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The Paramore family mausoleum in the Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

A mausoleum (plural: mausolea) is an external free-standing building constructed as a monument that encloses the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons. A mausoleum may be considered a type of tomb or the tomb may be considered to be within the mausoleum.

Mausolea are found throughout the world, across geographic and cultural barriers, and although there exists numerous ideological variations, mausolea are almost universally places of religious and/or national significance.

Study of old mausolea reveals much about the society's attitudes and beliefs concerning death and the afterlife, as well as providing information about the people and their society who constructed the mausoleum. The tendency for people around the world to construct monuments, not just simple graves, in which to inter their dead speaks to human desire for eternal recognition and existence. Most societies honor their dead, and monuments and other physical signs to commemorate and recognize their lives and achievements are typical of human beings. The practical as well as spiritual and cultural considerations are all reflected in mausolea.


The word mausoleum derives from the first major structure of its kind: the tomb of the Persian King Mausollos, built in 353 B.C.E. The structure was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and was so popular that similar structures in Ancient Greece began to be built. The word became assimilated into Greek around this time as Mausōleion, and later into Latin as Mausōlēum, by which time it was being used to describe all such structures.[1]


Mausolea differ, depending upon the time and geography in which they were constructed. The older mausolea tend to be larger, more complex structures. Usually free-standing, multi-levels, with a domed or sky-reaching ceiling, they were sometimes decorated with murals, mosaic paintings, sculptures, and inscriptions. Often they served dual roles as places of worship or observance and burial chambers. During the time that mausolea became more popular with the lower classes, they became less elaborate.

Mausloea are still popular today, although in a different form; they are usually small buildings with walls, a roof, and sometimes a door for additional interments or visitor access. Single mausolea may be permanently sealed. A mausoleum encloses a burial chamber either wholly above ground or within a burial vault below the superstructure. This contains the body or bodies, probably within sarcophagi or interment niches. Modern mausolea may also act as columbaria (a type of mausoleum for cremated remains) with additional cinerary urn niches. Mausolea may be located in a cemetery, a churchyard, or on private land.


Scale model of the Mausoleum of Mausollus, at Miniatürk, Istanbul.

Burial of the dead has always been a culturally significant occurrence. How the dead were buried, where and in what manner, along with what they were buried with, has long been the study of anthropologists and archaeologists. Mausolea are a significant phenomenon, in that they arose cross-culturally, in a mutually exclusive fashion, suggesting something about humanity as a whole: the desire to celebrate dead persons of significance with monuments of grandeur.

The mausolea of the old world were generally built for religious and secular leaders. The more extravagant the structure, usually the more wealthy or powerful the person being honored. More often than not, mausolea were located with the municipalities of the larger civilizations in Asia, Europe, South America, and the Mediterranean area. However, as time went on, smaller mausolea soon became popular with the gentry and nobility in many countries, particularly in Europe and her colonies during the early modern and modern periods.

One of the earliest and most influential mausoleum on record is that of Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, grave site of King Mausollos, constructed around 352 B.C.E. The impressive nature of the large, white, marble tomb led many to place it on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This does not, however, mean that all mausolea were inspired by the site in Asia Minor, even if the name derives from it.

Notable mausolea

The following is a sampling of notable mausolea found throughout the world:


A fanciful interpretation of the Mausoleum of Maussollos, from a 1572 engraving by Marten Heemskerk (1498–1574), who based his reconstruction on descriptions.

The Tomb of Maussollos, Mausoleum of Maussollos, or Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in Greek, Μαυσωλεῖον Ἁλικαρνασσεύς, Μαυσωλεῖον τοῦ Ἁλικαρνασσοῦ (Ἀλικαρνασσοῦ)), was a tomb built between 353 and 350 B.C.E. at Halicarnassus (present Bodrum, Turkey) for Mausollus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and Artemisia II of Caria, his wife and sister. The structure was designed by the Greek architects Satyrus, and Pythius.[2][3] It stood approximately 45 meters (135 feet) in height, and each of the four sides was adorned with sculptural reliefs created by one of four Greek sculptors — Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas of Paros and Timotheus.[4] The finished structure was considered to be such an aesthetic triumph that Antipater of Sidon identified it as one of his Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Nezami Mausoleum

Nezami Mausoleum in Ganja, Azerbaijan

The Nezami Mausoleum, built in 1991 in honor of Nezāmī Ganjavī, considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic.[5] The structure stands just outside the city of Ganja, in Azerbaijan. It is a tall cylindrical building, surrounded by gardens. To one side, there is a metal statue commemorating Nezami's epic poems.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong's Mausoleum

The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, or the Mao Mausoleum, is the last resting place of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death.

