MADRID (AP) — Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house.
No more was heard of the 16th century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion.
By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.
A team that will search for Cervantes's remains began exploratory work Monday and final conclusions — should the search succeed — will be known by the year's end. The estimated cost of the operation is 100,000 euros ($138,000).
A three-phase search will take place over some 200 square meters (240 sq. yards) at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras — or Literary Quarter.
When Cervantes moved to Spain's capital in 1606 he had already published the novel that was to change Spanish literature: "The Adventures of the Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha."
Although his book enjoyed some success, it did not make him famous — and the author was better known in Spain as an ill-fated soldier.
Cervantes had been wounded in battle and spent years captive in Algiers. He had been seized by Turkish pirates who boarded the ship on which he was returning to Spain after fighting in a war against the Ottoman Empire.
The Trinitarian order negotiated his release and helped pay a ransom that ruined Cervantes' family.
Cervantes was compelled to live as an errand-runner for the convent to give thanks for his deliverance.
He lived in a neighborhood of narrow streets, small houses and taverns full of artists and hustlers, where wine flowed and tapas were served. Other authors of Spain's golden age of literature, such as Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Luis de Gongora, ignored him.
He was buried in 1616 on his death at the age of 68. Years later the chapel was expanded to its current — still modest — proportions.