Jerusalem’s Tomb of the Kings to reopen to public
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Was once believed to be burial spot of Kings David, Solomon

Jerusalem’s Tomb of the Kings to reopen to public

French-owned, Roman-era burial site to allow visitors for first time since 2010; some Jews, considering the tomb holy, have demanded the right to pray there

Ultra-Orthodox men at the closed gate of the Tomb of the Kings, owned and administered by the French Consulate of Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem on January 24, 2019.  (THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Ultra-Orthodox men at the closed gate of the Tomb of the Kings, owned and administered by the French Consulate of Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem on January 24, 2019. (THOMAS COEX / AFP)

The Tomb of the Kings, a 2,000-year-old archaeological gem in the heart of Jerusalem owned by France, is to reopen to the public for the first time since 2010, the French consulate said Wednesday.

The elaborate Roman-era tomb with stone shelves that once held sarcophagi, considered among the largest in the region, will be open on Thursday, and subsequent Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the consulate’s website said.

Visits will be limited to 15 people in 45-minute stretches, the ticket order page said, noting the need for “proper dress” at the Tomb of the Kings, which is a funeral site.

The graves themselves will remain closed to the public for conservation and safety reasons.

One of the several burial chambers of the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The vast site, located in East Jerusalem some 700 meters north of the Old City, is hidden behind a wall with a metal gate marked by a French flag.

It has been closed since 2010 due to renovations costing around a million euros ($1.1 million).

A spokeswoman for the French Consulate General said that in opening the site, France was implementing a decision and a commitment “made a long time ago.”

Some Jews consider the tomb a holy burial site of ancient ancestors and demand the right to pray there.

Excavations of the site began in the 1860s, with Felicien de Saulcy of France taking on the project in 1863 and seeking to confirm it was the tomb of biblical figures King David and Solomon, giving rise to the site’s name.

That theory has been ruled out, but the name has endured.

Several sarcophagi were found inside and are now in the Louvre museum in Paris, including one with an Aramaic inscription.

According to the most commonly accepted theory, it refers to Queen Helena of Adiabene, in today’s Iraqi Kurdistan, and she may have built the tomb for her dynasty.

One of the several burial chambers of the Tomb of the Kings is pictured on December 28, 2018 in East Jerusalem. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

After de Saulcy’s excavation, the tomb was purchased by the Pereire brothers, a Jewish banking family in Paris that would later hand the property over to France.

Israel and France had negotiated the site’s status and reopening, but a French consulate spokeswoman declined to give details.

“We are reopening in accordance with the rules we set for ourselves,” she told AFP.

Israel’s foreign minister welcomed France’s decision to open the tomb.

“(I) invite the public to visit the site, which has great significance to the Jewish people, and is further testimony to the deep and multigenerational connection of the Jewish people to its eternal capital Jerusalem,” Israel Katz said in a statement.

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