What is the Difference Between Necropolis and Cemetery? Explained

Many people are confused about the difference between a necropolis and a cemetery. Are they really the same thing? Is there a big difference between the two? The truth is, there is a distinct difference between these two terms and it relates closely to their historical roots.

In the simplest terms, a cemetery is a type of burial ground where the deceased are interred. This can include graveyards, mausoleums, crematories, and more. On the other hand, a necropolis is a Greek word that literally translates to “city of the dead.” It is a place where the dead are buried, but it is often seen as a more elaborate and intricate resting place.

The key difference between a necropolis and a cemetery is the level of grandeur and complexity involved. Necropolises are often seen as elaborate and ornate, resembling miniature cities for the deceased. They typically contain large mausoleums, statues, and other decorative elements. On the other hand, cemeteries are often simpler in nature, often containing only headstones and markers. But whether you’re visiting a cemetery or a necropolis, both serve as a place where loved ones are honored, remembered, and celebrated.

Origin and Evolution of Burial Sites

Burial sites have been a part of human civilization for millennia and have evolved over time. From the ancient Egyptian pyramids to modern-day cemeteries, burial practices have undergone many changes. The concept of burial sites originated with the belief that the dead needed a place to rest in peace.

Early Burial Sites: In ancient times, burial practices were simple, and bodies were laid to rest in natural places like caves or shallow pits. Often, the dead were buried with food, clothing, and other items they might need in the afterlife. The stone structures of the ancient Egyptians are an excellent example of the evolution of early burial sites. The first Egyptian tombs were simple pits in the sand, but by the time of the pharaohs, they had transitioned to elaborate tombs and pyramids.

  • The Ancient Greeks believed in cremation and usually placed the ashes in urns, which were stored in tombs or buried in the ground.
  • During the Roman era, family mausoleums became popular, and the dead were sometimes buried in mass graves.
  • In Medieval Europe, Christian burial practices involved burying the dead in or near churches or cathedrals, and grave markers became common.

Modern Burial Sites: The concept of the cemetery, as we know it today, started in the early 1800s in Europe and quickly spread to America. The first modern cemeteries were designed to be peaceful places where people could visit and remember their loved ones. Grave markers shifted from simple headstones to elaborate sculptures, and the landscaping of cemeteries became a significant part of the design. Cemeteries were also used for public gatherings, such as Memorial Day celebrations and Fourth of July picnics.

Necropolis vs. Cemetery: The terms necropolis and cemetery are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Necropolis, derived from Greek, means “city of the dead” and typically refers to an ancient burial ground. In contrast, the word cemetery comes from Latin and means “resting place.” Cemeteries are modern burial grounds and were designed to look and feel different from necropolises.

Necropolis Cemetery
Usually located in or near a city Located in peaceful rural areas
Often used for public gatherings, such as festivals or ceremonies Designed to be a quiet and reflective place
Elaborate tomb structures and sculptures Simple grave markers
Can be crowded and chaotic Layout designed for peace and serenity

Today, burial sites continue to evolve with new technology and changing cultural beliefs. Natural burial and cremation are growing in popularity, and new types of burial sites, such as green cemeteries and columbariums, are emerging. Despite these changes, the concept of a final resting place for the dead remains a universal human need.

Necropolis definition and history

The term Necropolis refers to a large ancient burial ground, typically containing tombs and monuments that are clustered together. Derived from the Greek words “nekros” meaning dead and “polis” meaning city, necropolis is often referred to as a “city of the dead”. In ancient civilizations, the necropolis was considered a sacred site where people could honour their deceased loved ones.

The earliest known necropolis is located in Egypt during the Old Kingdom, the city of Memphis. The necropolis was designed to provide a space for the pharaohs to be buried with all the necessary items they would need in the afterlife. This is where the famous pyramids of Giza were built. Other ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans each had their own version of a necropolis as well.

Difference between necropolis and cemetery

  • Necropolis: Necropolis is an ancient burial ground that usually features tombs, chapels, and grand monuments. It is typically associated with the ancient civilizations and often considered a sacred place where the deceased were honoured.
  • Cemetery: A cemetery is typically a modern burial ground where people are laid to rest in the ground. The term cemetery originated from a Greek word meaning “sleeping place”. It is a common place for people who have passed away but does not have a grandiose tomb like a necropolis.

Types of Necropolis

The necropolis can be categorized into several types as follows:

  • Imperial Necropolis – These are built by kings and queens of an empire for their whole family and court. Examples are the Tomb of the Ming Dynasty, Hellenic Necropolis, and Necropolis of Tumulus.
  • Religious necropolis – Constructed by the church or the state religion. Examples are the Catacombs of Rome and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
  • City Necropolis – Built for a city’s entire population, an example is the ancient tombs of Petra.

