Tombs of the Kings

The Tombs of the Kings (Arabic: "قبور السلاطين") are a collection of rock cut tombs in East Jerusalem, 820 meters north of the Old City "al-Quds" walls in Al-Shaykh Jarrah suburb (Arabic: "حي الشيخ جرّاح").

The grandeur of the site lead to the mistaken belief that the tombs had once been the burial place of the kings of Judah, hence the name Tombs of the Kings, but the tombs are now known to be the tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene or Mesopotamia. Now it is believed that Queen Helena of Adiabene of Mesopotamia was buried there. According to this theory, Queen Helena chose the site to bury her son Isates and others of her dynasty.


The site is just east of the at the junction of Nablus Road and Saladin Street. The gate of the property is marked "Tombeau des Rois".


In 1847 the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem started the excavation in the site. The excavation was then followed in 1863 by French archaeologists, was acquired by Pereire brothers, famous bankers of the Second Empire, who gave to France in 1886 (controversial). The tombs are located underneath a piece of land that has a small stone house on top of it. The house was built by and inhabited by a Muslim family called Irhimeh (Arabic: "ارحيمه") up until mid 1990s, when they have been prevented from going back to Jerusalem due to the oocupation. The tomb was described by the Greek geographer Pausanias as the second most beautiful tomb in the world (after the tomb of Mausolus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world).

Site Description

From the house there is a 9 meter wide staircase (23 steps) that was originally paved and leads to a forecourt. The rain water is collected in baths, which are carved in the steps, and carried via a channel system to the water wells. At the bottom of the stairs there is a stone wall to the left with a gate. This gate leads to a courtyard that was cut from the rock at the same date. The dimensions of this courtyard are roughly 27 meters long from north to south and 25 meters wide from west to east.

The entrance to the tombs is via this courtyard. The tombs are entered via a rock-cut arch (facade) in the western side. The 28-meter facade was crowned with three pyramids, which no longer exist, and decorated with reliefs of grapes, plexus leaves, acorns and fruit, reflecting the Greek architectural style. The architrave was originally supported by two pillars, fragments of which were found in the excavations.

The tombs are arranged on two levels around a central chamber, with four rooms upstairs and three rooms downstairs. The central chamber itself is entered from the courtyard via an antechamber that goes down into a dimly lit maze of chambers. The access from the antechamber to the exterior courtyard could be sealed closed by rolling a round stone across it, and the stone still remains in-situ. In the first century A.D., a "secret mechanism" operated by water pressure moved the stone. Probably a small amount of water pressure activated a system of weights to open the tomb. Two of the eight burial chambers have arcosolia, resting places made of a bench with an arch over it. Some of the arcosolia have triangular niches where oil lamps were placed to give light during the burial process.

The two most common types of tombs in the first century CE are found in this tomb complex. Shaft tombs were long narrow shafts in which the deceased were placed and closed with a stone slab which probably had the name of the occupant inscribed on it. Channels in the center of the shafts were probably carved to drain the water that seeped through the rock.

The tombs are now empty, but previously housed a number of sarcophagus; they were excavated by a French archaeological mission headed by Louis Felicien de Saulcy, who took them back to France. They are exhibited at the Louvre.

Although no kings were buried here, one of the sarcophagi bears an inscription in Hebrew and Syriac identifying the corpse within as that of Queen Sara (Tzara Malchata); this is thought to refer to Helena, the Queen of Adiabene, Ecclesiastical History 2:12</ref> The decorative architecture of the tomb complex is Seleucid, which would fit with this identification.


In 1996, the Jerusalem Festival in East Jerusalem, featuring Arab and international artists, was held at the Tomb of the Kings.

Building Activity

  • Faeq Al-Alaiwat
    Faeq Al-Alaiwat updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via
  • Kiril Pavlov
    Kiril Pavlov updated
    about 6 years ago via
  • Ramprasad Akkisetti
    Ramprasad Akkisetti updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via