France re-opens Jerusalem’s Tomb of the Kings

The Tomb of the Kings, a 2,000-year-old burial site in Jerusalem owned by France, re-opened its doors to the public for the first time in nearly a decade on Thursday. Considered a holy place by ultra-Orthodox Jews, its closure has long been a source of tension.

Visitors gathered outside the ancient Tomb of the Kings, just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, on Thursday, hoping to catch a glimpse of an archeological gem whose doors have been shut to the public since 2010.

The site, owned by France, is one of the largest – and considered one of the finest – examples of a Roman-era tomb in the region.

But having been closed to visitors by the French state nine years ago to undergo renovations, it has remained off limits to the public as France and Israel negotiated over the terms of its re-opening.

France had reportedly sought guarantees it will not face legal challenges over ownership of the site and commitments on how visits will be managed.

An important religious site for ultra-Orthodox Jews, who consider it a holy burial site of ancient ancestors, its closure has been a source of tension in the past.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community have in the past gathered at its gates, demanding the right to pray there.

The tomb was bought by a French family after its excavation in 1863, who then handed it over to the French state.

It was originally thought to be the tomb of biblical figures King David and Solomon, from which the site got its name

But it is now thought the tomb was built by Queen Helena of Adiabene in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan to bury members of her dynasty.