Sunday, June 28, 2009

Royal Joseon Tombs Become UNESCO World Heritage Properties

For its 33rd session (to be finalized tomorrow, June 30), UNESCO added 13 sites to its prestigious World Heritage List*, but put 3 on the Danger list and even removed one, the Dresden Elbe Valley, because a bridge had been built in the middle of the heritage zone in spite of strong warnings issued in 2006.

A clear message to all countries boasting such prestigious properties : big responsibilities come with the honor, so take good care of them or else...

Typically, preserving Korea's newly listed property (its ninth**) will require some organization : it stretches over 1756.9 ha (4251.7 ha including buffer zones), and 18 locations scattered across Seoul, Gyeonggi-do (most notably the Donggureung complex in Guri), and Gangwon-do (1 site).

After Goguryeo Tombs, Gyeongju Tumuli, Jongmyo, and even certain Dolmens, the UNESCO is once more celebrating Korean funeral traditions and rites : an ensemble of over 50 tombs of either Kings and Queens (generally ending in "neung" / 릉), or other members of royal family ("won" / 원), including a royal concubine and a 9 month boy. Some tomb names end in "myo" / 묘, the more generic term for cemeteries and graves.

The obligation to preserve buffer areas beyond the sites is excellent news for the environment and the quality of life around the dead : as the UNESCO pointed out, Joseon Tombs are "typically protected by a hill facing south toward water and layers of mountain ridges in the distance"**. One more argument in favor of
the protection of Seoul mountains !

Excellent news also for certain Districts which struggled to build an identity or to draw tourists (ie Unpyeong-gu, Dobong-gu, Nowon-gu, Seongbuk-gu). Tombs are generally well specified in maps and signs, but most of the people leaving nearby didn't care much about those cultural assets (when there's a really nice park or an elaborate complex, that's a different story). For sure, associations which pushed for the UNESCO recognition will feel less lonely now.

Main Royal Joseon Tombs :

In Gangwon-do (1 site, 1 tomb) :

. 1 in Yeongweol (Yeongwol-gun, Yeongwol-eup, Yeongheung-ri) : one more reason to visit Jangneung King Danjong's Tomb (see "King Danjong and Korea's curse") !

In Seoul (6 sites, 11 tombs) :

. Dobong-gu (1 site, 1 tomb) : Yonsangunmyo in Banghak-dong
. Dongdaemun-gu (0 site, 2 tombs) : Sunginwon and Yeonghwiwon are located on Hongneung-gil in Cheongnyangni-2-dong, but associated with Uireung site in Seongbuk-gu. In the former lies the young Yi Jin (1921-1922), son of King Yeongchin, Korea's last Crown Prince. In the latter, King Gojong's first royal concubine Sunheon - 1854-1911).
. Gangnam-gu (1 site, 2 tombs) : Seonjeongneung in Samseong-dong regroups Jeongneung (King Jeongjong - 1488-1544), and Seollung (Queen Gonghye - 1456-1474).
. Nowon-gu (1 site, 2 tombs) : Taegangneung (Taereung and Gangneung) in Gongneung-dong.
. Seocho-gu (1 site, 2 tombs) : Heoninneung (Heonneung and Inneung) in Naegok-dong.
. Seongbuk-gu (2 sites, 2 tombs) : Uireung includes Uireung itself, the tomb of King Gyeongjong (1688-1724) in Seokgwan-dong, and two tombs located in Dongdaemun-gu. Uireung used to be managed (and not so poorly preserved) by the KCIA. I wonder how the other site, Jeongneung (in Jeongneung-dong), ever managed to get the nod from the UNESCO : it now lies at the feet of Naebu expressway before the Bugak Tunnel leading to Pyeongchang-dong, and this poor place often comes up when I think of peaceful areas ruined by development. Unless... could it be a plot to remove the Naebu overpass ?

