Within my city are the royal tombs of Hongneung (홍릉, 洪陵) and Yureung (유릉, 裕陵). These are the burial places of the 26th and 27th monarchs of the Joseon Dynasty. Emperor Gojong (고종황제, 高宗皇帝) who lived from 1852 until 1919 is buried here, as is his son and heir, Emperor Sunjong (순종황제, 純宗皇帝) who lived from 1873 until 1926. Buried with them are their spouses as well. Emperor Gojong is buried next to one of the most fascinating women in all of Korean history, his wife, the Empress Myeongseong. Emperor Sunjong is buried next to his two wives. One died early and he remarried later on.
A while ago, I made a trip to Jeonju to visit the shrine erected in honour of King Taejo, founder of the Joseon dynasty. Typically, Korean shrines for dead monarchs will look like the example below.
In 1897, King Gojong had proclaimed the beginning of the Dae Han, or Great Korean Empire. While his empire had been eclipsed at the time of his death, he and his son were laid to rest in a matter befitting an emperor and not that of a king. And so, their tombs have features that no other Korean royal tombs do. They don’t look like the shrine to King Taejo in Jeonju. Rather, they were modeled on the imperial tombs in China. Flanking either side of the pathway are stone carvings of animals as well as civil and military officials. At the time when they were buried, Korea had become a colony of Japan. Emperor Gojong died in 1919 under suspicious circumstances. Emperor Sunjong was to die a few years later.
This is Hongneung, the tomb of Emperor Gojong. You can see the stone carvings of officials and animals flanking either side of the pathway leading to the shrine where his memorial tablet was kept.
The stone animals are quite large. Here is a sculpture of an elephant as well as one of a military official.
Behind the central building is a large mound. This is where the actual tomb of Emperor Gojong is located. The building itself was used to house the memorial tablet of the king.
There is also a small building containing a large memorial stele in honour of the late emperor. These use deliberately older forms of the Chinese characters, perhaps from the Great Seal Script.
Now we shall take a look at Yureung, tomb of the Emperor Sunjong. He was forced into signing the treaty ceding Korea’s sovereignity to that of Japan. It is said that the actual treaty signing was delayed because the Empress had hid the required seal under her dress. She died in 1966 at Changdeok Palace in Seoul. Upon her death, he was buried here next to her husband.
The statues of the animals and officials is quite a bit more realistic at Yureung rather than at Hongneung.
Like with the tomb of Emperor Gojong, there is a small building off to the side containing a large granite stele in honour of Emperor Sunjong.
Last year, the Joseon Royal Tombs were named UNESCO World Heritage sites. UNESCO names certain places as being of outstanding value to humanity. China, of course, has quite a few UNESCO World Heritage sites. In Europe, you can run across them very easily. The USA has quite a few, too. Many of these are places of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Grand Canyon. However, the list does include Thomas Jefferson’s home of Monticello and the Statue of Liberty too.
Korea is a great country to visit. There are amazing things, such as the Joseon Royal Tombs. However, so many of the national treasures aren’t immediately apparent. You have to do a bit of looking. But often, what you find more than makes up for any difficulty in locating the places in question. In Beijing, the most impressive sites are immediately apparent. In Seoul, it is a bit of a different story. But that does not mean that the treasures of Seoul are any less worthwhile.