Although Mao had wished to be cremated, his body was embalmed, and construction of a mausoleum began shortly after his death. This highly popular attraction is located in the middle of Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, the capital of China. On this site had previously stood the Gate of China, the southern (main) gate of the Imperial City during the Ming and Qing dynasties.[6]

The remains of the Great Helmsman, as he is sometimes known, are on display for public viewing. People stand in line every day to see the former chairman, many paying tribute to him with flowers that can be rented at the entrance on the north side.

Juseliuksen Mausoleumi

The Juselius Mausoleum lies in Pori, Finland

The Neo-Gothic Juselius Mausoleum, located in the Käppärä cemetery in central Pori, Finland, was built in 1903 by the wealthy industrialist F.A. Juselius for his daughter Sigrid who died when she was only 11 years old. It was designed by the architect Josef Stenbäck. The Mausoleum originally had frescoes painted by artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, but these decayed after a short time. The frescoes were restored by Akseli's son Jorma Gallen-Kallela using his father's sketches.[7]

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The Tāj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. The Mughal emperor Shāh Jahān commissioned it as the final resting place for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1648.

The Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian and Indian styles. Some dispute surrounds the question of who designed the Taj. A team of designers and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with the Persian architect Ustad Isa usually considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures.[8]

Shah Jahan intended the Taj Mahal to be acclaimed by the entire world, and since its construction the building has been the source of an admiration that has transcended cultures and geography. Personal and emotional responses to the building have consistently eclipsed the scholastic appraisals of the monument.

Yad Avshalom

Yad Avshalom, Jerusalem

The 'tomb' known today as Yad Avshalom (Avshalom's Monument - יד אבשלום) is located in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, situated between the Temple Mount and Mount of Olives. Archaeologists have dated the 'tomb' to the first century C.E. The Jewish tradition connects it to Absalom son of King David. According to 2 Samuel 18:18, "Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the Monument after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's Monument." The people of Jerusalem, for centuries, used to come to this monument with their children and stone it - to show children what happens to sons who disobey their parents.[9]

National Mausoleum of Pakistan

Mazar-e-Quaid - the Tomb of Jinnah; National Mausoleum of Pakistan

Mazar-e-Quaid (Urdu: مزار قائد) or the National Mausoleum refers to the tomb of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is an iconic symbol of Karachi throughout the world. The mausoleum is situated at the heart of the city, completed in 1960s.

The mausoleum is made of white marble with curved Moorish arches and copper grills resting on an elevated 54 square meters platform. The cool inner sanctum reflects the green of a four-tiered crystal chandelier gifted by the people of China. Around the mausoleum there is a park fitted with strong beamed spot-lights which at night project light on the white mausoleum. The location is usually calm and tranquil which is significant considering that it is in the heart of one of the largest global megalopolises.

Lenin's Tomb

Lenin's Tomb, with wall of the Kremlin and Russian parliament behind.

Lenin's Mausoleum (Russian: Мавзолей Ленина Mavzoley Lenina) also known as Lenin's Tomb, situated in Red Square in Moscow, is the mausoleum that serves as the final resting place of Vladimir Lenin. His embalmed body has been on public display there since the year he died in 1924 (with rare exceptions in wartime). Aleksey Shchusev's diminutive but monumental granite structure incorporates some elements from ancient mausoleums, such as the Step Pyramid and the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.

