The open basilica-columbarium situated within the Central Sofia Cemetery offers a unique glimpse into ancient Roman burial practices. The term “columbarium,” derived from the Latin “Columbarium,” meaning “dovecote” from the word “columba,” refers to burial chambers utilized in Roman times. These chambers housed niches stacked atop one another, specifically designed to accommodate urns following cremation. The term derives from their visual resemblance to dovecotes.
Throughout history, over a hundred columbariums from the 1st century have been discovered in and around Rome. Typically commissioned by affluent individuals, these structures catered to their numerous slaves and freedpeople. They varied in construction, some being low above the ground while others were underground. Within these columbariums, ceramic urns, known as Ollae, found a resting place in niches approximately half a meter in height. Above these niches, marble tiles often bore the names of those interred.
For individuals in Roman society without the financial means to purchase a personal tomb, entrepreneurs constructed columbariums. Here, they could acquire a place for their final resting spot, providing an accessible option for those who couldn’t afford private burial spaces.