Location: Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do Province, South Korea
Visited: October 3, 2011
Opinion and Background:
This was definitely more interesting to me than it would be to the average person who doesn’t really know Korean history (or lived in Korea for that matter). I must note that this is a bit of a cheat. The UNESCO inscription includes all 40 tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, scattered all over Korea in 18 different sites. While I have visited other Joseon tombs, I decided to review only this site that includes three tombs because:
a) It contains the most important king in Korean history (Sejong the Great).
b) It is easier to give an assessment about something that is in a single location.
c) It is the best of the Joseon Tombs that I have visited.
The tombs are very well kept and the entrance is full of replicas of accomplishments by King Sejong. However, most of the things displayed are not originals, as they have been lost by repeated Japanese invasions. In addition, considering that King Sejong is THE most important historical figure in Korean history, I expected this site would have more, grandeur.
King Sejong was born in 1397 and became king in 1418. During his 32 year reign, he improved many things in Korea (called “Joseon” at the time), both technologically and culturally. Technologically, he improved Korean knowledge of the stars, weaponry, and weather analysis. Culturally, he called for the caring of all Koreans, rich or poor, and expanded the idea of respecting ones elders. He is however, mostly remembered as the inventor (along with many scholars) of “Hangeul” the Korean alphabet. This phonetic and simple system broke away from the old Chinese script (“Hanja”) and made it easy for less educated Koreans to become literate.
King Hyojong the Great rose to power in 1619 and is mostly noted for solidifying Korea as both a military and economic power. He introduced a system of currency to replace the bartering system. He also fortified Korea with a vast network of fortresses with trained soldiers to combat the belligerent Qing (Manchu) Dynasty of China.
1) Completeness and Originality (14/15): Given how many times the Japanese have invaded, it is a minor miracle that all 43 tombs remain. Furthermore, 40 of the 43 are in South Korea.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (4/15): It is difficult to grade this as it has multiple locations. Most tombs look almost exactly the best and can be viewed in about an hour or 90 minutes. To see them all would take at least a week, but unless you have no job and live in Seoul, just pick one or two.
3) Cultural Significance (9/25): The Korean people owe their entire language and its relative ease (compared to Chinese script) to this single man. Unfortunately, as great as Sejong was, the scope of this doesn’t expand to a global scale. Nonetheless, it is amazing such a site survived given Korea’s history.
4) Personal Impact (3/15): Maybe I expected too much. It is definitely worth a look, but there is a reason I have yet to meet a Korean who knows of this site. It is nice and peaceful, like a desolate park.
5) Logistics (7/10): It was pretty cheap at 3000 Won (<3 USD). However, buses stop before the site even closes. This is highly unusual in Korea for a bus to end services before 5PM. Furthermore, no cabs are available because it is so out of the way. I had to walk back from the site to the bus station in Yeoju, which took more than an hour. Despite this being bad timing in my part, getting to Yeoju is done by bus only (from Seoul), few people in town speak any English at all, and the site itself is not that popular (so you can’t “follow the crowd”). In fairness however, these are much harder to get to places in the world. [Based on King Sejong’s Tomb. Other tombs are much easier to reach.]
6) Uniqueness (2/20): Looks like pretty much any common person’s tomb on a mountain. I know it is part of the culture, but expected something more grandiose for a king.
Combined Score: 39/100
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Related Articles / Useful Links on this Sites:
Related Articles / Useful Links on other Sites:
1) Official Korean tourism site (best resource)
3) Google Map