A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Tomb Discoveries (Maybe?) of Famous People

Some grave matters to discuss this morning: not all that serious, mind you, but involving tombs. Neither of these stories is as clear-cut as one might like, but both involve possible discoveries of the graves of people who are, in some circles at least, famous names. Even if both are wishful thinking, it seems to me worth noting.

Nasreddin Hodja
First, Nasreddin Hodja.  A rather brief article under "Archaeology" in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News' website tells us, in its frustratingly brief entirety:
A stone coffin that was removed from an old graveyard many years ago in the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir’s Sivrihisar district during a construction and kept in the library of the Ulu Mosque since then was identified as the coffin of Nasreddin Hodja, a sufi believed to have lived in the 13th century.

Anadolu University Professor Erol Altınsapan said it was a big discovery for the Turkish world.

“We removed the bones of his daughter of Fatma Hatun, in 2003 from a graveyard in Sivrihisar and delivered them to a museum. An area 50 meters away from this grave was reorganized by the municipality years ago and this coffin was uncovered. Examinations showed that the coffin belonged to Nasreddin Hodja,” Altınsapan said. He said Akşehir was known as the birth and death place of Nasreddin Hodja but from now on Sivrihisar should be recorded as the place where he was born and died.
There are a lot of questions here: how was it identified? (Also, when? Apparently after 2003 but when exactly?) One question no Turk, and no one from the larger Turkic world would need to ask, though, is who Nasreddin Hodja (modern Turkish Nasreddin Hoja) was. The real 13th century Sufi whose bones may have been discovered long ago morphed into a folklore hero of the first order, a "wise fool" figure whose seemingly comical actions conceal wisdom or teach lessons. He has become both a vehicle for Sufi teaching and comical folktales from Turkey through Iran and up into Central Asia, and is sometimes considered the origin of the similar "wise fool" figure of Arab folklore, Juha (Joha, Goha). The latter is not normally portrayed as a Sufi, but the tales are similar.

It's like finding the grave of, I don't know, Robin Hood or somebody. I wish the article were a bit moire detailed.

La Rendicion de Granada: Boabdil (left), Ferdinand and Isabella
Second, "Boabdil." Sultan Muhammad XII of Granada, last of the Nasrid rulers of Granada and the last Muslim sovereign in aL-Andalus, was known as Abu ‘Abdullah, and is known in the Spanish-speaking tradition as "Boabdil." (Spaniards also know him as El Chico.) He surrendered his throne and his sultanate to Ferdinand and Isabella on January 2, 1492 at Granada, marking the completion of the Spanish reconquista and freeing up Ferdinand and Isabella's funds to sink a little venture capital in a visionary Genoese sailor's exploration later that year. (Some say Columbus was present at the surrender.)

As the ruler who marked the end of 482 years of Muslim rule in Spain, "Boabdil" has been usually seen as a tragic figure in both the Spanish and Muslim traditions. He crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and lived out his days in exile as a guest of the Marinid Sultan of Morocco. Though some think he died in Tetuan, there is a stronger tradition that he lived until 1533 and died in Fez. Now, as this article in Spain's El Pais notes (article in Spanish), archaeologist Francisco Etxeberria thinks he's found the tomb: in an area outside one of the gates of Fez. He's awaiting permission to dig, so this story, too, has a lot of loose ends.

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