• A portrait of William Shakespeare. (AAP)Source: AAP
The burial sites of many famous people - from Mozart to Hitler - remain unknown.
Nathan Jolly

26 Aug 2016 - 2:02 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2016 - 2:02 PM

The year 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, but while his written works are as celebrated as ever, mystery surrounds his final resting place. In the SBS documentary Shakespeare's Tomb, archaeologists investigate the Bard's grave in Stratford-upon-Avon - and in this spirit, we explore the clouded whereabouts of some of history's most famous people.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Although Mozart was somewhat successful during his lifetime, his was perhaps the first modern(ish) case of an artist becoming wildly popular immediately following his death. His relatively youthful passing - he was only 35 - saw a flood of interest in his work: writers rushed to pen biographies, and publishers attempted to secure his complete body of music.

But his actual burial was rather unceremonious, with most scholars believing he was tossed into a grave with a handful of other people - it sounds horrible, but this was just how they rolled in late-1700s Vienna.

Unless you were an aristocrat and in a "private" grave, your bones were exhumed after 10 years, too, which is how a gravedigger came across what he claimed was the skull of Mozart in 1801. This was widely disputed - the gravedigger said he had tagged the body a decade earlier, while others point to the musician's then-recent spike in fame as a possible motive for deceit.

There is also modern scientific testing to contend with, which concluded in 2006 that DNA from the skull didn't match that of Mozart's relatives. The controversy is such that the skull has been removed from display at the excellently named Mozartuem as it spooked some of the locals.



Fittingly, for a woman whose life is still the subject of so much interest, scholars have been attempting to uncover the tomb of Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony for millennia. Considering nobody can even agree upon her method of suicide in 30BC - with everything from opium to a cobra bite being floated - it's not surprising her burial place wasn't recorded.

An unsuccessful dig in 2009 focused on three sites in Egypt, after the mummified remains of 10 people were found nearby with busts and coins featuring her likeness - but a more likely scenario is that her tomb lies on the bottom of the sea.


Alexander the Great

This dude wins for most ridiculous funeral service ever, with the 32-year-old empire-builder said to have been placed in a sarcophagus made of gold, which was then filled with honey. 

For centuries, the tomb was a monument to all the self-appointed Great achieved during his short life (and probably attracted a great dealing of flying insects too) but when Christianity swept the world towards the end of the 4th Century, the tomb (the third, by location) suddenly disappeared - and its whereabouts remain one of the world's most baffling mysteries.

Even before this, the body of Alexander the Great had been involved in a series of Weekend at Bernie's-style adventures, being stolen en route to one burial, moved from various proposed sites and plundered for gold to fund war. You'd think the tombs would be easy to find, but many centuries of searching have been fruitless.


Adolf Hitler

Not surprisingly, the final resting place of Adolf Hitler was kept a secret. Even the story of his death has been corrupted over the years, with experts unable to agree upon whether he died of a self-inflicted gunshot, or by a self-administered cyanide capsule.

The end result was the same, however the tale of his body was far from over: Soviet records show his corpse was partially burnt, moved to various unmarked forest graves in Germany, and finally - in 1970 - cremated and dumped in a still-unknown location.

We won't be finding out where any time soon. In 2010, Vladimir Gumenyuk, the KGB officer who was tasked with spreading the ashes, said he plans to take the secret to his grave.

The story might not even be true - a piece of Hitler's skull still in the Soviet State Archives (kept as evidence he was killed) was tested by US scientists who claim the fragments belong to a female who died aged 20-40.


Leonardo da Vinci

Each year, thousands of art fans make the pilgrimage to France's Chateau d'Amboise to visit the grave of Leonardo da Vinci, but evidence he is still buried there is shaky, relying upon antiquated record-keeping, and a partial headstone found in wreckage.

The story goes that the famed polymath was buried in a tomb underneath a church which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The remains were demolished, and some six decades later, builders found bones and a partial headstone containing some of the letters of da Vinci's name.

While those manning the merchandise desk at the Chateau probably don't mind the hint of mystery surrounding his final resting place, for most historians, this doesn't really cut it as evidence.


Shakespeare's Tomb airs on Sunday, 28 August at 8:30pm (AEST) on SBS. After broadcast, it will be available on SBS On Demand.

What drives history’s most controversial characters?
Watch these incredible documentaries on SBS On Demand right now.
Drunk History
Booze helps bring out the truth. It's just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent. Sundays 9pm, SBS2.