More to Explore
Page 2 of 2
The Prophet's Mosque in Medina
The practice of locating the tombs of holy figures within places of worship was not only a Christian tradition. Located in Medina, Saudi Arabia, the Prophet's Mosque (Masjid al-Nabi in Arabic) houses the Islamic prophet Muhammad's tomb and is considered the second holiest site in Islam (the first is the mosque in Mecca that houses the Kaaba, the direction toward which Muslims worldwide pray). Muhammad himself built the original mosque on the site, which he located next to his home. He constructed a pulpit there, from which he led the faithful in prayer. When Muhammad died in 632, he was buried in a tomb on the site. In around 706, Caliph al-Walid destroyed the original structure and built a larger, more ornate mosque on the site surrounding Muhammad's tomb. Subsequent rulers expanded and renovated the mosque, and the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II built a dome over the prophet's tomb in 1818 and painted it green, a color that has come to symbolize Islam.
The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty
At roughly the same time that the practice of building tombs was mostly dying out in Europe, an exquisite series of tombs was being built in China during the Ming Dynasty. At the start of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the capital was Nanjing, but the second emperor moved the capital to Beijing and chose a site 30 miles north of the city to build his own tomb. Thirteen of the 17 emperors of the Ming Dyansty were buried in this valley, along with their empresses and second wives. The Thirteen Tombs (Shih-san Ling in Chinese) were built over a period of more than 200 years, from 1409 until 1644. It took 18 years to build the first tomb alone.
The Thirteen Tombs are situated on a large complex, the entrance to which is a long path, a shen dao (spirit way), which is lined with oversized statues of guards and animals, real and mythological. The Ding Ling tomb is the most famous of the tombs and has been the most thoroughly excavated. It has three underground chambers, including the burial chamber, and thousands of artifacts, such as silks, jewels and utensils, have been unearthed here.
The Ming Dynasty is widely regarded as one of the most important eras in Chinese history, a time of great prosperity and progress in government. The Ming emperors established an impressive administrative system and army and oversaw major architectural projects, including the construction of the Forbidden City, the grandiose Ming palace in the center of Beijing. As a monument to the achievements of the Ming emperors, the Thirteen Tombs today continue to draw many tourists, who come to enter the tombs themselves and to view their artifacts in an adjacent museum built in the Ming Dynasty architectural style.
The Taj Mahal
The most famous structure in India is also a tomb. The Taj Mahal was built in 1638 in the Mughal style, an amalgamation of Persian and Indian architectural forms. Located in the northern Indian city of Agra, which was then the capital of the Mughal Empire, the Taj Mahal complex consists of a mausoleum, a main gateway, a garden, a mosque and a jawab, a building that mirrors the mosque. Notable for its Islamic domes and minarets, its symmetry and its refined decorative detail, the all-marble mausoleum and the exquisite gardens are celebrated as much for their elegant design as for the love story behind them.
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ("Emperor of the World") built the Taj Mahal as the magnificent eternal burial place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A description of the relationship between the ruler and Mahal, written by the royal historian, was extraordinary for its time. Recounting the deep and passionate love and friendship between the shah and his wife, the historian called Mahal the shah’s closest confidante and companion and described their extraordinary physical and spiritual compatibility. After she died in childbirth during the birth of their 14th child, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in tribute to his inseparable companion. The shah survived his wife by 35 years and continued to rule the Mughal Empire until 1658, when his own son deposed him and imprisoned him in a fortress across the river from the Taj Mahal. The story of the emperor's deep love for his wife and the exquisite mausoleum that is a testament to that love has lured visitors to the Taj Mahal from around the world for hundreds of years.
Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!
Keep up with the latest History shows, online features, special offers and more.Sign up