The words columbarium and mausoleum are sometimes used interchangeably but both terms actually refer to very distinct memorial structures. The mausoleum (or mausolea in plural) has always been associated with the interment of human remains and the term is derived from the tomb complex of King Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The columbarium on the other hand was initially used in Roman times as nesting niches for pigeons and doves. It only came to be associated with the interment of cremated human remains when Buddhists in ancient Asia started constructing similar structures for such purposes.
Both structures are nowadays utilised as memorial structures but the columbarium is only used to house cremated remains. The mausoleum on the other hand, is designed to house whole bodies in general but can occasionally be designed to accommodate cinerary urns as well. Both columbaria and mausolea can accommodate from a handful of interments in a family setting to hundreds of interments in a shared or public setting. The term mausoleum can also sometimes be used in reference to specific collective burials in an enclosed indoor or outdoor setting as in the case of royalty, wealthy families or famous personalities. In Malaysia, mausoleum interments are generally only reserved for royalty or influential people such illustrious leaders or national heroes.
Some famous examples of mausolea around the world include Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s Great Mausoleum (USA), Frogmore’s Royal Mausoleum (UK), the Pantheon (France), Qianling Mausoleum (China) and Taj Mahal (India). Well known examples of columbaria are the San Francisco Columbarium (USA), True Dragon Tower (Taiwan) and Columbaria of Vigna Codini (Italy).