The Resting Places of Kings and Queens - Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

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The Joseon royal tombs are a collection of 40 tombs built from 1408 to 1966 in which 27 generations of Joseon kings and queens are buried. They have been well preserved and demonstrate Confucian values, funerary culture, geomancy, and architecture of the Joseon dynasty. They were selected as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2013.

Tombs played an important role in Joseon society, which was based on Confucianism. Ancestral rituals, which honored the dead, were held multiple times a year. The spirits of the deceased were believed to come back to their tombs during these rituals, and therefore, the tombs needed to be located in auspicious and beautiful locations and maintained in good condition in order to please the spirits. This was more so the case for royal tombs.

The royal tombs are located some distance outside the walls of the Joseon capital, Hanyang, but still within Gyeonggi-do Province (with one exception - the tomb of King Danjong in Yeongwol, Gangwon-do). Their locations were selected based on geomancy – in remote areas with mountains to the back and sides and flowing water to the front. The mound-shaped tombs were located atop a hill and surrounded by trees to protect them from the elements. There are various kinds of tombs styles which were chosen in harmony with the surrounding environment: single tomb (a single mound for a king or queen), twin tomb (king next to queen), triplet tomb (king and two queens), double tomb (king and queen buried in same mound), or “one site, two ridge” with tombs on adjacent hills sharing a ritual house. Each tomb has its own name ending in “-neung” or “-reung,” which means “royal tomb."

A royal tomb has two sections: the burial area and the ritual area. The burial area is located in the back of the complex on a hill, while the ritual area is located in the front, below the hill. The burial area includes the burial mound, a stone platform, a stone lantern, and stone figures of various animals, all surrounded by a low wall in the back and sides. Just below this are two rows of stone statues of civil and military officials and their horses. The ritual area includes a spiked, red entrance gate, a T-shaped ritual house, and various auxiliary buildings. The ritual house has a window along its back wall, through which the burial area can be seen as someone performs a ritual bow.

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References

  • Koehler, Robert. 2011. Joseon's Royal Heritage: 500 Years of Splendor. Seoul Selection. p. 56-71.