The most distinctive of the Royal Tombs is the Urn Tomb, recognisable by the enormous urn on top of the pediment. It was built in about AD 70 for King Malichos II (AD 40–70) or Aretas IV (8 BC–AD 40). The naturally patterned interior of the Urn Tomb measures a vast 18m by 20m.
Part of what makes the Urn Tomb such a grand structure is the flanking Doric portico cut into the rock face on the left of the tomb, and the huge open terrace in front of it – a feature that encouraged its use, according to a Greek inscription inside the tomb, as a cathedral in AD 447. The double layer of vaults was added at a later date by the Byzantines. Look towards the top of the building and you’ll see three inaccessible openings carved between the pillars. These are also tombs, the central one of which still has the closing stone intact, depicting the king dressed in a toga.