France reopens ancient Jerusalem tomb of 'Kings David and Solomon'

Almost Heaven

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Visitors are not allowed to descend into the tomb itself and can only visit the exterior

An ancient tomb in Jerusalem prized for its archaeological and religious importance was reopened for visits Thursday by France, which owns it, after a dispute over access scuttled an earlier attempt.

The site known as the Tomb of the Kings in east Jerusalem can now be visited during set hours twice per week, but visitors must pre-register online and pay a 10-shekel fee ($3, 2.50 euros), the French consulate said.

Around 30 people -- the most allowed at one time due to the sensitivity of the site -- visited when the gates opened on Thursday morning, mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews who wanted to pray inside.

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe the tomb is the ancient burial site for Israel's great biblical kings, David and Solomon.

France had attempted to open the site to visitors in June after having kept it closed since 2010, but shuttered it again after a group of more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox tried to enter and pray despite not having signed up as requested, shoving toward the gate.

Before reopening the site, France sought guarantees from Israel it would not face legal challenges as well as commitments on how visits would be managed.

Visitors are not allowed to descend into the tomb itself and can only visit the exterior, which includes ritual baths and an ancient frieze above its entry. It remains unclear if the site will consistently remain open due to religious sensitivities from Jewish and Palestinian residents in the area.


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Times of Israel excerpt ....
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.
In 1847, the Turkish governor ordered a search for treasures in the tomb but none were found. In 1863, the French archaeologist Felicien de Saulcy was given permission to excavate the tomb. The German architect Conrad Schick drew up a map of the site. De Saulcy found sarcophagi, one of which was inscribed with a Hebrew inscription, “Queen Tzaddah.” He believed this was the sarcophagus of the wife of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.[6]

After human bones were found, the Jewish community appealed to Sir Moses Montefiore to persuade the Ottomans to halt the excavations. De Saulcy smuggled out some of his findings, which are now in the Louvre in Paris.[7]

In 1864, the French-Jewish banker Isaac Péreire attempted to purchase the site but without success. In the 1870s, a French Jewish woman, Amalya Bertrand, paid 30,000 francs for it. It was registered as French property under the trusteeship of the French consul. Bertrand declared: “I am of the firm opinion that this property, the field and the burial cave of the kings, will become the land in perpetuity of the Jewish community, to be preserved from desecration and abomination, and will never again be damaged by foreigners.”[8]She had a wall and guard post built around the site. In 1886, Bertrand's heirs gifted it to the French government