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by Archaeology Newsroom

Death and architecture. Types and forms

Since prehistoric times man has shown an exceptional interest in death. As soon as the various religious theories regarding the dead body were formed, the grave became a focal point of interest and was developed in many types and forms. Therefore, we will try to illustrate as fully as possible some examples that have a special significance in the evolution of funerary architecture. The funerary monuments of the Mycenaean period mirror the great importance given to life after death and are extraordinary achievements for their time. A variety of over ground funerary monuments is furnished by the geometric period. These may not present direct architectural interest but they are indeed masterpieces of plastic art and vase painting. The most significant funerary monuments belong, however, to the 4th century BC. The best known and celebrated funerary monument of antiquity was, undoubtedly, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (350 BC), one of the seven wonders of the antique world. The monument was commissioned by Mausolos, dynast of Halicarnassus, to the architects Pythaeos and Satyros, who also wrote a book on it,lost today. The serious transformations of Greek society following the death of Alexander the Great contributed to the the great effect the luxurious and impressive monuments of the rulers of the East had on Greek architecture. The monumental Macedonian graves form a distinct group. The underground vaulted chamber and the temple-shaped façade carefully decorated – although destined to be hidden under a mound of earth – are typical characteristics of these graves. The tradition of Greek funerary architecture was passed on to Rome, the cultural heir of Greek civilization, and was enriched with new varieties of style. Tombs and mausoleums, usually cyclical in plan, characterize the Roman period. Christianism brought along the theory that terrestrial life was nothing more than a temporary interval for eternity, therefore death had to obtain a new content and meaning. The funerary buildings of the early Christian age are of insignificant architectural interest with the exception of martyria that aimed to focus attention on the exemplary – for believers – life and death of the pioneers of the new faith. The establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the new empire by Constantine the Great contributed to the continuation of the already existing tradition in funerary monuments with one innovation.The incorporation of the monuments in religious architectural complexes. It is not until the 19th century when, with the decree of 1834, the first properly organized cemeteries appear. The new social and political conditions have a direct effect on funerary architecture. The continuously rising Greek middle class of the 19th century, wishing to commemorate its economic, political and artistic and military success, commissioned the most famous contemporary artists with the execution of the final proof of its wealth and power. The Second World War puts under control the luxury of human vanity.