10 Most Fascinating Tombs in the World

There is perhaps nothing else so distinctive of the condition and character of a people as the method in which they treat their dead.
          - William Tegg, 1876

Throughout the history of human civilization, different cultures mourn and treat the dead differently. Some, like Tibetan Buddhists, have no use for burials as they dispose the dead by feeding corpses to vultures or by burning them in funeral pyres. Most cultures, however, show their respect by burying the dead, sometimes in complex and ornate tombs, crypts, and catacombs.

This article takes a look at ten of the most fascinating final resting places around the world, from the largest prehistoric burial mound in Europe to the the tombs of pharaohs to the most beautiful mausoleum in the world:


The burial mound of Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland is definitely one of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in the world. Build between 3300 BC - 2900 BC, it is the also the world's oldest surviving building (it's older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt).

Newgrange is impressive: the circular mound is 250 feet (76 m) across and 40 feet (12 m) high. It covers an entire acre (4046 m²). A long tunnel under the mound leads to a high-domed burial chamber, a corbelled vault with ceilings made of huge, interlocking stone slabs.

The entrance to Newgrange is marked with a huge curbstone that is elaborately carved with "megalithic art," which includes spiral and concentric arc motifs chipped into the stone with flint tools.

Newgrange burial mound. Image: mike nl [Flickr]

The wall of Newgrange. Image: Barbara y Eugenio [Flickr]

The engraved slab in front of Newgrange's entrance. Image: mike nl [Flickr]

Tana Toraja

The Toraja people in Sulawesi, Indonesia, have what is probably the most complex funeral ritual in the world. When someone dies, the funeral is attended by a lot of people and can last for days! But that's not the strange part - this is: the funeral ceremony is often held weeks, months, or even years after the death (to give the family of the deceased time to raise enough money for expenses).

Torajans can wait that long because they believe that death is not a sudden event but instead a gradual process towards the afterlife (if you're wondering about the smell - the dead body is embalmed within the first few days of death, then stored in a secret place until the funeral ceremony).

After much partying (including the slaughter of one or several water buffaloes), the dead is buried in a stone cave carved out of a rocky cliff. A wood-carved effigy called tau tau, carved with the likeness of the dead person is then placed in the balcony of the tomb to represent the dead and watch over their remains.

Toraja cave tombs with balconies, filled with tau tau. Image: Kaeru [Flickr]

"In Tana Toraja, everything revolves around death. The graves can be very sophisticated yet sometimes, long after the coffins are destroyed by time, people gently place bones along natural cave 'racks'. Often, the bones are offered cigarettes or various offerings. This is supposed to prevent dead ancestors from bringing bad luck and otherwise making the lives of the living miserable."
Image: phitar [Flickr]

Westminster Abbey

The gothic church Westminster Abbey in London, United Kingdom was established by Benedictine monks in the tenth century (and rebuilt in the 13th century by King Henry III) - since then it has evolved into both the coronation church for English royalty and the final resting place of monarchs.

Though at first Westminster Abbey was the burial place of kings, aristocrats, and monks, it soon became the tomb-of-choice (if there is such a thing) for the who's who in England. Poets and writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred Tennyson; as well as scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Ernest Rutherford were all interred there.

Westminster Abbey. Image: Inetours

Newton's grave at Westminster Abbey. Image: Sacred Destination

Giza Necropolis

There are more than 100 pyramids in Egypt, with the largest and most famous being the complex of pyramids in Giza Necropolis, Cairo, Egypt. This complex consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza (tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu or Cheops), the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Great Sphinx statue, as well as several other smaller satellite pyramids.

Let's take, for instance, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. When it was completed in 2560 BC, the pyramid was 481 feet (147 m) tall with each base side being 758 feet (231 m) wide. The blocks weigh about 1.5 tons each, with the internal granite blocks used as the roof of the burial chamber being about 80 tons each. The ancient Egyptians knew what they were doing: the base sides have a mean margin of error of only 2 1/3 inch (58 mm)! Needless to say, it is an amazing work of engineering.

The Pyramids of Giza. Image: liber [Flickr]

The Great Sphinx. Image: ironmanix [Flickr]

The Pyramids of Giza are not too far from the urban sprawl of Cairo.
Image: graspnext [Flickr]

Valley of the Kings

Even if you don't know much about the Valley of the Kings, a burial ground of ancient Egyptian pharaohs and one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, chances are you know about one of its occupants: King Tut and the Curse of the Pharaohs that accompany his grave.

