Essential Architecture-  London

The Cenotaph


Sir Edwin Lutyens






Art Deco


Portland stone


  The Cenotaph, London

The Cenotaph, Auckland, New Zealand

The Cenotaph, Auckland, New Zealand

Memorial Cenotaph, Hiroshima, Japan

Memorial Cenotaph, Hiroshima, Japan

A cenotaph is a tomb or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person that has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek words kenos, one meaning being "empty" and taphos, "tomb".

The Cenotaph, London
Probably the best-known cenotaph in the modern world is the one that stands in Whitehall, London. It was constructed from Portland stone between 1919-1920 by Sir Edwin Lutyens to replace an identical plaster cenotaph erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade, and is a Grade I listed building. It is undecorated save for a carved wreath on each end and the words "The Glorious Dead", chosen by Rudyard Kipling. It is flanked on each side by the various flags of the United Kingdom, representing the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy. Lutyens had wanted stone flags, as used on his later Rochdale cenotaph, but was overruled. The Cenotaph is the site of the annual national service of remembrance held at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to the 11th November (Armistice Day). Uniformed service personnel (excluding fire and ambulance personnel) always salute the Cenotaph as they pass. It was, for example, very noticeably the only salute made by the Royal Horse Artillery driver of Diana, Princess of Wales's funeral carriage during the procession (on this occasion he did not salute even the Queen). There are no horizontals or verticals on the monument - the horizontals are in fact slightly curved and the verticals, a form of Entasis meet at a point about 1000 feet above the ground.

Cenotaphs around the world
Cenotaphs have been erected in many countries around the world since ancient times. It was a common tradition in the ancient world, with many examples built in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and across in Northern Europe (in the shape of Neolithic barrows). The practice is still continued around the world. Lutyens' cenotaph influenced the design of many other war memorials in Britain and the British sectors of the Western Front. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas is often described as a cenotaph. The Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong was erected in memorial of the war dead in World War I. It is also a monument of World War II. It is identical to the Cenotaph in London. A cenotaph in Yale University's Hewitt Quad (or Beinecke Plaza) honors the Men of Yale who died in battle.

The cenotaph concept is by no means confined to Europe. One of the most famous non-European examples is the concrete Memorial Cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Park, designed by Kenzo Tange to commemorate the 200,000 victims of the August 1945 atomic bomb attack.

The Victory Square Cenotaph, located in Victory Square in Vancouver, BC, Canada was built as a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who died in World War I.

Voortrekker Monument from the front

Voortrekker Monument from the front

The Voortrekker Monument stands in Pretoria, South Africa. The two main points of interest in the building are the Historical Frieze and the Cenotaph Hall. The unique marble Historical Frieze is an intrinsic part of the design of the monument and is situated in the Hall of Heroes. The focus point of the monument is the cenotaph. On top of the Hall of Heroes is a dome from where one can view the interior of the monument. It is through an opening in this dome that the sun shines at twelve o'clock on 16 December each year onto the middle of the cenotaph and the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' or Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'. The ray of sunshine symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. December 16 was chosen as it the date in 1838 that the Battle of Blood River was fought.

Chhatris (cenotaphs) in India

View of Chhatri (Cenotaph) of Scindia Rulers at Shivpuri,India
In India, cenotaphs are a basic element of Hindu architecture borrowed from Islam. They are termed chhatris, meaning canopy, and are found throughout the northwestern region of Rajasthan. In the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, chhatris are built on the cremation sites of wealthy or distinguished individuals. Chhatris in Shekhawati may consist of a simple structure of one dome raised by four pillars to a building containing many domes and a basement with several rooms. In some places, the interior of the chhatris is painted in the same manner as the Havelis.

View of Chhatri (Cenotaph) of Scindia Rulers at Shivpuri,India