Tombs of the Sanhedrin

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Tombs of the Sanhedrin (Kivrei HaSanhedrin), also known as the Tombs of the Judges, is an underground complex of 63 rock-cut tombs located in northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria. The popular name of the complex, which has the most magnificently carved pediment of ancient Jerusalem, is due to the fact that the number of burial niches it contains is somewhat close to that of the members of the ancient Jewish supreme court, the Great Sanhedrin, i.e. 71.


Built in the 1st century CE, the tombs are noted for their elaborate design and symmetry. They have been a site for Jewish pilgrimage since the medieval period.

The Sanhedria necropolis covers an area of approximately 10 dunams (1.0 hectare; 2.5 acres). The Tombs of the Sanhedrin are located at the head of the Valley of Jehoshaphat in northwest Jerusalem. They are part of a giant necropolis situated to the north and east of the Old City of Jerusalem and dating to the Second Temple period. Archaeologists have surveyed close to 1,000 burial caves within 3 miles (4.8 km) of the Old City dating to this period.

Graves were most likely placed at great distances from the Old City in order to preserve the special laws of purity incumbent on priests serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. Rock-cut tombs like those of the Tombs of the Sanhedrin were typically commissioned by wealthy Jewish families of the era, with monumental facades carved with floral and geometric motifs.

Religious Significance

circa 25 CE

The Tombs of the Sanhedrin have been a site for Jewish pilgrimage and prayer since the thirteenth century CE. Since medieval times, Jews considered the tombs holy and wouldn't pass by them without stopping to pray there.


circa 25 CE

Facade and the Courtyard
An ancient quarry was reshaped into a forecourt, with the burial caves hewn out of the living rock on one side. The forecourt has rock-hewn benches for the benefit of visitors. An elaborately carved Grecian pediment (inspect) above the large, square entrance is decorated with plant motifs, including acanthus leaves entwined with pomegranates and figs, representative of Judeo-Hellenistic burial art of the 1st century.

After a step, a rock-hewn room open towards the forecourt and walled on the other three sides allows entrance to the central burial chamber. The entrance was originally closed by a stone door and is topped by a small pediment (inspect).

circa 25 CE

The main complex contains four burial chambers on two levels. Inside the main cave-chamber the burial niches are carved in two levels. The largest chamber, just inside the entrance, contains 13 arched loculi (burial niches) arranged on two tiers, one atop the other, with arcosolia dividing the niches into pairs.

Other Tombs

circa 25 CE

Tomb of the Grapes
The Tomb of the Grapes is located about 1.6 miles [2.5 kilometers] north northwest of the Old City of Jerusalem in an open space in a park located between apartment buildings. This tomb consists of a forecourt, a central chamber, three rooms with kokhim (loculi), and a chamber with arcosolia. Greek influence is found throughout this tomb. Its pediment has a beautiful grape design, hence the name "Tomb of Grapes".

circa 25 CE

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