In 1922, Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered and opened the tomb of Tutankhamen - despite warnings that "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King." Lord Carnarvon, the funder of the expedition, was the first to die: he was bitten by a mosquito and later accidentally lashed the bite while shaving. His wound became infected and he died of blood poisoning.

Whether the "mysterious" deaths associated with the Curse of the Pharaoh actually had anything to do with opening of the tombs or just great copy to sell newspaper, scientists did recently discover that the tombs indeed contained potentially dangerous molds, bacteria, toxins, and even hazardous gases.

Valley of the Kings. Image: Shelby PDX [Flickr]

The tomb of King Tut in the Valley of the Kings. Image: Hajor [wikipedia]

Tomb of Ramses III in Luxor, Valley of the Kings. Image: Peter J. Bubenik [wikipedia]

Sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Merenptah in the KV8 tomb of the Valley of the Kings.
Image: Hajor [wikipedia]

Luxor Temple. Image: mike nl [Flickr]

Catacombs of Paris

Officially called les carrières de Paris or "the quarries of Paris," the Catacombs of Paris is a network of underground tunnels and rooms that used to be Roman-era limestone quarries.

In the late 1700s, Paris was suffering from diseases caused by improper burials and mass graves in church cemeteries. Local authorities decided that they would remove thousands of bones and place them stacked in the abandoned underground quarries.

Today, the entrance to the catacombs is restricted and only a small portion of the 186 miles (300 km) worth of underground tunnels is accessible to the public. Secret entrances to the Catacombs, however, dotted Paris - urban explorers have found access via sewers, manholes and even the Paris Metro subway system.

Catacombs of Paris. Bones from the former Magdalene cemetery, deposited in 1844 in the western ossuary (bone repository) and transferred to the catacombs in 1859. Image: Vlastimil Juricek [wikipedia]

Wall of bones in the Catacombs of Paris. Image: Ivan Paganacci [Flickr]

Terracota Army

In 1974, local farmers in Xi'an, China, discovered a vast underground complex of mausoleum while drilling for water. They had serendipitously stumbled upon the burial ground of Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor and the unifier of China.

According to legends, the First Emperor was buried alongside great treasures inside a tomb with pearl-laced ceilings (in a pattern that represented the cosmos) and channels dug in the ground with flowing mercury to represent the rivers of China. But the most famous feature of the tomb is the Terracota Army, about 8,000 life-like and life-sized statues of soldiers buried alongside Qin Shi Huangdi to help the Emperor rule in the afterlife.

Terracota army. Image: MichaelTyler [Flickr]

Image: mkools [Flickr]

Each face and pose of the Terracota army soldier is distinct from the others. Image: Peter Morgan [wikipedia]

Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo

When the Capuchin monastery in Palermo, Italy, outgrew its original cemetery in the 16th century, monks excavated the catacomb below it and began a bizarre tradition that lasted until the 19th century.

The Capuchin monks mummified the bodies of the dead, dressed them up in everyday clothing and then put them on display on the monastery walls. Apparently, it was quite a status symbol to be entombed in the Capuchin monastery - prominent citizens of the town would ask to be preserved in certain clothing or even have the clothes changed on a regular basis according to contemporary fashion!

When the last body was interred in the late 1800s, there were 8,000 mummies on the walls of the Capuchin monastery and in the catacombs.

Capuchin Catacombs. Image: deadgoodbooks [Flickr]

Mummies on the wall of the Capuchin Catacombs. Image: Kircher Society

Sedlec Ossuary

The Sedlec Ossuary resides in a small Roman Catholic chapel in Sedlec, Czech Republic. If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't have guessed that inside the unassuming building is an ossuary containing about 40,000 human skeletons artistically arranged to form decorations, chandeliers, and furnishings!

In the 13th century, an abbot returned to Sedlec with a small amount of earth from Golgotha, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, and sprinkled it all over the abbey's cemetery. This made the grounds of the church a desirable burial site and over centuries thousands of people were buried there.

In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver was hired to put the heaps of bones in order. He decided to make a work of art out of the skeletal remains: a chandelier made from skull and bones, a coat of arms of the family that paid him to do the work, and even an "artist's signature" done in bone, of course!

Little would you suspect what lies inside ... Image: currybet [Flickr]

Entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary. Image: Curious Expeditions [Flickr]

The chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary. Image: B10m [Flickr]

The Schwarzenberg family's coat of arms, done with at least one of every
bone in the body. Image: goldberg [Flickr]

Taj Mahal

No article on tombs is complete without the Taj Mahal, a magnificent mausoleum in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal was built in 1631 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who was devastated when his wife Mumtaz Mahal died during childbirth. Grief stricken, he ordered that the most beautiful mausoleum be built.