Necropolis across the world

The necropolis was not limited to only one civilization or culture but was widespread across the globe.

Location Necropolis
Egypt Necropolis of the Pyramids of Giza
Rome, Italy the Catacombs of Rome
Turkey The Necropolis of Caria in Bodrum, Turkey
Mexico The Aztec Necropolis in Mexico
China Tomb of Ming, the Baiyun Mountain & Luofu Mountain Necropolis

The necropolis is not just a burial ground for the ancient people but a glimpse into their culture and tradition. It is a reflection of their love for the deceased and how they honoured and celebrated their lives. Even though the necropolis is a thing of the past, it remains an important part of human history.

Cemetery definition and history

A cemetery is a place where deceased individuals are buried or cremated. It can be a public or private land, which requires permission from the governing authorities to be designated as a cemetery. It serves as the final resting place for the dead where their bodies are interred, or their ashes are kept, often with a headstone or marker that commemorates their identity and legacy.

Historically, the concept of a cemetery dates back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece, where they practiced burying the dead in a necropolis, which consisted of underground tombs or burial chambers meant for the elite or people of higher social classes. The Romans adopted this practice and added it to their culture, providing dedicated spaces for burying the dead, often along the sides of roads outside the city.

  • The word “cemetery” is derived from the Greek word “koimeterion,” which means “a sleeping place.”
  • During the Middle Ages, with the spread of Christianity, churches were the primary sites for the burial of the dead. They maintained graveyards attached to and around the religious buildings.
  • In the 19th century, the development of the rural cemetery movement aimed to separate the dead from the living. Such cemeteries were located outside the cities, in green surroundings, and offered people the opportunity to visit a beautiful park where their dear ones could rest in peace.

In modern times, cemeteries are seen as public places, and the burials are done as a civil service. They often provide additional services like cremation, repatriation, and grief counseling.

A cemetery is a cultural artifact that reflects the societal norms and beliefs of a particular society. Its design, architecture, and symbolism serve as windows to look into the past and provide insight into the worldview of the people who lived then. It is a place that preserves the stories and histories of individuals and communities and helps to remember the value of human life and mortality.

Differences between Necropolis and Cemetery

While necropolis and cemetery are often used interchangeably, these two terms refer to distinct types of burial grounds. Understanding the difference between necropolis and cemetery is important, especially when planning for a burial, as it can affect the burial process, headstone monuments, and other related factors.

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between necropolis and cemetery.


  • A cemetery is usually located within the boundaries of the city, town, or community it serves.
  • A necropolis, on the other hand, is often located outside the city or town limits.

The ancient Greeks used the term “nekros” to describe the dead, and “polis” meaning city. Therefore, the word necropolis means a city of the dead. This term is often used to describe a large burial ground outside of a city or town. In contrast, a cemetery is a smaller burial ground located within the city or town.

Design and Layout

  • A cemetery usually features individual gravesites arranged in rows and sections.
  • A necropolis may feature large, above-ground tombs and monuments, rather than individual gravesites.

Necropolises typically contain elaborate and ornate tombs, and may even have structures built to honor the dead. One of the most famous necropolises is the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris, which features intricate tombstones and monuments for famous people.

Cemeteries, on the other hand, usually consist of individual plots with headstones for each person buried there. The graves are usually arranged in rows and/or sections, making it easier for caretakers to maintain and family members to visit their loved ones easily.


Cemeteries and necropolises also differ in their function:

  • Cemeteries are typically used for burials, with a focus on honoring and remembering individual people and their lives.
  • Necropolises are often seen as more of a memorial to the dead as a whole, rather than individual people. They often have historical or cultural significance.

Cultural Significance

Necropolises often hold cultural, artistic, or historical significance. For example, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt contains tombs of Egypt’s pharaohs, and the Gelati Monastery in Georgia contains the graves of medieval Georgian kings and queens. In contrast, cemeteries are more often associated with individual family members or a community as a whole.

Necropolis Cemetery
Often located outside of the city limits Located within the city/town
Features elaborate, above-ground tombs and monuments Features individual gravesites arranged in rows and sections
Often seen as a memorial to the dead as a whole Focuses on honoring and remembering individual people
Often has cultural, historical, or artistic significance More often associated with individual family members or a community

Overall, the main difference between necropolis and cemetery is that a necropolis is usually a large burial ground, often located outside the city or town limits, and is often designed as a memorial to the dead as a whole, while a cemetery is usually a smaller burial ground, located within the city or town, and is designed to honor and remember individual people.

