All around the globe you’ll find the resting places of the famous and infamous. More than just mere curiousities, their tombs offer us a chance to reminisce on their achievements, while we reconcile the fact that they were human beings just like us. There they lie, in beautifully crafted tombs, rotting away or mumified into eternal slumber. Here is my list of the top ten places to visit rulers who’ve gone to the grand palace in the sky–or maybe to a heated dungeon far below.
10. Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides; Paris, France – Napoleon Bonaparte was a spectacular war strategist, conquering most of Europe during his military career. Some speculate that this need to dominate people originated in his self-esteem issues regarding his less than spectacular stature. His tomb comes in at number ten for a similar reason. Les Invalides, the building in which it is housed, is a wonderful example of French Imperial architecture but it’s beauty overshadows the large but understated sarcophagus where Napoleon’s body lies at rest. If any soul would attempt to come back from the dead to protest this slight, it would be the “Little Corporal”.
9. St. Paul’s Cathedral; London, England – St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by master
architect, Christopher Wren in the seventeenth century, contains the bodies (or what’s left of them) of leaders who’ve caused thedeaths and subjugation of millions of people. Within the marble walls and floors rests over two hundred prime ministers, admirals, and counts who reigned throughout the British Empire. They might not like the fact that now they are the ones being walked all over.
8. Peter and Paul Fortress; St. Petersburg, Russia – All of Russia’s emperors and empresses, from Peter the Great to Nicolas II and his family, are entombed inside the fortress’ cathedral. Lined up side-by-side behind wrought iron fencing, they represent years of court intrigue, outright murder, and horrendous oppression over their own subjects. The remains of the newest occupants, Tzar Nicolas, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children paid the ultimate price for the wrongs of their relatives and were only given their places in the chapel after having been retrieved from their forest graves ninty years after their deaths. Not a very dignified way to enter the afterlife.
7. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India – It was one of history’s greatest love stories, and the beauty
and symmetry of this magnificent building that contain the tombs of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife reminds me of a set from one of Shakespeare’s most romantic plays, Romeo and Juliet. Each day at sunrise and sunset the white marble catches the sun’s rays and magically turns the entire building a golden pink hue under the changing light. Love still lives inside this tomb between the sarcophaguses of the Shah and the love of his life.
6. The Vatican Catacombs, Vatican City – Two thousand years worth of tombs holding
the leaders of the Roman Catholic church are buried deep beneath the seat of one of the most powerful institutions that has ever existed. Money, prestige, power; its what these popes railed against but its also what’s behind the numerous accusations of horrendous criminal acts leveled at them over the centuries, including murder, theft, and even covering up acts of pedophilia. I wonder if there is an actual fight between good and evil down there at night.
5. Westminster Abbey; London, England – With its Gothic towers, arches, and dark alcoves, there are hundreds of shadowy corners where the ghosts of England’s kings and queens could come to life once again. The sarcophaguses of seventeen Medieval rulers’ sleep comfortably all around you, and their marble likenesses continue to intimidate with their stony smiles and hardened hearts. In quiet places you can almost hear the echoes their steely voices demanding the beheadings of wives, the imprisonment of lovers, and the deaths of the condemned.
4. Lenin’s Tomb, The Kremlin; Moscow, Russia – Mummification in the modern age, that’s what you’re seeing inside Lenin’s Tomb. His lifelike appearance is almost translucent as it lies in it’s dark coffin. His head and torso are raised a bit and his hands rest on top as though he’s about to climb out. Tourists file past the Soviet leader under the watchful eyes of Kremlin guards, who ensure that the proper respect is given to the man who freed them from the grip of an uncaring elitist class and delivered them to one of the most feared dictators the world has ever seen. It’s deathly quiet in there. Maybe it’s because Lenin looks ready and able to rise up and personally scold you, with a scratchy but still powerful voice.
3. The tombs of Rumi and the Mevlana Dervishes at the Mevlana Museum & Shrine in Konya, Turkey – Under a green dome, in a low-lit room, lies the sarcophagus of Rumi, the Sufi mystic and poet. On its brocaded shroud verses from the Koran gleam in golden thread. The haunting music of flutes, drums, and a stringed instrument called a Ney fill the cool room. The world of the exotic and unknown lives inside this room and it transports you to an alternate universe where we commune with the spirits as if we’ve known them for an eternity.
2. The Egyptian Collection of Berlin’s Neues Museum – Who knew the long dead rulers of Ancient Egypt would be moving to the cosmopolitan world of Berlin in the mid-nineteenth century, but during the archeology craze that occurred during the last years of the Imperial Age they were excavated from their Egyptian tomb sand shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to a new home in Germany. You can see them, wrapped or partially unwrapped, in their newer glass sarcophaguses inside the Egyptian rooms, still surrounded by their treasures. Their curse seemed to follow them half a century later when, not one but two, German Empires were dramatically defeated inside the nation’s own borders.
1. Xin Zhui (wife of the Marquis of Han), Hunan Provincial Museum; Changsha, China – The body of China’s “Lady Dai”, a two thousand-year old mummy, was so well preserved that when it was found in 1974 a modern-day autopsy was performed. Her skin retains its suppleness and her limbs can still be manipulated even to this day. Her organs, including a set of perfectly pink lungs, were removed and now reside in hermetically sealed jars in a separate room. Obviously, the ancient Egyptians could have learned a few things from the Chinese when perserving their crusty ancestors for the afterlife. So, for this reason, and the permanently gruesome scowl on Lady Dai’s face, Xin Zhui has nabbed the number one spot on this royally creepy list.