Taj Mahal is an amazing architectural wonder: the marble tomb in the center of the complex is flanked on four corners by minarets. The massive central dome, called the onion dome because of its shape, is striking in its symmetrical perfection. Finials and calligraphy are everywhere.

Inside the Taj Mahal is even more ornate: Precious and semi-precious gemstones are inlaid into the the intricately carved marble panels that serve as walls. The caskets of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are decorated with gems and inscribed with calligraphy, reciting the 99 names of God.

The story of the Taj Mahal actually didn't end with the completion of its buildings: shortly after its completion, Shah Jahan fell ill and a power struggle amongst his four sons ensued. The victor, Aurangzeb, locked the king in the Fort of Agra, where he remained until he died. Legend has it that he spent the remainder of his life gazing at the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his beloved wife, from the window of his prison.

Taj Mahal from a distance. Image: Christopher Chan [Flickr]

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Image: micbaun [Flickr]

The tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Image: William Donelson [wikipedia]


Here is another one that didn't quite make the list:

City of the Dead in Northern Ossetia, Russia

In the remote, rugged Gizel valley of Northern Ossetia, Caucasus, Russia, there is a set of stone buildings that from a distance look like a regular village - but with one important detail: it is not for the living. A closer look inside the buildings with slanted slate roof reveal something gruesome: mummified bodies dressed in their best clothes and shoes with hair tidily combed.

Local legends have it that in the 18th century, a plague swept through Ossetia. The clans built quarantine houses for sick family members, who were provided with food, but not freedom to move about, until death claimed their lives. A slow and painful way to go, indeed.

City of the Dead in Northern Ossetia. Image: dziadek.mroz [Flickr]

Image: dziadek.mroz [Flickr]

Other Tombs

I'll be the first to acknowledge that this list is subjective and far from complete - if you have any suggestions of a final resting place that should be included, I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment.

There appears to be some disagreement, or at least careful wording, concerning Newgrange and 'the oldest building in the world".

On Malta, the Ggantija temples claim to be the oldest "free-standing building in the world". Subtle difference?

The dating of both buildings is pretty imprecise, so I'm unclear if experts can definitively say which is older.
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How about Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico?

According to the following source, Tomb Seven is considered the earliest-known North American necropolis:


Actually, I vaguely remember another necropolis near Monte Alban, in Mitla - albeit that's a couple of years back and it could have been somewhere else (definitely around Oaxaca, though).

Or, also in Mexico, in Veracruz, Quiahuiztlán.

The mummies from Guanajuato are also interesting, albeit they're now "on exhibit" and, as such, not really part of a burial space, respectively a tomb.
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How about the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the remains of about 130,000 French & German soldiers killed at the 1916 Battle of Verdun? It doesn't get more dramatic than that...

or the U.S. Arizona Memorial, where rest over 1100 victims of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor ?
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It would be very un-Venezuelan of me not to include the National Pantheon, resting site of, among others, Simon Bolivar, our Liberator. http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/00/1b/f5/bc/panteon-nacional-caracas.jpg
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A world-traveling friend of mine visited the TaJ Mahal and said it was the most beautiful building he'd ever seen. Didn't the emperor also have plans to build a twin Taj Majal for his own tomb - but made instead with black marble? Or is that a myth? Would have been incredible.
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@ Carruthers

Yes, in fact there was a plan to develop a mirror image of the Taj Mahal in black marble, however, this was canceled when his sons began to fight over the Kingdom and eventually one son succeeded in taking over and jailed his father in the Red Fort. This and his subsequent death after a few years meant that the Black Taj Mahal would never be built in time. Hence, why he has such an awkward sized and shaped grave next to his wife because of his untimely death.
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The pictures were very colorful; not knowing very much about the various burial sites around the world, I find your illustrations very informative and educational.

Thank you
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Just on an interesting side note about Newgrange, which i find massively impressive and am shocked you missed it, is: there is a hole in the forementioned feature above the main door that, on the 21 of December every year- the winter solstice, or shortest day of the year-, the sun shines directly through when it rises, flooding the entire tunnel and tomb with light in every recess of it giving it an almost unearthly glow. I have never seen it myself as, unfortunately, the waiting list to visit on that day requires several years of booking ahead. It is a shame, i live here and i still can't see this wonderful work of ancient architecture/astronomy in action.
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There has been some controversy over the restoration of Newgrange. It is now believed, that the white quartzite stones formed a plaze near the entrance, and not a wall around the mound. The nearby Knowth mound, has been restored in this manner,

