Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refers to a grave in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified. Following the First World War, a movement arose to commemorate these soldiers with a single tomb, containing the body of one such unidentified soldier.

During the First World War, the British and French armies jointly decided to bury soldiers themselves in the form normally associated with religion. In Britain, under the Imperial War Graves Commission, Reverend David Railton had seen a grave marked by a rough cross while serving in the British Army as a chaplain on the Western Front, which bore the pencil-written legend "An Unknown British Soldier". He suggested (together with the French in their own country) the creation at a national level of a symbolic funeral and burial of an "Unknown Warrior", proposing that the grave should in Britain include a national monument in the form of what is usually, but not in this particular case, a headstone. The idea received the support of the Dean of Westminster and later from King George V, responding to a wave of public support. At the same time, there was a similar undertaking in France, where the idea was debated and agreed upon in Parliament.

The United Kingdom and France conducted services connected with their 'monumental' graves (as presumably newly conceived, and in any case approved, by their respective armies) on Armistice Day 1920 (the burial itself taking place later in January of the following year in France). In Britain, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was created at Westminster Abbey, while in France La tombe du soldat inconnu was placed in the Arc de Triomphe. The idea of a symbolic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier then spread to other countries. In 1921, tombs were unveiled in the United States, Portugal and Italy. Since then, other nations have followed the practice and installed their own tombs. In the United States, further tombs have subsequently been created in order to represent different wars seen as key in its history. In Ukraine, a second tomb was unveiled to commemorate The Unknown Sailor.

The tombs typically contain the remains of a dead soldier who is unidentified (or "known but to God" as the stone is sometimes inscribed) and thought to be impossible ever to identify, so that he might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell. The anonymity of the entombed soldier is key to the symbolism of the monument: since his or her identity is unknown, it could theoretically be the tomb of anyone who fell in service of the nation in question, and therefore serves as a monument to all of their sacrifices. Much work goes into trying to find a certain soldier, and to verify that it is indeed one of the relevant nation's soldiers.

