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Watch: Israel set to open world's first underground cemetery

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Far below Jerusalem's main cemetery of Har Hamenuchot, a new underground burial site is being built
Far below Jerusalem's main cemetery of Har Hamenuchot, a new underground burial site is being built -
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As an increasingly crowded country, Israel has come up with an innovative solution for burying its dead.

Far below Jerusalem's main cemetery of Har Hamenuchot, which dominates hillsides above the highway leading into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a new underground burial site is being built.

The cemetery covering the hills above is almost at capacity, with nearly a quarter of a million graves. Tel Aviv's Yarkon Cemetery has embraced vertical cemetery structures to accommodate growing demand, but now Israel is looking for solutions below ground.

Workers are completing three years of labour on the massive subterranean necropolis, which will eventually contain 23,000 new graves along nearly a mile (1.6 km) of tunnels, at a cost of €50 million.

The company burrowing into the mountain calls the underground cemetery as the first of its kind in the modern world, and a model that resurrects ancient Jewish burial practices. Land is in short supply in Israel, and both Jewish and Muslim burial customs require interring the dead in the ground and prohibit cremation.

Hananya Shahor, executive director of Hevra Kadisha, the organisation responsible for preparing bodies of Jews for burial according to tradition, explained: "The soul is very holy, is very sacred, and therefore we think that after a long life we have to keep the body, and biology will do whatever it does to the body, but we don't interfere.

"Cremation means the body is not worth anything, and that's not the case, the body [has] worth according to Jewish tradition."