taken from his tomb to try and show that he was an ethnic Turk.

According to Professor Selçuk Mülayim from Marmara University, the corpse of Mimar Sinan, best known for the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, was taken from its modest tomb next to that building Aug. 1, 1935, in order to measure the famed architect’s skull.

Documents show that the team, headed by Turkish Historical Society Director Hasan Cemil Çambel, society member Şevket Aziz Kansu and historian Afet İnan, conducted the excavation in an hour, Mülayim told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review recently.

“The purpose was to prove he was an ethnic Turk,” the professor said. “Kansu took measurements with compasses and other tools and from these measurements it was decided that he was an ethnic Turk.”

At the time of the team’s foray into the tomb, there was a rising appreciation of Mimar Sinan in Europe, where people were increasingly claiming that the great architect could not have been Turkish, Mülayim said. “The excavation was an answer to these claims.”

To this day, few members of the Turkish public know that the man hailed as the greatest of Ottoman architects was actually a Muslim convert of Armenian origin.

Following the excavation of Sinan’s tomb, the Turkish Historical Society team took its findings to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. “He refused to look at the results, saying, ‘Instead of measuring his skull, make a statue of the architect,’” Mülayim said.

The idea that Sinan’s skull is missing from his tomb is not a new one, but one that many experts have avoided repeating in public.

Afife Batur from Istanbul Technical University confirmed that racial studies were conducted in the mid-1930s. “I have not personally studied this subject. But claims that [Sinan’s] skull was taken out of his grave have always existed,” she said. “I don’t think there is a need to look in his tomb. Historical documents will cast light on everything.”

This sort of claim can only do insult to the memory of Mimar Sinan, said historian İlber Ortaylı, director of the Topkapı Palace Museum. “There is not a single piece of truth in these claims. People think they are doing historical research,” he said.

Mülayim’s research will be published as a book in Turkish and English next month by the Islamic Research Center under the title “Sinan Bin Adbülmennân - A World Architect’s Story, Works and Beyond.”

The professor said he was prompted to undertake his longtime research on Sinan by his studies at Atatürk State University, as well as by newspapers from 1935 that revealed interesting details about the famous architect.

In his book, Mülayim suggests that not only Sinan’s skull, but also those of some of the leaders of the Selçuks, one of the Turkic peoples that ruled Anatolia, are missing from their tombs, he told the Daily News.

Mülayim, who has already written two books on the most celebrated of all Ottoman architects, believes that the architect’s skull has either been smuggled abroad or lies among other skulls in storage at Ankara University’s Language, History and Geography Faculty.

The skulls of the Selçuk rulers were also excavated for measurement, Mülayim claimed, adding that there was even talk in earlier years of exhibiting those skulls in the Anthropology Museum being planned for Ankara at that time.

“Had there been such a museum, it would have been a big gain and at least the skulls would not have gone missing,” he said. “We can only find out about the fate of Sinan’s skull if we can reach Kansu’s family and his private notes.”

Mülayim also argued that the tomb of Mimar Sinan was opened one more time in the 1950s to see whether the claims that his skull was missing were true.

“Again we understand from documents in our hands that it was seen that the skull was not there,” he said.

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