KAESÔNG, THE FORMER CAPITAL OF KORYÔ
27 / 02 / 2013. Conference Sites and archaeological material of the ancient capital of Koryŏ, Kaesŏng (DPRK)
by Elizabeth Chabanol, Senior Lecturer at EFEO, Head of the EFEO Center in Seoul, Head of the Archaeological Mission in Kaesŏng.
Kaesŏng is located north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas and about sixty kilometers from Seoul.
The present city is established on the site of the capital of the Koryŏ Kingdom (918-1392). Kaesŏng has been one of the great capitals of Korean history both in terms of its duration, its importance as a political, cultural and commercial center, as well as its monuments.
During the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945) the Governor General of Korea set up an administrative structure responsible for prospecting, archaeological excavations and conservation.
In Kaesŏng, is inaugurated in 1931 a small museum where are exposed objects donated by Japanese collectors and those found on the sites. Since 1987, the former Confucian Academy houses this museum.
Remaining monuments or sites consist of defensive structures of the city, royal tombs or aristocracy, palace sites, monastery sites and settlement sites.
Fortified enclosures consist of several walls. The wall erected at 9rd century has been integrated into the 11rd century in the outer wall. The Inner Wall dates from the 14rd century.
The burials of Koryŏ and aristocracy kings and queens are located around Kaesŏng, outside the walls for reasons related to geomancy.
The first objects found in the tombs show celadons influenced by China. However a celadon bowl, found in an aristocratic tomb, dated before 1159, shows the transition between incision and encrustation techniques.
The main palace, the Manwŏltae, located to the north of the city and protected by its own walls, is the most evocative of the greatness of Koryŏ. Foundations of platforms, stairs and pillar bases are still in place.
Buddhism was the official religion and there would have been 130 monasteries in and around Kaesŏng. Only stone pagodas survive, some of which are preserved in the Koryŏ Museum.
Kaesong has the largest concentration of traditional houses, most of which date back to the end of the Chosŏn period (1392-1910), but scholars believe that the bases of these houses would date from the end of Koryŏ.
Although miraculously escaping the destruction of the Korean War, Kaesong's heritage suffers from neglect. An industrial and tourist area having been created in 2004, the Archeological Mission of Kaesong was born in 2011 in collaboration with the EFEO which aims to clarify the history of urban development of the former capital of the Kingdom of Koryŏ.