National examples

Countries Location Image Description
Argentina Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Independence
Australia Australian War Memorial in Canberra The tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Austria Heldenplatz in Vienna
Belgium Colonnade of the Congress in Brussels The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the location.
Bolivia Monumento al Soldado Desconocido in La Paz The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, center piece of the location.
Brazil Monument to the Pracinhas in Rio de Janeiro The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the platform of the location.
Bulgaria Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Sofia
Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Haskovo
Canada Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial, Confederation Square in Ottawa
Chile General Manuel Baquedano Square in Santiago Contains the remains of a soldier who died in 1881 during the War of the Pacific.
Plaza de la Cuidadania (Citizenship Square), Santiago de Chile Contains the remains of a soldier found in Zig Zag, Perú. Died in 1881 during the War of the Pacific.
Cripta del Morro de Arica (Rock of Arica Crypt), Arica Contains the remains of a soldier found in 1998. Died during the War of the Pacific.
Czech Republic National Memorial on Vítkov Hill in Prague contains remains of a soldier fallen at the Battle of Zborov as a part of a larger memorial to all Czechoslovak soldiers
Egypt Unknown Soldier Memorial in Cairo Also includes the tomb of President Anwar Sadat.
Estonia Cemetery of the Estonian Defence Forces in Tallinn
Finland Hietaniemi cemetery in Helsinki In the centre of the military cemetery are the tombs of the unknown soldier and Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim.
France Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Germany Unter den Linden, Berlin Within a 19th century guardhouse, the Neue Wache
Greece Monument of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagma Square in Athens
  • Two quotations by Thucydides, from Pericles' Funeral Oration, are inscribed on the retaining wall: Μία κλίνη κενὴ φέρεται ἐστρωμένη τῶν ἀφανῶν ("... and one bed is carried empty, made for the unknown ones"), and Ἀνδρῶν ἐπιφανῶν πᾶσα γῆ τάφος ("For eminent men, every place is (worthy) burial ground"). The inscriptions flank a central sculpture in low relief, depicting a dying hoplite.
  • The monument is guarded round the clock by the Evzones of the Presidential Guard.
Hungary Heroes' Square in Budapest
India India Gate, New Delhi Burning in a shrine under the arch of India Gate since 1971 is the Amar Jawan Jyoti (the flame of the immortal soldier) which marks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The shrine itself is a black marble cenotaph with a rifle placed on its barrel, crested by a soldier's helmet. Each face of the cenotaph has inscribed in gold the words "Amar Jawan" (Immortal Warrior) in the Hindi language.
Indonesia The Pandu war cemetery at Bandung The Field of Honor is a memorial to the unknown soldier. There is also the Tomb of the Unknown (Dutch) Sailor in Kembang Kuning war cemetery in Surabaya.
Iraq The Monument to the Unknown Soldier, Baghdad
Israel Garden of the Missing Soldiers in Mount Herzl, Jerusalem initially called "Unknown Soldier Monument" that became section of IDF soldiers whose place of burial is unknown. before 2004 the garden was a ceremonies plaza for the Israeli unknown soldiers. a new memorial to the Unknown Soldier planned to open in the National Memorial Hall that will be open in 2013 nearby.
Italy Piazza Venezia in Rome The Tomb of the Milite Ignoto in the Altare della Patria (Vittoriano)
Japan Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo
Ryozen Kannon in Kyoto
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the World in Ogose, Saitama
Dai Heiwa Kinen Tō in Tondabayashi, Osaka
Lithuania Vienybės Square in Kaunas Tomb of Nežinomas kareivis, with remains of soldier who died in fights against Bolsheviks in 1919.
Malaysia Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur Completed in 1966 to commemorate combatants who fought against Japanese occupation of pre-independence Malaysia in World War II and the Malayan National Liberation Army insurgency during the Malayan Emergency. Also includes a pre-independence cenotaph, which was shifted from its original location closer to the old town of Kuala Lumpur, commemorating the war dead of World War I, World War II and the Malayan Emergency.
Namibia Heroes' Acre in Windhoek The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier contains soil from Cassinga and Oshatotwa from the Namibian War of Independence.
New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, National War Memorial in Wellington
Peru Plaza Bolivar in Lima Contains the remains of a soldier who died in 1881 during the War of the Pacific.
Philippines Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes) in Manila Contains the remains of the Philippine soldiers who have joined the military and some in the war.
Shrine of Valour in Bataan
Poland Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Marshall Józef Piłsudski Square in Warsaw Constructed as the arcade of Saxon Palace, which was destroyed in 1944. Contains the remains of a soldier who died between 1918 and 1920.
Portugal Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Monastery of Batalha
Romania Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Carol Park in Bucharest
Russia Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Alexander Garden in Moscow
Serbia Monument to the Unknown Hero on Mt. Avala near Belgrade
Slovenia Monument to the Unknown French Soldier, French Revolution Square in Ljubljana
Somalia Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mogadishu City Centre. A monument erected in honour of the Somali men and women who died in defense of the Somali Republic. It's popularly known as Daljirka Dahsoon, and its an important landmark in Mogadishu.
Spain Monumento a los Caidos por España, Plaza de la Lealtad in Madrid Popularly known as the Obelisco ("Obelisk"), it is built on the same place where General Joachim Murat ordered the execution of numerous Spaniards after the Dos de Mayo Uprising of 1808. Originally inaugurated on May 2, 1840, it was re-inaugurated on November 22, 1985, by King Juan Carlos I as a remembrance to all those who gave their life for Spain. An eternal flame fuelled by gas has been constantly burning on the front of the monument.
Syria Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Damascus
Turkey Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial on Gallipoli Erected for the unknown martyrs of the Çanakkale Front, which was the arena for the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I. Opened on 20 August 1960. Another monument at the same site is for the foreign soldiers (mostly Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) lost in the same clash.
Ukraine Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Dnieper Park in Kiev
Monument to the Unknown Sailor, Shevchenko Park in Odessa
United Kingdom Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey in London
United States Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia
Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, Washington Square in Philadelphia
Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi
Venezuela Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Carabobo Field, Carabobo