Similarities between Necropolis and Cemetery

Despite their different origins and meanings, necropolis and cemetery share certain similarities that might confuse some people. Here are some of the similarities:

  • Both are used for burying the dead. Necropolis and cemetery are both designated places where the bodies of the deceased are laid to rest. They serve as the final resting place for the dead and offer reserved space for the memory of the departed.
  • Both are often located in close proximity to residential areas. Necropolis and cemetery are usually situated near residential areas to give families access to the final resting place of their loved ones. This proximity ensures that families and friends can visit or pay their respects to the dead any time they wish.
  • Both offer a sense of closure to the bereaved. Necropolis and cemetery often serve as a place where families and friends can reflect on the lives of their loved ones and find solace in the fact that their remains are resting peacefully in a designated area.

Impact of Religion on Burial Sites

Throughout history, religion has played a significant role in determining how burial sites are used and arranged. Here are some ways in which different religions have impacted burial practices:

  • Christianity: In many Christian traditions, burials take place in cemeteries and often involve rituals such as prayers and eulogies. Many Christian cemeteries have specific areas designated for the graves of members of religious orders or clergy.
  • Islam: Islamic law requires that bodies be buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. Islamic burials involve a simple ritual prayer and washing of the body before it is wrapped in a shroud and buried facing Mecca.
  • Judaism: Jewish burials also take place as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. Jewish cemeteries are often gender-segregated, and graves are typically marked with simple headstones rather than elaborate monuments.

These are just a few examples of how different religions have influenced burial practices around the world. However, the impact of religion on burial sites goes beyond just the rituals and processes involved in burials.

In some cases, religion has also influenced the location and design of burial sites. For example, many ancient cultures believed that the dead should be buried close to their homes or in places of religious significance. This led to the creation of necropolises, which were often located outside the city limits and contained elaborate tombs and mausoleums.

In contrast, many modern cemeteries are designed to be more functional and efficient, with a focus on maximizing the use of space. This is particularly true in urban areas, where land is at a premium. However, even in these cases, religious beliefs and traditions continue to have an impact on how burial sites are arranged and maintained.

Religion Typical Burial Site
Christianity Cemetery
Islam Graveyard
Judaism Cemetery

Overall, religion has played a significant role in shaping burial practices around the world. From the location and design of burial sites to the rituals and processes involved in burials, religious beliefs and traditions continue to have an impact on how we remember and honor the dead.

Cultural differences in burial practices

Throughout time and across different cultures, burial practices have varied greatly. One of the most basic differences is between necropolises and cemeteries. But what exactly sets these two types of burial sites apart from each other?

  • A necropolis is a large, ancient burial site that is often associated with a specific civilization or period. Examples of famous necropolises include the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and the Necropolis of Giza.
  • A cemetery, on the other hand, is a more modern term that refers to a place where people are buried after death. Cemeteries are often smaller in scale and are typically located in or near urban areas.
  • The differences between necropolises and cemeteries can be seen not only in their locations but also in the cultural practices surrounding burial.

Here are some cultural differences in burial practices you may want to know:

Culture Burial Practice
Ancient Egyptians Mummification and burial in elaborate tombs with offerings for the afterlife.
Mexican Celebration of the Day of the Dead, where family members visit gravesites and build altars to honor their deceased loved ones.
Jewish Quick burial without embalming and dressings in a shroud to honor the dead body.

These examples only scratch the surface of the many different ways humans from various cultures approach the end of life. However, they demonstrate that burial practices are not only a reflection of personal beliefs and feelings about death but also a window into the values and traditions of a society as a whole.

What is the Difference Between Necropolis and Cemetery?

Q: What does the term necropolis mean?
A: Necropolis is a term used to describe a large, ancient burial ground or cemetery. It is also used as a synonym for cemetery in some languages.

Q: How does necropolis differ from cemetery?
A: The main difference between necropolis and cemetery is their location and size. Necropolis is typically an ancient burial ground that is larger and more complex than a cemetery. Additionally, necropolis may have tombs and monuments while cemeteries typically have headstones.

Q: Can modern cemeteries be considered necropolises?
A: Despite the fact that necropolis is associated with ancient burial grounds, modern cemeteries can also be referred to as necropolises in some instances. This is because of their size and complexity, which may include mausoleums, crypts, and other structures.

Q: Are there any other differences between necropolis and cemetery?
A: One other key difference between necropolis and cemetery lies in their origins. Necropolises are typically associated with ancient civilizations and their burial practices, while cemeteries are a more modern construct and have developed along with cultural and societal changes over time.

Q: Can necropolis and cemetery be used interchangeably?
A: While necropolis and cemetery can sometimes be used interchangeably, it is important to understand their individual meanings in context. Necropolis typically refers to an ancient burial ground, while cemetery is a more modern construct. It is also worth noting that the use of the term necropolis in modern contexts may carry additional cultural or historical connotations.

Thank You for Reading

In conclusion, while there are some similarities between necropolis and cemetery, they are distinct in terms of size, complexity, age, and cultural context. We hope this article has helped clarify any confusion about the differences between these two terms. Thanks for reading, and visit us again soon for more informative articles.