This does not dispute the age of Newgrange, but it means that the structure we see today, is not identical with the original structure.
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The "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King" warning, associated with Tutankhamun, is pure fiction by a newspaper reporter called Doyle. Later to be famous as the novelist Sir Arthur Conan.
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How about a strange cemetery in Romania: the Merry Cemetery. Visiting this place is seen as a happy ocasion by locals or tourists.
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it's called Kutná Hora not sedlec, sedlec is name of many citys/city-areas. but the name of the town with this church is Kutná Hora. thanks a lot

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Petra, the capital city of the ancient Nabataeans has thousand of family burial tombs complete with dining halls where the dead were celebrated, and mountains of broken pottery, because dishes were smashed after the meal! Since Petra was voted into the top 7 ancient wonders, it might be worthy of consideration.
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Visited Sagada in the Philippines where they have "hanging coffins". See photos:

I remember our guide saying that the ancient religion practiced in the area was opposed to the dead being in the dark so coffins were located at the mouths of caves or dangled over the sides of cliffs.
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You should consider including Valle de los Callidos (Valley of the Fallen) in this list. The tomb of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it is an entire cathedral carved in a mountainside and intended to be a monument to those who died in the Spanish Civil War. It was built by Republican veterans in virtual slave labor over a period of 18 years. It's topped by one one of the largest stone crucifixes in the world -- which of course, is positioned on the hilltop directly over the position of Franco's final resting place in the church below.
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Great site, well-done! Check out St. Michan's in Dublin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Michan's_Church , they have "mummies" in their crypt, possibly dating back to the Crusades.
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Very cool.........thanks a bunch. Although I must point out that modern research (Dr.Robert Schoch comes to mind) has shot down the notion that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built as a tomb.......at least to my mind after reviewing the literature.
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anybody knows that there was an issue with taj mahal?? there was a book claiming that taj mahal was a shiva temple hall which was calles teja mahalaya. after the muslim invasion it was redesignd to taj mahal. i have no idea whether its true but the guy who claimed it had pretty convincing proofs. just search for "tejo mahalaya" on google.


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How about the Chapel of Bones (Capella dos Ossos) in Evora, Portugal, whose walls and pillars are covered entirely in the bones of around 5,000 monks.

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Check out the Douaumont Ossuary on google. 130,000 French and German soldiers bones are collected there from the Verdun battle field. - Charlie
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Don't Forget the www.TOMBofJESUS.com in KASHMIR, and thence the resting place of the 2nd Messiah MIRZA GHULAM AHMAD in Qadian, India, http://www.zmo.de/muslime_in_europa/ergebnisse/lathan/index.html
Last but not least the TOMB OF MUHAMMAD PEACE AND BLESSINGS BE UPON HIM THE PROPHET OF THE ONE GOD bringing the religion of peace ISLAM http://www.flickr.com/photos/shia/118403525/
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Newgrange shouldn't really qualify as the oldest surviving building, since the exterior wall and its entire current form are a reconstruction built in the 19th century - the only original parts are the tomb entrance and interior, and a large carved block in the exterior wall. The whole lot was covered by a hill until it was excavated. Nowadays you cant even visit the original site, you must go to a completely fake "visitor centre" across the valley from the real thing.
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In the town of Mazamet, in southern France, there is a museum showing burial and mourning practices around the world and at different times. The museum is (or at least was) located in the basement of the town hall.
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How about the Tomb of the Eagles on Orkney. Maybe not worthy for the top 10 list, but an amazing tomb, dating to 3000BC. Well worth a visit if you're ever up in the wild islands of Scotland!
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Disappointed not to see a mention of Maeshowe!

One of the best-preserved neolithic tombs in Northern Europe, unique and with added Vikings!
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Great post, thanks very much.

Here is one you missed out on - the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Évora, Portugal:


