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Above Ground Burials: The Grandeur of Mausoleums and Crypts

By their very nature, above-ground burials, mausoleums, or crypts stand out amidst the other burial options. These elaborately built and sometimes intricately decorated structures created to immortalize and house the deceased have long been a stable for influential figures through history to showcase wealth and ensure their legacy forever.

Let's glimpse the grandeur of above-ground burials with some of the most astonishing crypts and mausoleums worldwide. 

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Containing some of the richest tilework found in the Muslim world is Samarkand's most moving and beloved site, Shah-i-Zinda, a stunningly beautiful avenue of mausoleums. The name refers to "Tomb of the Living King," which refers to its original, innermost, and holiest shrine, a complex of cool, quiet rooms around what is estimated to be the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas. Qusam ibn-Abbas is said to have brought Islam to the area during the 7th century and is considered the first cousin of the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed. 

The site consists of sprawling, grand above-ground tombs decorated in brilliant bursts of color and geometric patterns showcasing Central Asian artwork and design of the era. One of the many revered monuments is the Ali Nasafi Tomb, built between the 1360s and 1380s, as it was part of the core of Afrasiab, the ancient city that preceded Samarkand. 

Paris Catacombs

While they weren't the first crypts, the Paris catacombs may be the most famously recognizable in the world, as little can compete with them for the sheer macabre glamor they hold. 

Created to be limestone quarries by Romans to build the city above, their current use dates back to the late 18th century, when cemeteries became overcrowded around the city, sparking health concerns. Officials took charge of the situation by relocating the bones to the former quarries, which were specially blessed and consecrated for that purpose. The officials moved what is estimated to be the bones of six to seven million people into the Roman quarries. It took two years of working every night to empty most of Paris' cemeteries and relocate the remains into the catacombs. 

It wasn't until Napoleon marched to power on the back of the Revolution, inheriting the medieval city, that he decided that since Rome had its much-vaunted system of Catacombs that tourists could visit, France needed something similar. He commissioned his Prefect of the Seine, Nocolas Frochot, and the Inspector-General of the quarries, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, to turn the quarry tunnels from a labyrinthine charnel house into something that people would want to go and see, giving rise to the original Paris Catacomb tours, with bone decorations explicitly created to attract tourists—which worked, and still works to this day. 

Mausoleum of Hadrian, Italy

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, also called Castel Sant'Angelo, is a massive towering structure commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The ashes of Hadrian were placed there a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucious Aelius, who died in 138. Following this, it became tradition that the remains of succeeding Emperors were also placed there, with the last known recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217. 

Legends say that the Archangel Micheal appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, giving rise to its newer name, Castel Sant'Angelo. 

Beginning in the 14th century, popes turned the structure into a castle. The mausoleum soon became a fortress for the refuge of Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome, and Leo X built a chapel with a Madonna by Faggaello da Montelupo. Montelupo also created a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword after the 590 plague to surmount the Castel. Paul III later built a richly appointed apartment to ensure that any future siege the pope may experience had a safe place to stay. 

It was also used as a papal prison during the Renaissance era and is one of Rome's treasured museums, giving us a glimpse at the past glamorous burials of emperors and people. 

These are just a few of the world's most glamorous above-ground burials, crypts, and mausoleums. Suppose you want to learn more about these or other mausoleums' rich and wonderful history but cannot visit them. In that case, we highly encourage you to search online to learn more about these fascinating structures. 

Above-ground burials like mausoleums and places like crypts and catacombs are towering testaments to the eternal memory of those who came before us. These structures stand as a means of telling a story—whether it is the story of a life lost and loved or the history and traditions of the people interred during that period.

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