Monday, August 9, 2010

History comes to life

Royal tombs had long been regarded as venues for school field trips or just places for the dead until they were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year.

Since the UNESCO inscription of some 40 royal tombs of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), the number of visitors to the sites has seen a seven-fold increase.

In addition, after last week’s addition of the Historic Villages of Hahoe and Yangdong to the UNESCO World Heritage list, public attention to local cultural assets is growing faster than ever.

In an effort to link heritage to tourism, the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation under the auspice of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) is running the 2010 World Heritage Visiting Program, “Visit the King” from June to October.

The program consists of six courses connecting the royal palaces and tombs under various themes. It is designed to introduce the intriguing stories behind the cultural assets — palaces and tombs — which have historical significance.

“The project is special in that it is not a simple visit to the sites but a theme-oriented field trip that focuses on the historical characters and incidents by using a story-telling method to promote the related heritage sites to a wider audience,” Ahn Tae-wook, a team manager of the culture and art department of the foundation, said.

“Storytelling is one of the most popular methods in cultural programs these days. It is helpful to understand the very core of Korean culture. Participants will find out about things they have never learned before via schools or textbooks,” he said.

The program targets ordinary people, foreigners and teenagers who are interested in Korean traditional cultural heritage. The tour will be accompanied by a professional guide who will explain the historical background of every site.

Last month, some 30 foreigners took part in the program and visited Changdeok Palace and Geolleung under the theme of King Jeongjo’s filial piety through historical incidents.

“They were amazed not only by the traditional architecture of the royal palaces and facilities at the tombs but also by the philosophy, thoughts and ideology behind the scenes,” said Ahn.

He explained that many of the tombs are in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province so tourists have easy access to the venues.

“The foreign tourists also admire the preserved states of the sites,” he said. “We will expand the programs to include more World Heritage sites for their sustainable development,” he added. The World Heritages in Korea include the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks (1995), Jongmyo Shrine (1995), Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple (1995) the Changdeok Palace Complex (1997), Hwaseong Fortress (1997), Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (2000), Gyeongju Historic Areas (2000), and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Kingdom (2009), Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007) and Historic Villages of Hahoe and Yangdong (2010).

For inquiries about the program, visit or call (02) 3011-2158.

Course 1: Establishment of the Joseon Kingdom — Gyeongbok Palace, Geonwolleung

The course explores the trail of King Taejo (1335-1408), known as Yi Seong-gye, the founder and the first king of the Joseon Kingdom. Gyeongbok Palace was built as the main and largest palace in 1394 by King Taejo and expanded during the reign of King Taejong and King Sejong the Great. The course starts at Heungnyemun (the main entrance gate), and encompasses Geunjeongjeon (the main throne hall), Sajeongjeon (the executive office), Gangnyeongjeon (the King’s quarters) and Gyeonghoeru (the Royal Banquet Hall). Geonwolleung is located in Donggureung, a joint mausoleum that houses nine tombs in Inchang-dong in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. The site consists of Hongsalmun, a red-spiked gate, Jaesil (ritual place), Jeongjagak (a T-shaped shrine), Bigak (a building containing a stone monument, which has the name of the king and the queen engraved on the front and a list of the king’s accomplishments engraved on the back) and Neungsang (burial mound). Unlike other mounds covered with regular grass, its burial mound is covered with eulalia grass as King Taejo had wanted to be laid to rest in his hometown of Hamheung (now a major city in South Hamgyeong Province in North Korea), but ended up being buried in this location instead. In accordance with his wishes, eulalia grass collected from his hometown was planted over his tomb.

Course 2: Re-transfer of the Capital — Changdeok Palace, Heolleung

This course reflects the life of King Taejong, the third ruler of Joseon, also known as Yi Bang-won. As the fifth son of King Taejo, he helped his father to found the kingdom in 1392. King Jeongjong, enthroned by Prince Yi Bang-won moved the capital to Gaegyeong in 1400 but Taejong (Yi Bang-won) soon took over the throne and returned to Hanseong (Seoul) and established Changdeok Palace to strengthen his power. His body was laid to rest together with his wife Queen Wongyeong.

Course 3: From Birth to Death (King Sunjo) — Changgyeong Palace, Illeung, Jongmyo

The second son of King Jeongjo, Sunjo (1790-1834) was born at Changgyeong Palace and was designated Crown Prince in 1800 when Crown Prince Munhyo died young. When his father died later that year, Sunjo succeeded to the throne at a coronation ceremony at Injeongjeon, Changgyeong Palace. Illeung is the tomb of King Sunjo and his wife Queen Sunwon. The king and the queen were laid to rest in Naegok-dong, southern Seoul.
Course 4: Korean Empire (King Gojong) — Deoksu Palace, Hongneung

Deoksu Palace was originally intended to function as a royal villa. At the palace, King Gojong declared himself Emperor of Korea after he made the palace his royal residence in 1897. However, under pressure from Japan, he was forced to sign the Eulsa Protectorate Treaty, and the nation was deprived of its sovereignty. In 1919, Gojong died in Deoksu Palace at the age of 67. Hongneung is the tomb of King Gojong and Empress Myeongseong who was assassinated by the Japanese. When King Gojong died, he was buried together with the already deceased empress.

Course 5: Life of the King (King Sejong) — Gyeongbok Palace, Yeongneung

King Sejong (1397-1450) was arguably the greatest king during the Joseon period. He came to the throne at the age of 22. During his 32-year reign, Korean culture and academics flourished. King Sejong and his wife Queen Soheon (1395-1446) were buried in Yeongneung. This marks the first joint royal tomb of the Joseon era. Yeongneung is currently located in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, but the tomb was originally located in Gwangju. When the tomb was built after Queen Soheon’s death in 1446, it was designed as a joint tomb to be reserved for King Sejong. In 1450, when King Sejong died, he was buried beside her. Later, the site was transferred to its present site, as the original location was believed to not be an auspicious place according to feng shui.

Course 6: Life of the King (King Jeongjo) — Changdeok Palace, Geolleung

King Jeongjo (1752-1800), the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Kingdom, was the son of the ill-fated Crown Prince Sado who was killed by his own father, King Yeongjo. King Jeongjo who had deep sympathy for his father’s death reinstated his father’s reputation and dignity. King Jeongjo’s last wish was to be buried near his father’s tomb in Yungneung. Yungneung and Geolleung were placed side by side in Suwon. Geolleung is also the joint tomb of King Jeongjo and Queen Hyoui (1753-1821).


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