||Commemorative architecture, buildings constructed for remembrance, usually of the dead, has been a significant element in the buildings of most settled societies. The complex and often magnificent architecture of tombs, buildings constructed to both commemorate and house the dead, such as the famous pyramids of Gizeh in Egypt, is evidence of the continuing importance of philosophical and religious speculation on death from the earliest times.
The earliest tomb structures bear a close resemblance to contemporary domestic archetypes and it is assumed were conceived of almost literally as houses for the dead. As in many cultures the dead were believed to enter an afterlife, and many such tombs were furnished with the various necessities, either in actual, representational or symbolic form. In many developed cultures, areas were made for continuing ritual.
While tombs and other commemorative architecture come in any number of forms, the characteristic domed tomb of the ancient classical world is significant, for its origins, as it appears to evolve from a basic tumulus, a heap of stones over a grave, to a raised and enclosed round tower, surmounted by a domed roofâ€”the model for many classical, Romanesque and Renaissance tombs.
It should be noted that the survival of tombs from early civilizations is often the greatest source available to the modern world of archaeological information. The spur to commemorate should not be taken as only associated with death. The distinctive triumphal arch of Roman antiquity, the great innovation of Latin architecture, otherwise so much in the shadow of Greek temple architecture, and many other buildings or structures erected to celebrate an event or an individual, have played a significant role in the built environment. The many aspects of commemoration are of course complex, many fine religious buildings in many cultures are erected to commemorate the deity, or holy men or women following a particular religion, many are built to commemorate a loved one or commend their soul to heaven, whereas the commemorative aspects of the patronage of some architecture may be for a far more down to earth desire to perpetuate a family name.
Even in funerary architecture, commemoration could often be called a part-motive, as even the most genuine religious motives are likely to have strong social and political significance, as well as providing the opportunity, throughout history, for the exercise of the skill of craftsman, designer and architect. JM
Further reading James Stevens Curl, The Celebration of Death; , C. Brooks, Mortal Remains.