Saturday, August 21, 2010

Royal Tombs of Joseon Kingdom

Hyeolleung of King Munjong, the 5th ruler, Guri, Gyeonggi Province

Joseon Royal Tombs Move to World Heritage

The royal tombs of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) are drawing public attention as they are expected to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage at the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee now in session in Seville, Spain through June 30.

The final review is due for the June 26 to 27 session, and if approved the tombs will become South Korea's ninth UNESCO-designated treasure.

South Korea will have almost all its key remains of the Joseon Kingdom listed as World Heritages when the royal tombs make it past the final procedure, following Jongmyo Shrine (1995) and Changdeok Palace (1997).

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) applied for the registration of the Joseon royal tombs as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2008.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has recommended including the 40 tombs among the total of 42 ― except Jereung and Hureung in North Korea ― on the list.

ICOMOS is known to have highly regarded the site's unique architectural and landscape forms reflecting Confucian and geomantic traditions, as well as the related funereal rituals that have been handed down from those times to th
e present day as a form of intangible cultural heritage.

Value of Royal Tombs as World Heritage

Placed around Seoul, Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces, the Joseon royal tombs had been meticulously preserved by court officials during the kingdom's reign of 519 years.

The 42 royal tombs house 27 generations of the kingdom's kings, queens, and posthumously designated rulers.

``The first and foremost value of the royal tombs is their good preservation for more than five centuries. Such preservation from a single kingdom is a rare case elsewhere in the world,'' Chung Jae-hoon, professor of the Korean National University of Cultural Heritage, said.

He also said the tombs have unique patterns that distinguish them from neighboring nations, such as China and Japan. ``Many Asian cultures were influenced by Chinese culture but the Joseon royal tombs have distinct characteristics in styles and structure, which are not found in China or Japan, although the scales of the tombs are smaller than the grandiose sites in China,'' said Chung.

The professor said that the burial methods were rather influenced by the Silla (57 B.C. - A.D.935) and Goryeo kingdoms (918-1392).

New burial methods were instituted during the Three Kingdoms period, as Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla each developed their respective cultures.

In the advent of the Unified Silla period in the early seventh century, burial mounds were developed with the placement of stone monuments and statues nearby ― different from China where stone sculptures were mostly installed inside the burial mounds, Chung said.

He explained that at the end of the Unified Silla period (10th century), the principles of geomancy (feng shui) were applied to house tombs in mountainous areas with direct sunlight, rich soil and proper drainage.

``The royal tombs of Korea adopted their basic form during the Unified Silla period, which was also used by the Goryeo Kingdom, while the Joseon Kingdom gradually developed its own style and type of royal tombs,'' he said. The professor also added that the tombs show changes in the sculpture patterns and archeological characteristics during the Joseon era.

Chung pointed out that the tomb sites also boast of unique landscapes surrounded by an endless series of mountain ridges for layered protection, security and tranquility.

``In order for the burial mound to enjoy the natural scenery, an ideal site would have an auspicious mountain at its back, with adjacent ridges and a scenic view of the surrounding landscape,'' he said.

The burial mound was housed higher than the T-shaped shrine to show reverence and to distinguish between the sacred and the mundane. This was also designed to help the burial mound look out at the surrounding scenery and improve its access to direct sunlight and adequate drainage.

Chung said that the pathway to a tomb often twists and turns so that visitors cannot directly look at the tomb site to accentuate the solemn nature of sacred ground.

``The sites built under the guiding philosophy of Confucianism and inspired by geomancy boast a unique construction method and landscape architecture,'' said Chung.

Also, the professor said that there are affluent records and archives which offer accurate references to royal burial rituals such as ``Gukjo-oryeui,'' a manual for national courtesy and ceremonies, ``Uigwe,'' a collection of royal protocols and ``Neungji,'' the records of the tombs. These archives show various paintings and records when royal tombs were created, he said.

Structure and Characteristics

The royal tomb sites, spanning an area of some 5,215 hectares (12,880 acres), are placed within a 40-kilometer radius of the former city boundaries of Seoul.

The sites have been regarded as highly sacred ground. Accordingly, they have been preserved intact over the centuries, while today serving as revered green-spaces.

According to the Confucian influences, the structure of a royal tomb consists of four sections each with a separate function, various monuments and characteristics.

An entrance section is for access, and features a red-spike decorated outer gate, ritual shrine, pond area and strip of cleared ground that serves as a firebreak and bridge.

A ritual section served as an area for the spirits of the deceased to meet with the people presiding over ancestral rites. The ritual section has an inner red spiked gate, a path, an area for the preparation of ritual food and T-shaped shrine.

In a transitional area, there is a stone pit for burning the memorial address, a platform for burning sacrificial money, pavilion to install tomb monuments, a stone altar in honor of the mountain god and a pathway to the tomb.

The burial section is sacred ground where the deceased was laid to rest. Only authorized personnel were allowed to enter for specific duties. It includes a burial mound, tiger and ram stone statues, stone platform where the spirit of the deceased could rest, stone pillars, a stone lantern, stone statues of civil and military officials, stone horses and a low wall.

The burial mound is surrounded on three sides by a low wall, around which pine trees are planted to create a kind of enclosed protection for the tomb site. The most essential aspect of a royal tomb is the burial mound, which features a rounded form and is ringed at the base with 12 flat stones, to symbolize the 12 directions, or branches of the earth.

A tomb's T-shaped shrine is designed and built so that the burial mound cannot be seen from the outer gate. This careful placement of the T-shaped shrine seeks to maintain a hierarchical order between the mundane world and the sacred realm, along with a protected enclosure for the deceased's sanctity and tranquility.

Effects of World Heritage

After being listed as a World Heritage, the tombs are expected to serve as good tourism sources.

The registration doesn't change the ownership and control over the assets but they can receive technical and financial aid from the World Heritage Fund.

The royal tombs will be subject to protection and oversight by the international community. 

Korea's UNESCO Heritages 

Currently, South Korea is home to eight local sites registered by UNESCO _ Jongmyo, Joseon's Royal Ancestral Shrine, and the Joseon-era Changdeok Palace in Seoul. Other sites include: Seokguram-Bulguksa and Gyeongju Historic Areas in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province; Tripitaka Koreana at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province;Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province; Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites; and the volcanic Jeju Island and its lava tubes. The royal tombs of the Joseon Kingdom will add to the list. 

As of July, 2008, a total of 878 cultural and natural sites from 141 countries are registered. Italy has the most with 43 while China has 33.

In order to qualify as a World Heritage, a cultural site must possess all of the following (condensed) conditions: 
1. Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius 
2. Exhibit an important interchange of human values 
3. Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization
4. Be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape
5. Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use
6. Be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions.

For the next World Heritage site, the cultural authorities are also pushing to register Gyeongju's Yangdong Village and Andong's Hahoe Village, Korea's representative folk villages whose homes have stood where they are for centuries as UNESCO World Heritage Sites by 2010.

``As the villages retain the old vestiges of Joseon's yangban, or literate noble class, we've applied for designation from the World Heritage,'' Kim Hong-dong, an official of the CHA, said.

ICOMOS will conduct an on-the-spot inspection of the villages in September.

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