What is a Mausoleum?


A Mausoleum (plural mausolea or mausoleums) is a large, free standing and often ornately decorated tomb or sepulcher. The word is derived from the name of King Mausolus of Caria, for whom a sumptuous sepulchral monument was commissioned by his wife Queen Artemisia of Caria at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor (present-day Bodrum in Turkey). At the time, Mausolus' mausoleum was considered one of The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but today little remains of it save for the fragmentary sculptures that are preserved in the British Museum, London.

The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum for an Indian emperor's wife.
The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum for an Indian emperor's wife.

Another ancient mausoleum can be found at Ravenna, in Italy, and houses the remains of Galla Placidia, sister of Rome’s last emperor Honorius, and who is considered one of the most powerful women of the ancient world. For a mausoleum, the structure is a rather sober edifice and has little in common with the later ostentatious trend of elaborate architectural design coupled with ornate interior decoration. It's structure is that of a Latin cross, which is topped by a simple dome.

Queen Victoria is interned in the Royal Mausoleum in Frogmore, England.
Queen Victoria is interned in the Royal Mausoleum in Frogmore, England.

Later examples of mausolea include the Taj Mahal at Agra, India, which was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate the life of his favorite wife and third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The edifice at Agra is perhaps the grandest mausoleum ever built and is famed for its magnificent white dome and white marble, which is inlaid with semi-precious stones. It is considered the acme of Mughal and Muslim architecture and, in 1983, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Another famous Mausoleum is the Royal Mausoleum located in Frogmore, England that contains the tombs of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Completed in 1871, the mausoleum, designed by Ludwig Gruner of Dresden, is in the figure of a Greek cross, with the walls of Portland stone and the rood, or cross, of Australian copper. It measures 70 feet (21 meters).

Less ornate but more common mausoleums are walled structures, often with a door to allow access to visitors, but sometimes they are sealed. Mausoleums are, of course, to be found around the world, but they are particularly prevalent in Europe and in those countries the Europeans previously possessed colonies. They typically feature an above-ground burial chamber or a burial vault which sits below the mausoleum’s outer structure and houses the body or bodies. They often contain columbaria, niches, or recesses that are used to house the ashes of the deceased.

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Discussion Comments


I attended a workshop on death issues. One part of the workshop was on death and burial. A funeral director spoke to us. Now I'm wondering whether in-ground burial or cemetery mausoleum interment is best.

The casket is put in a crypt, the final resting place. The mausoleum is the small house where the caskets are placed. It is a strong, weather resistant building to protect the crypts. A metal plaque with name, birth date and date of death are placed on the casket.

People say they choose this method of interment because they don't like the idea of being underground and this option saves on ground use when space is running out.


We have been planning death services for my elderly mother. She is trying to choose between in- ground burial and cremation.

More and more people seem to be choosing cemetery mausoleum burial. I'm surprised that mausoleum burials actually cost more than in- ground burials, unless you choose a niche toward the top of the shelf to put your ashes.

It's interesting to note that the Jewish Orthodox, Muslim, and Greek Orthodox religions prohibit cremation. The Catholic Church did until 1960. All Hindus are cremated. It's a good thing that there are so many acceptable choices at death.

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