Although North Korea is an ancient country with roots going back 4000 years tourists have very little opportunity to see or hear about anything pre-dating the Japanese occupation of the country in the late 19th century. Visits to North Korea focus on the iconography of the modern age, monuments and museums perpetuating the cult of personality of the Kim Dynasty which only dates from 1945, with the ending of the Japanese occupation of the peninsula.
There were a small number of exceptions to this ‘Kim Dynasty focus’ on our trip and one was a visit to the Tomb of King Kongmin (more formally the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb) about 13kms outside Kaesong. The Tomb of King Kongmin, together with a number of other Koryo period relics in North Korea, received a joint UNESCO World Heritage site listing in 2013.
After a pleasant bus ride from Kaesong along winding rural roads surrounded by recently planted rice paddies we reached the tombs of King Kongmin and his good lady wife, Mongolian princess, Queen Noguk, perched on a hillside affording splendid views of Oh My mountain in the distance and into the valley below.
Prior to telling you about the tombs themselves let me digress slightly and tell you a story related to the selection of the King’s future burial spot, the unfortunate chap who proposed it and the naming of the mountain opposite as Oh My.
King Kongmin was having great difficulty finding a suitable location for his tomb and having finally got fed up with his advisers (in one version he had them all killed) failure to locate a suitable site he, out of frustration, struck the ultimate make or break deal with the young hopeful who recommended the very spot where the king now lies.
When the young hopeful found the spot Kongmin decided to climb the mountain opposite to inspect it. Before doing so, he told his soldiers that if he was unhappy with the proposed spot he would wave a white cloth at which point they should behead the young man. Having reached the top of the mountain he was delighted with chosen spot, but it had been an arduous climb and he took out a cloth to wipe the sweat from his brow. Misinterpreting this as the agreed signal to remove the young man’s head, the soldiers duly did so. When the king returned to bestow riches on the young man he found him headless. ‘Oh My!’ he said and thus the mountain became Oh My.
Enough, back to the King and the tombs.
Kongmin was the 31st and one of that last Koryo kings and reigned from 1352 to 1374 (the Koryo period lasted from 918 to 1392).
Following the death of this wife in 1365, King Kongmin designed and had built, in the mound style typical of the era, two beautifully carved granite faced tombs, one for his wife (on the right as your approach the tombs from below) and the other for himself.
On each side of the tombs are 3.3 metre high granite statues of two civil Confucian officials and, on a slightly lower level, two military officers. The civil officials were positioned closer the tomb to advise the king while the military officers are further out and thus better positioned to fend off an attack on the King.
Also scattered around the tomb area are statues of lions (symbol of the king) and sheep (symbol of his Mongolian wife).
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Kaesong, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Koryo Museum – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – North Korea’s win from the Korean War.