[personal profile] niori_1709
One thing I love about Korea is that you can be in a big city (Seoul, in this case). and then BAM! You've stumbled across history. Not just history as in a museum, but real life, breathing (in a manner of speaking), been there for centuries history. It's something that happens so wonderfully often, and a former history major can find bliss. Bliss, in this instance, came in the form of the Seolleung and Jeongneung royal tombs. Old school tombs in Korea aren't stone mausoleums or elaborate buildings. At their core, they're mounds.
You'll find the remains of Korean royalty buried beneath grassy mounds. While these tombs vary based on the time period, the mound part generally stays the same. For the tombs here, they are smaller mounds on top of a tall, flat at the top hill, all of those things covered in grass (incredibly green grass, when I was there). The burial mounds are fairly small, surrounded by a stone fence and guarded by large stone statues all around it. These are the tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.

There are three tombs in this nice little park, located not too far from Gangnam. But before I get into the main attractions, there's another thing or two that deserve a mention. One, of course, is the park I just spoke about. When I say it's nice, I really do mean it. There are a few well trod dirt paths you can take. It's hilly in a number of areas, and there are trees everywhere. It takes maybe an hour (or two, depending on your walking speed) to walk around the park (and I recommend going around, since the tomb structures are at opposite ends of the park). I went in the summer, and everything was wonderfully green (something I really miss, living in a city). I went at a nice, leisurely pace, and tombs aside, it's a great place for a stroll.

On top of the park itself, there's also a smattering of buildings to present how the tombs were run, once upon a time. There's the tomb keepers house, with a 500 year old, beautiful in the summer/spring gingko tree beside it. There's the guard house, because grave robbing is something that happens all over the world and throughout history (and something that fills me with anger and sadness). There's also few other shrines, housing memorial tablet, just outside the tombs themselves. While not a representation of anything ancient, there is a really great history centre right near the entrance. The information is provided in English as well as Korean, and there you can get an excellent English brochure. I really recommend picking one up, since it's always a plus to have historical context when visiting somewhere, partially a UNESCO World Heritage site (which these tombs are).
Now, onto the tombs. There are two tomb areas, though three tombs. In one area is the solitary tomb of a king (and it's an interesting story how he got there, but more on that in a bit), and the other are the tombs of a king and a queen. The first I'm going to talk about is Jeongneung. This is the tomb of King Jungjong, the 11th ruler of the Joseon dynasty. He was a king who ascended to the throne after his older brother was deposed in a coup and one who attempted to bring about reforms in his kingdom based in his belief in Neo-Confucian thought. It didn't end so well, since his top advisors were particularly radical and people don't tend to like radical reforms thrust on them. After his death, Jungjong was buried beside the grave of his second consort, Queen Janggyeong. His third consort Queen Munjeong, however, wasn't going to let that stand, and had his tomb moved to the present day location. Unfortunately for her, this area proved to be a bad choice, given that it had a tendency to flood, and she didn't even get buried beside him after her own death.

There are two main areas for the tomb. The first is the ceremonial area. This is a wide open area, a large field. Like the name implies, this is the area where any ancestral memorial rites (and they are performed, to this day) happen. The area beings with a small stone bridge passing over a small stream. This is the Forbidden Stream Bridge. This bridge is where our world and the spirit meet. It's only natural that the spirit world is important to the area where dead royals are laid to rest and honoured. The stone leads up to a tall, free standing gate. It is two red poles with an almost fence-like top, where the symbol of swirling red, yellow and blue circle graces the top. Passing the bridge means you have entered a place close to the spirit realm, but walking through the gate means you have entered a scared space. When you walk through it, you can almost understand why. There's a feeling, knowing that you have passed into the space of the dead. In a country that honours the dead so thoroughly, that truly means something. Whether the feeling is nothing more than that knowledge, or a bit of spiritual history passing over you, I'll let you decide when you visit yourself.

