Hello YouTube, Jim here! There are hidden fragments of history scattered throughout the world, encompassed in the gravesites of ancient civilizations long past. While many likely remain a mystery and veiled from modern curiosity, there are those that have been excavated, uncovered, and defiled for public interest. These ten historic tombs and collections of ossuaries are fascinating bits of yesteryear, open to satiate public inquisitiveness.
This beautiful, easily-recognized structure in Agra, India, was constructed between 1632 and 1653 after being commissioned by Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor. Its initial purpose was so the Shah could bury his most favored wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Surrounding the tomb is a 42-acre compound complete with a mosque, guest house, and the gardens, beneath which Mahal’s sarcophagus lies. Despite a period of neglect after the collapse of the Mughal empire, upkeep on the Taj Mahal resumed in the 19th century when the British viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, ordered preservation of India’s heritage.
The Valley of the Queens
While pharaohs of the 16th century BC were being buried in the Valley of the Kings, the wives of these historic royal figures were given their own resting grounds. On the same west bank of the Nile as the Valley of the Kings lies the Valley of the Queens, otherwise known as Ta-Set-Neferu, or the place of the children of the Pharaoh. Over 70 extravagantly decorated tombs exist within the valley and house the remains of royal Egyptian women like Queen Tuya, wife of Seti I, Queen Nefertari, Seth-her-khopsef, and Queen Tyti.
The Valley of the Kings
Though the Giza Necropolis was built to house the royalty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, pharaohs that ruled during the New Kingdom, from the 16th to 11th century BC, sought to be buried closer to the roots of their dynasty. Just west of Luxor, pharaohs like Tutankhamun, Ramses II, and Set I chose to build crypts in an area bordering the Nile, dubbed Valley of the Kings. Once excavated, the tombs were discovered to be stocked with material goods and treasures for the ruler’s afterlife. Along with the rulers of Egypt, burials from the 18th to 20th dynasties included queens and high priests, each tomb stocked with wine, beer, and sacred objects. In total, approximately 60 tombs have been uncovered.
Tombs of the Kings
Travel to the Kato Paphos archaeological site in Cyprus and you’ll find access to a series of underground tombs known as the Tombs of the Kings. Dating as far back as the 4th century BC, the subterranean tomb was carved into rock to serve as burial sites of the regals that lived in and ruled over the land. Unique to these hidden ossuaries is their complexity, which is said to often resemble the interior of homes of the living. Between the 1970s and 1980s, excavation of the site commenced, eventually opening up the UNESCO World Heritage site for public access.
The Ming Tombs
Located 31 miles or about 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing and known to locals and historians as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, the Ming Tombs are an assembly of mausoleums built by the many emperors of China’s Ming dynasty. The first of the interned was Chang Ling, the Yongle Emperor. Though similar in layout, the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty were designed and built in varying sizes and complexity. Of the thirteen tombs in the collection, only the Chang Ling, Dingling, Zhaoling, and the Sacred Way tombs offer public access, giving access to the history of China dating back to mid-15th century.
The Giza Necropolis
A veritable city of the dead, the Giza Necropolis dates back to the 4th dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. Burial complexes in the middle of the Libyan desert, the necropolis is comprised of a series of cemeteries, the Great Sphinx, and the most predominant features – three towering pyramids that jut into the sky. In the shadow of the pyramids sits dozens of different cemeteries and the remnants of worker villages located in the west, center, and east fields of the Giza Necropolis. Buried within the Great Pyramid of Giza, or Khufu’s pyramid complex, is Queen Khentkaues I.
Catacombe dei Cappuccini
If it’s the macabre that you’re looking for, the city of Palermo in Sicily on the Italian peninsula has the perfect stop for you. Known as the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo - or Catacombe dei Cappuccini to locals – this oddball tourist attraction came about when the cemetery at Palermo’s Capuchin monastery ran out of room, forcing the monks to expand into a series of catacombs below it. Sections of the 16th-century subterranean additions are lined with mummified inhabitants who don garb indicative of their time period. The public display’s latest internment took place in 1920 after the death of two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, whose body was preserved so perfectly that she’s been dubbed “Sleeping Beauty.”
Not to be confused with the drama series Downton Abbey, Westminster Abbey, once the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster, is a predominant Gothic church in the English city. Dating back to the year 960, the tombs of the abbey are the resting place for dozens of historic figures like Charles Abbot, Henry III, Joseph Addison, Lancelot Andrewes, and Christopher Anstey. The UNESCO World Heritage site has played host to the crowning of kings and royal weddings, dating as recently as the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The lengthy history of the structure has been marked by war and though it sustained damage during World War II, the tombs were undisturbed and they remain a popular tourist spot today.
The Vatican Necropolis
Varying at depths of 16 to 39-feet or 5 to 12-meters below Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Necropolis was discovered after excavations began between 1940 to 1949 and are believed to be dated back to the Imperial age of the Roman Empire. Though open to the public, visits to the Vatican Necropolis, which was believed to have housed the bones of one of the twelve apostles, Saint Peter, are by request only and require approval by the Excavations Office. Once inside, visitors will get to see the temple of Emperor Constantine along with alleged ancient graffiti that is said to read “Peter is Here.”
Qutub Shahi Tombs
Starting in the mid-16th century, a series of domed structures were erected near the Golkonda Fort in Hyderabad, India that would later be used to as a gallery of tombs built in an eclectic mix of Persian, Pashtun, and Hindu styles. The Qutub Shahi Tombs were built in the memory of the lost kings of Golconda and are the final resting spots of Jamshed Quli and his father, Sultan Quli, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah, and Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah. After the reign of the Qutub Shahi rulers, the structure went neglected until Sir Salar Jung II’s rule, when it was restored to their original state.