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Raising the Dead: Lack of Space Forces Cemeteries Skywards

At first glance, the multi-tiered jungle of concrete off a major highway does not appear unusual in Petah Tikva, an Israeli city of bland high-rises. But the burgeoning towers are groundbreaking when you consider its future tenants: They will be homes not for the living but rather the dead.

With real estate at a premium, Israel is at the forefront of a global movement building vertical cemeteries in densely populated countries. The reality of relying on finite land resources to cope with the endless stream of the dying has brought about creative solutions.

Dan Balilty / AP

A new vertical section of the Yarkon cemetery in Petah Tikva, Israel. After some initial hesitation, and rabbinical rulings that made the practice kosher, Israel's ultra-Orthodox burial societies have embraced the concept as the most effective Jewish practice in an era when most of the cemeteries in major population centers are packed full.

Dan Balilty / AP

The world's tallest existing cemetery is the 32-story high Memorial Necropole Ecumenica in Santos, Brazil. When completed, it will hold 180,000 bodies.

Andre Penner / AP

An employee cleans the exterior surfaces of crypts at the Necropole Ecumenica Memorial in Santos, Brazil.

Andre Penner / AP

In La Paz, Bolivia, people use cable cars to commute over buildings containing vertically-stacked crypts. Cemetery overcrowding is an issue that resonates around the world, particularly in its most cramped cities and among religions that forbid or discourage cremation.

Enric Marti / AP

Mourners carry a coffin through the crowded National Cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Dieu Nalio Chery / AP

Graves packed tightly together at the Bashoura cemetery for Sunni Muslims in Beirut, Lebanon. The congested city has cemeteries wedged into residential areas, increasingly forcing families to bury several members of the same family in one grave. Available land plots are extremely scarce and what is left is being used by developers to build luxury office towers and apartments.

Hussein Malla / AP

Relatives watch as the bodies of two women are exhumed to free up space for a new burial at a nearly-full San Isidro cemetery in northern Mexico City.

With cemeteries rapidly reaching capacity in one of the world's biggest cities, families are forced to exhume and remove their relatives' remains after a period of several years. Remains unclaimed by relatives may be reburied as unmarked loose bones beneath the fresh grave, or piled with others on exposed altars.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Gravediggers in Mexico City remove unmarked loose bones from the bottom of a grave as they prepare it for a fresh burial, after removing more recent remains from a coffin for delivery to the family.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Buses drive on a road over the Montmartre cemetery in Paris.

Jacques Brinon / AP

Washington Cemetery in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The predominantly Jewish cemetery dates back to the late 1800s and is almost filled to capacity.

Kathy Willens / AP

Headstones packed tightly together in Brooklyn's Washington Cemetery.

Kathy Willens / AP

Cairo's City of the Dead, a slum where half a million people live among tombs.

Hassan Ammar / AP

A new vertical construction at the Yarkon cemetery outside the city of Petah Tikva, Israel.

Versions of stacked cemeteries already exist in some shape or form in many parts of the world, but only in Israel does the phenomenon appear to be part of a government-backed master plan. Aside from those who have already purchased their future plots, individual outdoor graves are no longer offered to the families of the more than 35,000 Israelis who die each year.

"If there is no more room to build homes in Jerusalem, I prefer burying in layers," says Chananya Shahor, manager of the Jerusalem burial society. "God gave us land for living, not for dying."

-- The Associated Press

Dan Balilty / AP