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Hypogeum: Map


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Tablinum inside Hypogeum of the Volumni, in the northern end of the crypt
Hypogeum or Hypogaeum (plural hypogea) literally means "underground", from Greek hypo (under) and gaia (earth). It usually refers to an underground, pre-Christian temple or a tombmarker. When Christian underground shrines, crypts and tombs that would be hypogea if the rites and burials were pagan, are called catacombs, a mistaken discontinuity in sepulture practices is implied that is not borne out by the archeology and history. "Like other ambitious Romans, the bishop-saints of the third and fourth centuries were usually buried in hypogea in the cemeteries outside the walls of their cities; often it was only miracles at their tombs that caused their successors to adopt more up-to-date designs. In Dijon the saint and bishop Benignus (d. c. 274) was buried in a large sarcophagus in a chamber tomb in the Roman cemetery. By the sixth century the tomb had long since fallen into disrepair and was regarded as pagan, even by Bishop Gregory of Langres", Werner Jacobsen has observed..

Hypogea will often contain niche for cremated human remains or loculi for buried remains.

Hypogeum can also simply refer to any antique building or part of building built below ground. There was a series of underground tunnels under the Colosseummarker where slaves and animals were kept ready to fight for the gladitorial games. The animals and slaves would be let up through trapdoors under the sand covered arena at any time during a fight.


An early example of a hypogeum is found at the Minoan Bronze Age site of Knossosmarker on Cretemarker. Hogan notes this underground vault was of a beehive shape and cut into the soft rock.

Other subterranean constructions

Other excavated structures, not used for ritual purposes, include the Greco-Roman cryptoporticus, and in other cultures the dugout, souterrain, yaodong and fogou.

See also

The Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum in Paola , Maltamarker, is the oldest example of a prehistoric hypogeum, three levels deep and containing extensive prehistoric art.

External links

Line Notes

  1. James Stevens Curl (2006) A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
  2. Werner Jacobsen, "Saints' Tombs in Frankish Church Architecture" Speculum 72.4 (October 1997:1107-1143) p. 1127.
  3. C. Michael Hogan, Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian (2007)

General references

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