Tag Archives: Bible History

Tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene — Now Open . . . but

There is a tomb complex north of the Old City of Jerusalem that is variously called the Tomb of the Kings or the Tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene.  It is owned by the French Government and for many years it has been closed to visitors.  It is now “open,” but visiting times area very restrictive and the interior of the tomb itself is not “open.”  Because of this, I thought I would share a few images of the complex from the 1970’s—when it was more available to the pubic—including the interior.

This is a view looking down into the courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings. Click on image to enlarge and/or download.

Three steps lead up to the monumental entrance of the tomb that is partially preserved. On the top of the tomb entrance, there were originally three pyramids—none of which are preserved.  The courtyard measures 90 x 82 ft. and is carved out of the solid rock. It is about 30 feet deep.

This is the 30-foot wide 23-step staircase that leads down to the courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings. It was carved out of the solid rock.

View inside the Courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings looking southwest.

On the right side of the image, three steps lead up to the monumental entrance of the tomb that is partially preserved. On the top of the tomb entrance, there were originally three pyramids—none of which are preserved.  On the left (south) side note the solid rock wall that separates the Courtyard from the Staircase. The “door” opening on the far left leads to the staircase.

A detail of the small square entrance to the multilevel burial chambers of the Tomb of Queen Helena.

Note especially, the slightly broken rolling stone that was used to cover the entrance to the tomb. Rolling stone tombs are very rare in Israel.  There is a tradition that this tomb would open automatically on a certain day of the year, but this seems very far fetched!  BTW — You have to get down on your hands and knees to enter the tomb at this point—although once in, it is possible to stand erect in some chambers.

A detail of an arched burial bench (arcosolium) found in the chambers of the Tomb of Queen Helena.

This type of burial, plus niches into which bodies were inserted are found in this tomb.  One of the sarcophagi found in the tomb is now in the Louvre in Paris.A detail of the very small interior staircase inside of the Tomb of Queen Helena that leads from one level of the tomb to another.

A detail of the very small interior staircase inside of the Tomb of Queen Helena that leads from one level of the tomb to another.

A detail of the Architrave above the entrance to the Tomb of Helena, Queen of Adiabene.

From top to bottom note: the carved upper portion, the circular wreaths surrounded by Acanthus Leaves and below that, the not-too-well preserved triglyphs and metopes.  Originally, two columns would have supported this Architrave.


For more on the “Opening” of the Tomb, see: “Tomb of Kings Now Open!” in Bible History Daily — Biblical Archaeology Society (June 1, 2020)