The earliest surviving structures recognizable as architecture in western Europe were funerary monuments, dating from three to four thousand years before Christ

Cemetery Types

By Romans times, burial in catacomb walls outside of the city was practiced. The catacombs, containing citizens rich and poor, flanked the main roads leading into town.
Church Burial Grounds
By the 8th and 9th centuries, the external burial laws of antiquity had been abandoned and churchyard burial became the norm. Colonists to the New World brought this tradition; there are many historic churchyard cemeteries in the United States.
Family Cemeteries
Families with farms or large landholdings traditionally set an area aside as a family cemetery. Many of these family cemeteries are all that remain of the original holdings, and communities often have protective ordinances in place to preserve these sites.
Outside the City Limits

As churchyard cemeteries became overcrowded in cities such as London and Paris, cemetery reform took place and new cemeteries, often with above ground tombs, were built outside of the main urban areas. They also brought these practices to newly colonized areas, such as in the early cemeteries of Florida, the above ground cemeteries of New Orleans, and those found throughout the Caribbean.

Europeans found that the reforms, so necessary at home, were absolutely essential in some of the places they settled. European cemeteries in India were large, set apart from churches, and laid out in a spacious fashion. The French in Louisiana found that the climate and death rates were so alarming that cemeteries had to be provided.

The Rural Cemetery Movement

Because of graveyard overcrowding and new sanitation laws, new cemeteries by the 1850s were located on the periphery of cities and towns. These new "cemeteries"—the term now used in place of the earlier "graveyard"—were more formally designed to resemble gardens. Mt. Auburn (Boston, MA 1831), Greenwood (Brooklyn, NY 1835), and Laurel HIll (Philadelphia, PA 1836) are early and notable examples of the Rural Cemetery.

In the course of the nineteenth century the public cemetery was to bring both rich and poor together in a common city or garden of the dead whose galleries and walks, crowded with tombs, constituted a new chapter in the long history of funerary architecture.

Commemorative Cemeteries

Special honorary cemeteries have been established to honor veterans (Gettysburg Cemetery) or political leaders (Congressional Cemetery).

A broader-based commemoration of the anonymous dead through place-event association was promulgated nationally by the creation of Gettysburg in 1863, ushering in the subsequent proliferation of battlefield preservation in America.

For extensive readings on burial architecture, history, and tradition, see the bibliography on Cemeteries & Necrogeography.