Tombs with a view: 10 of the world's most fascinating mausoleums

From simple megalithic structures to a monumental castle, these are sightseeing landmarks in their own right

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While most humans are buried in unremarkable graves, a rare few are interred inside tombs so magnificent that they attract visitors from around the world.

The final resting places of freedom fighters, banished emperors, revered authors and the unnamed ancestors, these are 10 of the world's most interesting mausoleums.

Sligo, Republic of Ireland

They are 5,000 years old and steeped in mystery. Scattered through hills in the tranquil countryside of County Sligo, in the north of Ireland, are a series of court tombs.

There are dozens of these megalithic mausoleums, which are built into caves, in the complex at Carrowkeel.

After driving up into the Bricklieve Mountains, I parked my car and ascended by foot for half an hour until I had striking, 360-degree views of Sligo’s sprawling green fields.

High up here are piles of stones, each with a single tiny opening. It is not known who is buried within these distinctive burial mounds.

Paris, France

Topped by a giant dome, fronted by towering columns and adorned with marble, the Pantheon is one of Paris’s most photogenic tourist attractions. Its art and architecture commemorate key moments in France's history.

As I walked through its main hall, staring up at its towering ceiling, beneath my feet the basement necropolis houses extraordinary Frenchmen, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame novelist Victor Hugo, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Second World War Resistance hero Jean Pierre Moulin and Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille reading system.

Hong Kong

Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb stood for 2,000 years before slowly becoming encircled by Hong Kong's forest of high rises. It was discovered in 1955 and has been studied ever since by academics trying to identify its occupants. But the mystery lingers.

I got off at Cheung Sha Wan Station, and walked through serene Han Garden to reach the museum that flanks this tomb in the city’s north. Inside the small but informative venue I took in maps, photos, videos and scale models of the tomb, before peering through a window into the small mausoleum.

Seoul, South Korea

At first glance I thought they were just hillocks in Seonjeongneung park, a forested green space in Seoul’s upmarket Gangnam neighbourhood. Then I realised that within those grass-covered mounds lay the tombs of imperial figures from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

This Unesco World Heritage Site contains shrines, ancient statues and the mausoleums of 15th-century King Seongjong, his wife Queen Jeonghyeon and the 16th-century King Jungjong.

Delhi, India

Without Humayun’s Tomb, there would be no Taj Mahal. This colossal, 16th-century necropolis in India’s capital is home to the remains of dozens of leading figures from the Mughal Empire and is one of Delhi’s top tourist attractions.

With its delightful blend of domes, minarets, columns and arches, Humayun’s Tomb helped pioneered the Mughal style of architecture. This was then used to design key structures across the subcontinent, most prominently the Taj Mahal. I actually prefer Humayun’s Tomb, which is less crowded and enhanced by pretty gardens.

Yangon, Myanmar

Curiosity drove me to visit the tomb of one of the most influential men in Indian history, the country's last Muslim Emperor. I wanted to know why such a famous Indian man was buried in Yangon, Myanmar, and how Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar ended up being laid to rest in a small, basic crypt in the basement of a low-profile building.

After visiting the gold, green and white-coloured Dargah of Bahadur Shah Zafar, this mystery was revealed. As Emperor of India’s Mughal Empire, Zafar rebelled against the occupying British, who banished him to Yangon where he died in relative anonymity.

Hanoi, Vietnam

To me, it looked like a modern version of Athens’ revered Parthenon, a hulking stone structure in downtown Hanoi that’s ringed by lofty columns. As I reached Ba Dinh Square, I peered across its wide lawn at this giant mausoleum of the most influential man in the country’s modern history.

Ho Chi Minh was the founding father of Communist Vietnam. In the early 1970s, a few years after he died, work began on this grand monument, which tourists can enter to see his body on display in a glass sarcophagus.

Rabat, Morocco

I did not expect photographing the interior of a tomb to be thrilling. But the Mausoleum of Mohammed V is so layered with intricate and colourful design elements that each image I snapped seemed more remarkable than the last.

The facade of this 1970s tomb for Morocco’s late ruler is decorated with intricate stonework, positioned alongside Hassan Tower and its nest of 200 weathered stone pillars. But it is the interior that is astonishing, its walls cloaked in mesmerising mosaics made from Zellij tiles.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur is so attractive that tourists could easily miss the equally stunning tomb adjacent to it. Called the National Heroes Mausoleum, this open-air tomb is topped by a roof shaped like a giant, white and yellow umbrella.

In the middle of its shimmering, marble floor are four stone coffins that contain the remains of Malaysian political leaders. The green, landscaped garden to its rear adds to the colour and visual appeal of this majestic tomb.

Rome, Italy

Castel Sant'Angelo, a monumental castle that looms over downtown Rome, almost overshadows neighbouring Vatican City. This circular building on the northern bank of the River Tiber was built almost 1,900 years ago as the tomb of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

In the 5th century it was converted into a fortress, and later became a hideaway for popes who escaped there from Vatican City during times of conflict. Now it’s a popular tourist attraction. I was able to explore many sections of this complex, which is now a museum exhibiting ancient artworks and weaponry.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 3:25 PM