The tale about a huge ship (of Biblical proportions) that enabled the survival of all of the species of animals around the world sounds impressive, but also quite unbelievable. Nonetheless, its builder, Noah, is one of the most popular biblical figures. Furthermore, he is an important prophet in Islam. Although his story, perhaps inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, has existed for thousands of years and is known by billions of people, the place of Noah’s burial remains unknown.
Around the world, people in their first years of life learn the story of a man who saved many people and animal species from death under the waters that came with a horrible flood. The ‘Ark’ story, known since ancient times, became so popular that it is a world-famous myth known in most of the cultures long before its iteration as part of the Bible. However, most of the stories related to Noah are nothing more than oral history.
Noah's ark on the Mount Ararat, Simon de Myle, 1570. (Public Domain)
A Sailor Named Noah
Apart from the biblical notes and the information that comes from other descriptions of a similar flood (like the Epic of Gilgamesh), no information can provide identifying personal data about Noah. Religious people believe that Noah lived for about 950 years. This number appears among the believers of modern religions. Moreover, it is confirmed by the Bible. According to the Book of Genesis:
''20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
28 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.
29 And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.''
Sadly, there is no historical source, apart from the religious texts, which confirms this data from the biography of Noah. Moreover, through the ages dozens of researchers (some more, some less professional) have tried to prove their own ideas about the possible biography of this legendary man. One of the most credible pieces of research was accomplished by the team led by Robert D. Ballard. His goal was to explain the biblical flood in a scientific way.
From Shipwreck to Tomb: The Rival Claims
The most famous story says that the famous Ark ended its voyage on the slopes of Mount Ararat, now in eastern Turkey (but for a very long time in Armenia). The importance of this claim is based on a religious issue, as Islam dominates Turkey and Armenia has always been related to Christianity. Furthermore, one of the possible tombs of Noah is located in territory contested by Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Noah's Tomb or Mausoleum in Nakhchivan, Postcard, circa 1917. (Public Domain)
The mausoleum located in Nakhchivan is located on the land known as Kohna-gala, meaning ''Old fortress''. Many Armenians believe that this is traditionally their territory, but currently, it officially belongs to Azerbaijan. The construction was built around the 8th century AD, but could possibly be a little younger.
It was rebuilt many times and now the main building contains the remnants of the former one. Inside the burial chamber there is a column and according to the explanations presented by guides, this is the place where the relic of Noah was buried. Thus, it seems that even the locals don't see the mausoleum as the original burial place of Noah, just a temple for a relic deposit.
17th century Noah Mausoleum, Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. (Public Domain)
The Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, is a destination for the pilgrimage of millions of people every year. The average number of pilgrims is about 8 million people. It is a holy site for Muslims who follow the Shia belief (the ones who accept that Muhammad had an ancestor – Ali ibn Abi Talib). The followers of this faith believe that Ali was buried next to the legendary Adam and Noah
There is also a folklore story in the city of Cizre in Turkey and Karak Nuh in Lebanon. The tradition from Cizre claims that it was the original burial place of Noah and his family. However, neither the Iraqi or Turkish theory can be confirmed. In the case of Lebanon, it is commonly said that it was the relics that were buried in this place.
Noah's Coffin inside Noah Mausoleum in the city of Cizre, Turkey. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Legends Are Stronger than Reality
The story about the tomb of Noah is full of mysteries. Although religious circles believe that they know the real burial place of the legendary sailor, the number of possible grave locations creates doubt in the story.
Apart from the stories from the Middle East and other Muslim countries, there is one more legendary location to add to the confusion. In north-west Spain in Galicia there is a town named Noia. Its name comes from the biblical Noah and the coat of arms of the town has the image of the famous ark. Although historians speak with one voice that the legend has no credit in resources, the story stays a popular element of local folklore.
Top Image: Imam Ali Mosque - Shrine of: 1st Shia Imam - Ali ibn abi Talib; Prophet Adam; and Prophet Nuh (Noah). Najaf, Iraq. Source: Public Domain
By Natalia Klimczak