On January 21, the day that Lenin died, the Soviet government received more than 10,000 telegrams from all over Russia, which asked the government to preserve his body somehow for future generations. On the morning of January 23, Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov, a prominent Russian pathologist and anatomist, embalmed Lenin's body to keep it intact until the burial. On the night of January 23, architect Aleksey Shchusev was given the task to complete within three days: design and build a tomb to accommodate all those who wanted to say their goodbyes to Lenin. On January 26, the decision was made to place the tomb at the Red Square by the Kremlin Wall. By January 27, Shchusev built a tomb out of wood and at 4 p.m. that day they placed Lenin's coffin in it. More than 100,000 people visited the tomb within a month and a half. By August of 1924, Shchusev upgraded the tomb to a bigger version. The architect Konstantin Melnikov designed Lenin's sarcophagus.[10]

Kemal Atatürk's Mausoleum

Anıtkabir, Kemal Ataturk's mausoleum at Ankara

Anıtkabir (literally, "memorial tomb") is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. It is located in Ankara and was designed by architects Professor Emin Onat and Assistant Professor Orhan Arda. They won the competition held by the Turkish Government in 1941 for a "monumental mausoleum" for Atatürk out of a total of 49 international proposals. The site is also the final resting place of İsmet İnönü, the second President of Turkey, who was interred there after he died in 1973. His tomb faces the Atatürk Mausoleum, on the opposite side of the Ceremonial Ground.

Samanid mausoleum

Ismail Samanid mausoleum in Bukhara.

The Samanid mausoleum is located in the historical urban nucleus of the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in a park laid out on the site of an ancient cemetery. This mausoleum, one of the most esteemed sights of Central Asian architecture, was built between 892 and 943 as the resting-place of Ismail Samani, the founder of the Samanid dynasty, the last Persian dynasty to rule in Central Asia, which held the city in the ninth and tenth centuries. Although in the first instance the Samanids were Governors of Khorasan and Ma wara'u'n-nahr under the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate, the dynasty soon established virtual independence from Baghdad.[11]

The monument marks a new era in the development of Central Asian architecture, which was revived after the Arab conquest of the region. The architects continued to use an ancient tradition of baked brick construction, but to a much higher standard than had been seen before. The construction and artistic details of the brickwork are still enormously impressive, and display traditional features dating back to pre-Islamic culture.[11]

Contemporary mausolea

Blue Sky Mausoleum

Mausolea are still constructed and used today, although they differ drastically from their ancient counterparts. Most contemporary mausolea are found in cemeteries, are of marble or granite and are simple, box shapes. Often times they are places for entire families, and while they are expensive, they are by no means attainable only to the wealthy.

One famous contemporary mausoleum that differs from the norm is Blue-Sky Mausoleum, in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the request of Darwin D. Martin, secretary of the Larkin Soap Company. In 2004, Forest Lawn Cemetery faithfully rendered Blue-Sky in conjunction with an architect trained by Wright himself, based on extensive research into Wright’s drawings, notes, and correspondence. The mausoleum is more artistically rendered than most contemporary structures, built inset into a hill and crowned with a stele-like structure at the top. 24 crypts are available for those who can pay the fee, and offer people a unique opportunity for their remains to rest.[12]


  1. Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford Press, 1971, ISBN 019861117X).
  2. Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-19-503473-2), 9.
  3. John Gloag, Guide to Western Architecture, Revised Edition, (The Hamlyn Publishing Group, [1958] 1969), 362.
  4. William Smith, 1870, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, page 744 Retrieved September 21, 2006.
  5. Julie Scott Meisami, The Haft Paykar: A Medieval Persian Romance (Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-283184-4) extract Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  6. The Long Bow Group "Tianamen Square Interactive Tour" (2007) "Chairman Mao's Mausoleum" Retrieved September 11, 2007.
  7., 2007, "Juseliuksen Mausoleumi" Retrieved September 11, 2007.
  8. Kevin Matthews and Artifice Inc., 2007, "Taj Mahal" Retrieved September 11, 2007.
  9., 2007, "Tomb of Avshalom".
  10. Moscowhotels.JSC, 2007, "Lenin's Mausoleum" Retrieved September 11, 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Advantour, 2007, "Samanids Mausoleum, Bukhara" Retrieved September 11, 2007.
  12. Buffalo City Cemetery, 2004, "The Blue Sky Mausoleum" Retrieved September 13, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cook, Brian. 2005. Relief Sculpture of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198132123
  • Meisami, Julie Scott. 1995. The Haft Paykar: A Medieval Persian Romance. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192831844
  • Pearson, Lynn F. 200. Mausoleums. Shire Publications. ISBN 0747805180
  • Rai, Usha. 1997. Taj Mahal. Vendome Press. ISBN 0865650780

External links

All links retrieved November 8, 2022.


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