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Listen what about Black See and the bone house in Ukraine???
Is any body can stretch their imagination beyond pyramids and Roman Empire. Enormous civilization in the geographical Centrum of the Europe and not even one word??? If so than you guys know half history.
Thank you.
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Nah, Newgrange is as follows: the principal structure including the corbelled (amazing) roof and the passage itself is EXACTLY as it was 8000 years ago. It needed no reconstruction as it remained intact for all that time due to the incredible engineering of the original structure. ONce inside the original soil has turned to sand which hasn't seen rainfall in since the roof was first constructed. The OUTSIDE of the structure is reconstructed but if you travel to Knowth and Dowth you can see what it looked like before. The visitors' entrance is not fake, it merely allows elderly or infirm people to enter the tomb, the alternative is to climb over the entrance stone which blocks the door. Baring in mind that the stone is well over a meter high you can see the necessity of that. And would you really begrudge the visitors a path? And you CAN visit the tomb itself, you just have to get a BUS from the visitors centre!:D I'm really glad it was included because it's one of the most amaing places I've ever seen & I've travelled a bit - but then I'm from Meath nearby so I might be biased. Only problem is that there's no evidence that it is a tomb. It's called a "passage grave" because in Neolithic Ireland stone graves were popular. They think it might have been a temple of some sort! Anyway, cool list!:D
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St. Nician's Church, in Dublin is certainly not a MAJOR tomb, but very, very fascinating. There is a Crusader buried there, whose mummified remains you can actually touch, as rubbing his finger brings good luck (indeed, I rubbed it and was contacted via email that day that I had gotten a job and was no longer unemployed).

Wolfe Tone's deathmask is on display, as well as the mummified of several other formerly prominent Dublin families.

Finally, it's worth noting that Bram Stoker's family is buried here, and it is likely that his concept for Dracula found its genesis in the tomb of St. Nician's.
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In Eklutna, Alaska, a village outside Anchorage, there is a tradition of building a 'spirit house' over the grave of a relative. They range from simple to intricate, and are painted with the family's colors.

When Russian Orthodox missionaries first came to the area, they allowed the native tradition to continue. For church members, an orthodox cross is added to the spirit house.

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I loved your list and thought you should consider another... (sorry if it's already in the comments)

St. Peters Basilica - Vatican City

I've seen it with my own eyes. Peter is buried under the altar... like "THE" Peter... from The Bible...

or at least that's what they say
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This is a really nice story, thank you for taking the time to put it together. The pictures are fabulous. It is so interesting how different cultures handle death, which for most would be one of the most pivotal moments in life.
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Marvelous and unique Bosnian medieval tombs 14-15th century. Please note those are not sarkophags but heavy, full stone slabs. Some 70 000 are in Bosnia and no where else!. Please note on this picture (took from Radimalja, Stolac, Bosnia)

rised right hand. On the plaque send in 70ties out of Solar system, under suggestion of famous Carl Sagan, there is no Egyptian pyramids, no skyscrapers, no White House, no NASA itself, but only naked women and man with rised right hand.
That plaque is intended to be red by aliens if they found it ever. Hand on Bosnian tombs is a message sent to us. But, do we know what it really means, because old Bosnian was the last European survived heretics keeping some old religous secrets.

Best regards,
Adi Porobic
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Also, dont forget about the tomb of one of the first communists in Romania
The Mausoleul din Parcul Carol, bucharest.

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this list fails to include the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel... it is the oldest intact building in the world.

this is a "fail".
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Thanks for this. Very interesting.

I was impressed by the tomb of Napoleon.

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These are fantastic. I've been to Westminster Abbey and it was fabulous...I do love history. In Scotland, I saw burial mounds that were perfect circular structures. I would like to see the Terracota Army, the Pyramids at Giza, and the Sphinx...Very cool stuff!
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Good post. I have recently been doing research on Pacal's tomb in Palenque. What an amazing find, including an extremely interesting sarcophagus lid with carving. You should check this out. Thanks for the info.
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The Ossuary underneath the Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome, Italy should definitely be on this list. Constructed over 300 years prior to the Sedlec Ossuary, and is just as unbelievable...
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The list might also appear Huniades castle, a building dating from the XVII century http://www.unseenromania.com/things-to-see-romania/huniade-and-huniazilor-castles-transylvania-gothic-jewels.html?page=1
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hi...wat about the graves at makli, near thatta, sind in Pakistan...i can post some pictures if u want..those are very old and unique...
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The pyramids at Giza?? A fine choice except no bodies were ever found in them!!! Strictly speculation about them being burial chambers. Most new evidence points them in the direction of energy transmission points that powered Egypt and possibly a link to other pyramid power stations around the world!!!
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The Great pyramids of Giza is of course one of the finest example of architecture.Though we are living in the age of technology but when i look at this great heritage,I found my self at the toe of those people who had left the magnificent carving of this limestone beauty and it has also proved that the art of architecture is not subjected to technology.
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This website didn't publish about south indian sculpture,it is very disappointing,have you ever experienced south indian art pls visit south india you will surprised,website owner should understand one thing world is huge there are lot to see
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These places are fantastic!!! When on vacation and staying at hotels, I have a family member who loves to visit any local cemeteries in the area. A trip centered around the burial rites and traditions of other countries would be perfect to go on. Thanks for the information!
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