The Koguryo Dynasty existed from BC 277 to AD 668 in a vast area covering most of the Korean peninsula and northeast China. Due to recent archaeological research and academic studies, much more is now known about Koguryo culture. The most important remains of this rich civilization are fortresses, ruins of palaces and Buddhist temples, and tombs steles. Perhaps the most spectacular example of Koguryo culture can be seen in the tombs and their mural paintings.
According to Koguryo religious beliefs, the soul was immortal and would continue living long after the body died. So the Koguryo people arranged their burial chambers like houses, and decorated their tombs with images of the luxurious life that awaited them after death.
These tombs containing mural paintings can be divided into several categories according to their primary themes:
- Genre painting tombs
- Sasin or Four Holy Animals tombs
- Genre and Sasin tombs
- Tombs with decorative pattern
So far over 10,000 Koguryo tombs have been identified in China and Korea. Among these, some 90 are decorated with wall paintings, 70 of which are located in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. This number is expected to grow, as newly discovered tombs with mural paintings continue to appear.
The complex of Koguryo Tombs was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2004 during the 28th meeting of the World Heritage Committee, held in Suzhou, China.