Once you pass through the gate, there is a long stone path that leads up to the shrine where the actual ceremonies are performed. It's the Worship Road. There are two parts to this road, one slightly higher than the other. There is a reason for this, and for all these two parts serve the same purpose, they are different. The taller of the two paths is for the spirits, and no person was able to take it (to this day, there is a sign telling you to stay off because this is only for the sprits. Why take chances, right?). The lower path was reserved for the king. It's an interesting thing, I think. Most of us think that, in the minds of many people (and in their minds as well, which usually leads to bad things, quite frankly) think that the king is the most important person in any kingdom. We'd assume that he would have the highest honour, that his pathway would be above all the rest. Yet here we see that it's not. For all that he might be highest in the kingdom, the ghosts of the dead and any other spirits that tread there are still given the higher honour. There is one more thing for the spirits, past the stone walkway. At the base of the hill there is a ritual table for the mountain spirit. Mountains are incredibly important for Korea, and part of what determines where things are built is based on mountains. Trying to appease those mountain spirits is also something that is important in Korean history.

Then, you come to the hill that houses the tomb of the king. You can't get to the top of this hill, and actually can't get very close to the hill. This is a tomb you can only see from a distance, which was a bit of a let down, to be honest (the other ones don't have this problem). It's a great view from way back, when you stand back behind the red gate and look out. You see the mound and stone around it, but you can't really make the statues that surround it. They are stone statues of tigers, sheep, military officials and civil officials. Thankfully, this isn't the case of the other tombs.

The Seolleung area is home to two different tombs, one for a queen and one for a king. The first one I got to see was the one for Queen Jeonghyeon. She was this king's third consort (the first one died, the second one was deposed), promoted from concubine and outliving her husband for quite a long time. Sadly, they don't really give a lot of information about the queen at the site, focusing more on the two kings. While this gets an unimpressed look from me (because, argh), there's really not that much written on her, at least that I could find. After visiting and being left unsatisfied, I tried to do my own research, and it was hard to find more than a few basic facts (she is, however, a character in a Korean drama called 'King and I'. It looks a lot like a Korean version of the Tudors, and the focus is more on his second wife. Think of it as Jeonghyeon as Jane Seymour to the second wife's (Lady Yun) Anne Boleyn). Thankfully, you can climb up to this tomb. There is a path up one side, where you can see the burial area. The burial area itself is (obviously) closed off by a fence, because they don't want anyone wandering around. While the angle is a bit awkward (you're looking from a bit of a slant), you can see everything at this tomb. The statues (animals and officials once again) are quite large and weathered with time. The features you can still make out, though some are better preserved than others. You can still see the wear that comes with rock standing outside guarding a queen through the years. Interestingly enough, there is no shrine, gate or walkway here. It doesn't really say anything about it, but I'm left to assume
that those that lead to her husband's counted for her as well. Her mound is smaller as well. Cue another sigh.
Finally, the last tomb belongs to King Seongjong, the 9th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. Seongjong took the throne at age twelve, and he was not trained to be a king. He was the second son of the crown prince, who died. Thanks to some scheming relatives (of course), he ended up taking the throne woefully unprepared. Seongjong couldn't start ruling on his own until he was twenty, so he devoted that time to learning how to be a king. He was a spectacular student, causing some to worry he studied too much and it was going to effect his health. He also came to love poetry, and was quite the poet himself. It all worked out in the end, because Korea enjoyed prosperity and peace under his rule. The Grand Code of State Administration (Gyeonggukdaejeon) was completed under him, and it became the main statute of the dynasty. Seongjong was a great king, and remained one until his death at age thirty-seven.

Like the queen, you can climb up to the side of the burial area. It's still cordoned off, but you can get closer than the other tomb, and it's at a better angle to see. The fence around the area is taller and in the traditional Korean style, and there seem to be more statues here. It looks much the same as the tomb of the other king, though it's still very cool to see. Another plus is the wonderful view. You turn around, and you're looking out towards the city. Over the tops of green trees, you see tall silver and black building rising into the sky. It's one of the juxtapositions that I love so much about Seoul- the way the natural and the city smooshed together. That was the last look I really had of the park, before I went home. It was an awesome look to end the day with.



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