Royal Tombs Offer Majestic StillnessIf you watch television for about a week in Korea, you will probably notice that there is at least one Korean historical drama on the air every evening. These days, television dramas reviving the lives of royal figures are more popular than ever. For instance, "Women Who Rule Over the World" ("Yeoin Cheonha") and "The Last Empress" ("Myeongseong Hwanghu") are both series based on the stories of two famous queens of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), and are grabbing the attention of Korean viewers by featuring some first-rate stars and offering visual pleasures such as fancy traditional costumes. In spite of the popularity of these dramas, many people do not know that the tombs of those queens are in and nearby Seoul.
In Hongneung, in Namyangju city, Kyonggi province, lies the tomb of Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong. The tomb, however, does not contain the empress's body since her body has been missing she was assassinated by the Japanese in 1895. It is assumed that after the empress was murdered, her body was removed from the palace and burned. Two years later, her funeral was finally held and an empty coffin, except for a few finger bones that had been recovered, was placed in the tomb in Hongneung in Seoul. Her tomb was moved to its current location of Hongneung in Namyangju city in 1919 when her husband, the Emperor Gojong died and was buried there.
Hongneung is probably the most magnificent among the royal tombs of the Choson Dynasty. Unlike other royal tombs that only have a few stone sculptures around a grave mound, Hongneung has many stone sculptures on both sides of its entrance, called the road of spirit (sindo). In Hongneng, there is also a huge shrine, which is uncommon in other royal tombs. Building a shrine of such a big size was an attempt to imitate the tomb of a Chinese emperor. "It is odd that a tomb built at the fall of the dynasty looks the most splendid," said Oh Hyo-seok, the manager of Hongneung.
The Mongolian Cultural Village is a popular tourist attraction near to Hongneung. Here, you can watch interesting exhibitions of Mongolian traditional garments and musical instruments or stay a night at a ger, the traditional dwelling of nomads, and experience the life of nomadic herdsmen. There are a few gers available for rental in the village. For more information, call 031-592-0088.
If you are a movie fan, Seoul Cinema Complex is a must to visit. The complex, located at about a half-hour drive from Hongneung, is full of intriguing sets used in filming, including the set of the DMZ built for the hit Korean movie, "Joint Security Area." You can also watch a free movie there. Seoul Cinema Complex is closed on Mondays. Admission to the complex costs 3,000 won ($2.30)for adults and 2,000 won for children. For more information, call 031-579-0600.
Queen Munjeong, the third wife of King Jungjong is buried in Taereung, located in Nowon-gu, Seoul. The queen, well known for her eight-year reign, is the heroine of "Women Who Rule over the World, " a drama that deals with the power struggles among King Jungjong's ladies in the early 16th century. Quite contrary to the glamorous depiction of the Queen Munjeong's life in the drama, her tomb looks rather simple. "After watching the tomb, I realized how vain it is to simply struggle for power," one visitor said. The queen who once had the whole country at her feet was buried alone, even though she wished to be interred with her husband. In fact, she even moved her husband's tomb to a new location (in what is now Samseong-dong, Seoul) in an attempt to separate her husband's body from the body of Queen Janggyeong, the second wife.
Passing through the main gate of Taereung and walking about two to three minutes along the path between the pine trees, you will find a gate of spirit (sinmun), a T-shaped shrine for a royal tomb (jeongja-gak) and a grave mound (bongbun). The place is so quiet and secluded that it is hard to believe that the tomb is located in the middle of a bustling city. Visitors are not allowed to approach close to the grave mound, but they can get a good view of the grave from a spot near the T-shrine.
Also within Taereung is Gangreung, the tomb of King Myeongjong and the Queen Insun, the son and the daughter-in-law of the Queen Munjeong. Gangreung, however, is closed to public viewing for preservation.
The Korea Military Academy, located about a 10-minute-walk from Taereung, is also a fun place to visit. On weekends or holidays, the academy offers a tour of the campus, including a visit to its museum, memorial hall and military weapons exhibition hall. The tour starts at the information center located at the back gate of the campus at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and lasts for about one-and-a-half hours. Admission costs 2,000 won for adults and 1,000 won for students. For more information about the tour, call 02-976-6454.
If you are up for something more exciting, try skeet shooting at the range at Taereung Green Hill. You can rent a rifle and the necessary equipment at the range. The cost is28,000 won, which includes a rental fee to shoot 25 rounds. Lessons are available for beginners.
To visit Taereung, take subway line No. 6 to Hwarangdae station, No. 7 to Taereung station or No. 1 to Seokgye station and transfer to a local bus for about a 10 minute ride to the tomb site. There is also some free parking available for visitors in front of the tomb site. Admission costs between 200 and 400 won. Taereung is closed on Mondays.
by Kim Young-hoon