A tomb is a house, chamber or vault for the dead. The original purpose of a tomb was to protect the dead and provide the deceased with a dwelling equipped with necessities for the afterlife. Tombs probably arose from the prehistoric practice of burying the deceased in their own homes. Eventually, tombs were replaced with graves and funerary urns, and the practice of building tombs died out during the Renaissance. Some of the most famous tombs in the world include the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.
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Did You Know?
The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that it took 100,000 men to build the Great Pyramid of Egypt, but modern archaeologists have revised that number downward to 20,000. Remarkably, this is around the same number of men that it took to build the much less immense but still glorious Taj Mahal.
History of Tombs
The earliest tombs were actually houses. In many prehistoric cultures people buried their dead in their own homes with their daily effects, to provide a dwelling and necessities for the deceased in the afterlife. Later people began to bury their dead outside of their homes, but the tombs they constructed were still built to resemble houses. In the Stone Age tombs were typically shaped like houses, with two large vertical stones and another stone slab laid horizontally across them as the "roof." They too were filled with tools, food and personal possessions necessary for the next life. In Ancient Greece and Rome tombs continued to be furnished with daily effects, but their purpose expanded beyond providing shelter and personal effects for the dead to providing an impressive visual memorial for the living. Ancient Egypt boasted the most remarkable of these memorial tombs: the Great Pyramids. Tombs continued to be constructed throughout the Middle Ages up into the 16th century, when churches themselves often served as tombs. By the Renaissance the practice of building tombs mostly died out in the West and was replaced by the practice of constructing monuments or memorials, often along with funerary urns.
The Egyptian Pyramids
The monumental pyramids of Ancient Egypt are perhaps the most famous tombs in the world. The origins of the pyramids were mastabas, Arabic for "benches," which were mud or brick rectangular structures built over graves during Ancient Egypt's First Dynasty (c. 2925–c. 2775 B.C.). The Step Pyramid of Djoser, a pyramid built by this pharaoh in the Third Dynasty (c. 2650-2575 B.C.), was the first mastaba to be made of stone and to take on the distinctive pyramid shape.
The most famous of the Egyptian pyramids are the three massive tombs of the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2575–2465 B.C.). These monumental pyramids built for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure housed the royal mummies and their worldly effects thought to protect and be used by the kings in their afterlife. The Great Pyramid of Giza, built for Khufu, is the largest, soaring to a height of around 480 feet, and is the last standing of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is estimated that it took about 20,000 workers to construct the Great Pyramid over a period of about 20 years. The king and queen's burial chambers are situated deep within the massive pyramid. Also part of the Giza complex are two mortuary temples honoring Khufu. Although the three pyramids have been looted over the centuries, extensive hieroglyphs and some surviving artifacts, such as jewelry and furniture discovered in the Giza pyramid complex, have helped archaeologists to learn about the Ancient Egyptian's burial and religious practices, as well as their daily life.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In the case of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is thought to be the burial place of Jesus Christ, a church was built over a pre-existing tomb. A “sepulchre” is a type of burial chamber that is carved into a hillside. The church is also said to be the location where Jesus was crucified and where Christians believe he rose from the dead.
After Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, came to power in 306 he ordered that the pagan temple built on top of Jesus' tomb be demolished. Constantine's engineers unearthed Jesus’ tomb, which had been carved out of rock and enclosed it in an edicule, or "little house," and then constructed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the tomb. The church was dedicated in 336. Over the years, the church was damaged and refurbished several times. The Persians burned it down in 614, and then it was restored by Emperor Heraclius in 630. The Egyptians destroyed it in about 1009, and once again it was restored. Today, because of successive restorations and the influence of various Christian communities, the Holy Sepulchre’s architecture is a mix of aesthetic styles. According to an arrangement made in 1852 by the Ottoman Turks, who ruled Jerusalem at the time, six different Christian communities control the church, each with their own designated chapels within the space. This tradition continues today. The three main Christian communities are: the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox.
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This Day in History
Rosenbergs executed, 1953
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