Monday, October 26, 2009


Tomb of King Seongjong

On Saturday, I decided visit the Royal Tombs of Seoul, to find out more about the Joseon kings and queens who played such an important role in Korea's history and culture for over 500 years.

I firstly decided to visit the Seonjeongneung Royal Tombs, situated in southern Seoul. Not far from the Gangnam, the area provides a tranquil getaway from the surrounding city.

Seonjeongneung is comprised of the Seolleung tombs and the Jeongneung tomb, which house a total of two kings and one queen from the Joseon period.

Buried in Seolleung is the ninth king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Seongjong(1457-1494). His second wife Queen Jeonghyeonwabghu is also buried here.

He became king in 1469 and ruled until 1494, when he passed away. His first wife, Queen Gonghyewanghu, died when she was 18 and is buried in the north of Seoul.

The tomb itself is a mound situated on top of a hill. Surrounding the tomb are statues of animals including sheep and tigers, as well as those of military personnel. In front of the tomb are two stones called Mangjuseok, which are designed to guide the dead King to his tomb.

At the base of this hill is a shrine where memorial rites would have been performed. The T-shaped structure is common to many tombs of the Joseon era and on the eaves of the roof are carvings of different animals, which are believed to exorcise different spirits.

The Jeongneung Tomb houses the burial mound for King Jungjong(1506-1544). The second son of Seongjong, he is considered to be one of the best kings of the Joseon era for his policies and the economic growth that occurred during his rule. His reign is also notable for political reform and the correcting of mistakes of previous administrations. He was also responsible for the introduction of Hyangyak, a method of self administration that is still practiced by modern Korean government today.

The 11th king of the Joseon Dynasty, he ruled for a total of 38 years from 1506-1544. Originally buried at Goyang in the north of Seoul, he was later moved here by his third wife, Queen Mungjeong.


Tomb of Queen Munjeong

I then decided to go and see the Taenung Royal Tombs in north east Seoul, where Queen Munjeong(1501-1565) is buried.

Queen Munjeong was made queen in 1517, after Janggyeong, Jungjong's second queen, died in 1515 after complications during birth.

Following the death of King Jungjong in 1544, and driven by a desire for political power and control, she murdered her step son King Injong, eight months after he was enthroned.

This allowed her son, Myeongjong, to ascend to the thrown. Too young to govern, Queen Munjeong ruled through him for eight years, a remarkable achievement, considering the discrimination and attitudes towards women that existed in Korean society during this time.

Also a strong supporter of Buddhism, she did many things to help revive it whilst she had political sway.

Throughout the Joseon period, Buddhism was actively discouraged and suppressed by the government in favour of a neo-confucianist doctrine. During this time monks were treated as slaves and were not even allowed to enter the gates of the capital city.

She ordered Bogeunsa Temple to be rebuilt and in 1548 appointed the monk Bo-wu, to oversee its construction. Bo-wu was also installed as the head of the Seon school and under him the official training and selecting of monks in both the Seon and Gyo sects were revived, having previously been abolished in 1507.

In 1565, during the twentieth year of Myeongjong's rein, she died at Changdeokgung Palace. Although she originally wanted to be buried at Jeongneung along with her husband, she was buried here as the land around Jeongneung was low and prone to flooding.

On entering the grounds of the tomb, I passed through some trees and then came to a red gate with a yin-yang symbol on it. From this leading up to the shrine where memorial rites would have been performed, were two pathways. One slightly raised for the queen, whilst the lower one was for living people.

Behind the shrine was a hill with a mound on it containing her tomb. Surrounding the tomb at the top were sculptures of tigers, sheep, horses and military officers that act as guardians for the dead queen. Unfortunately it was impossible to walk to the top as it was fenced off to stop damage to the site, so I had to make so with taking photographs from the bottom of the burial mound.


Donggureung

Then it was onto a bus, for a trip to the Donggureung Royal Tombs. Just east of Seoul, it was the largest of the sites I visited throughout the day. There are total of six kings, nine queens and a posthumously declared king and queen buried here, although only nine of the mounds are visible.

Most famously of all, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910), King Taejo is buried here. His rise to power is an extremely interesting one and helped to shape the Korean nation for centuries to come.

Originally called Yi Song-gye, he served as a general under the Goryeo Dynasty Kings. During the 1370s and 1380s, he became highly respected for forcing out the remaining remnants of Mongol forces, who were present in Korea at the time and for repelling attacks from the Japanese.

In 1388, after disobeying orders to take his forces into Liaodong in China, he marched on the capital, Kaesong. In the bloody battle that ensued, he defeated the armies loyal to King U, led by General Choi Yong and took control of the government.

After some internal struggles, Yi Song-gye claimed the throne. He took the name of Taejo and founded the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, finally bringing an end to the 474-year-old Goryeo Dynasty.

He reigned for six years until 1398, before finally dying in 1408 aged 73. Following his death, the tomb was built by his fifth son King Taejong. Different to other tombs, the statues of the horses stand directly behind, rather than beside those of the civilian and military leaders.

You can see all the photos here.

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