In Gyeonggi-do (15 sites, 45 tombs) :

. Gaeseong (2 sites, 2 tombs) : Huneung and Joeneung, respectively in Ryeongjeong-ri and in Sangdo-ri, two villages located in Panmun-gun (Panmun county).
. Gimpo (1 site, 1 tomb) : Jangneung in Gimpo-eup, Pungmu-ri (site different from Paju's Jangneung)
. Goyang (2 sites, 16 tombs, including one in the city of Gwangmyeong) : Seosamreung or the "3 Western graves" (Hwireung, Hyoneung, and Yoeneung, plus Sogyeongwon, Uiryeongwon, Hyochangon and Hwimyo) are all located in Wondang-dong, Deokyang-gu. Seooreung or the "5 Western graves" (Changneung, Gyeongneung, Heungneung, Ikneung, and Myeongneung) are in Yongdu-dong, but the "site" also includes tombs in Wondang-dong (Daebinmyo, Sugyeongwon, and Sunchangwon), and Yeonghoewon in Noonsa-dong, Gwangmyeong... a city on the other side of Seoul.
. Guri (1 site, 9 tombs) : the Donggureung complex in Toegyewon-myeon, Inchang-dong clearly stands out for its shape and significance. It hosts Geonwolleung, the tomb of King Taejo (1335-1408), founder of the Joseon Dynasty, and 8 others (Hyeonneung, Mokneung, Huineung, Sungneung, Hyeneung, Wonneung, Suneung, Gyeongneung).
. Hwaseong (1 site, 2 tombs) : Yoonggeonneung (Yoongneung and Geonneung) in Annyeong-dong.
. Namyangju (4 sites, 8 tombs) : Saneung (in Jingeon-eup, Saneung-ri) owes its name to the "four graves" ("sa neun") it boasts : Saneung itself (tomb of Queen Jeongsun, 1440-1521), Gwanghaegunmyo, Anbinmyo, and Seongmyo. Hongyuneung (Hongneung and Yuneung) is in Gumgeok-dong and Hongseondaewongunmyo in Hwado-eup, Changhyeon-ri. Gwangneung hosts the "bad" King Sejo in Jinjeon-eup, Bupyeong-ri.
. Paju (2 sites, 4 tombs) : Jangneung (different from Gimpo's - this one is in Tanhyeon-myeon, Galhyeon-ri) and Samreung (in Jori-eup, Bongilcheon-ri). As the name suggests, Samreung boasts three tombs : Gongneung, Seunneung, and Yeongneung.
. Yangju (1 site, 1 tomb) : Onneung in Yeoju-gun, Jangheung-myeon, Ilyeong-ri.
. Yeoju (1 site, 2 tombs) : Yeongneung in Neunseo-myeon, Hwangdae-ri consists of Joseon Sejongdaewangneung Yeongneung, tomb of the Great King Sejong (1397-1450) and his wife Queen Soheon, and Joseon Hyojong Yeongneung, tomb of the bellicose King Hyojong (1619-1659).

The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea are working on the best way to cope with this wonderful honor and harmonize the visits. They just opened a specific website (not in English yet but it's a matter of days I guess) :

And of course, don't restrict your visits to UNESCO stars and Joseon royalty. There are tombs all over Seoul, for example in the National Cemetery, or Hyochang Park, and even almost anonymous ones in bits of land clinging to mountains. I even saw one in Sanggye right at the feet of an appartment building. To me, the epitomy of the Seoul tombstone appateu.

SM 2009

* see "13 new sites have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List which lost one site while three were placed on the Danger List" (UNESCO 20090628)

** Korea now owns 9 of the list's 890 properties (8 cultural properties and 1 natural property) :
. 3 since 1995 : Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks (see Seoul Village focus), Jongmyo Shrine, and Seokguram Grotto + Bulguksa Temple
. 2 were added in 1997 :Changdeokgung Palace Complex and Hwaseong Fortress
. 2 in 2000 : Gyeongju Historic Areas and the Dolmen Sites in Gochang, Hwasung and Ganghwa
. 1 in 2007 : Korea's only natural property, Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
. 1 in 2009 : Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

*** UNESCO's description of the property :

The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty (Republic of Korea) form a collection of 40 tombs scattered over 18 locations. Built over five centuries, from 1408 to 1966, the tombs honoured the memory of ancestors, showed respect for their achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and provided protection from vandalism. Spots of outstanding natural beauty were chosen for the tombs which typically have their back protected by a hill as they face south toward water and, ideally, layers of mountain ridges in the distance. Alongside the burial area, the royal tombs feature a ceremonial area and an entrance. In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings that are an integral part of the tombs include a T-shaped wooden shrine, a shed for stele, a royal kitchen and a guards’ house, a red-spiked gate and the tomb keeper’s house. The grounds are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects including figures of people and animals. The inscription of the Joseon Tombs completes the two earlier series of Korean Peninsula royal tombs inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: the Gyeongju Historic Areas, Republic of Korea, and Complex of Koguryo Tombs, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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