The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty form a collection of 40 tombs scattered over 18 locations. Built over five centuries, from 1408 to 1966, the tombs honoured the memory of ancestors, showed respect for their achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and provided protection from vandalism. Spots of outstanding natural beauty were chosen for the tombs which typically have their back protected by a hill as they face south toward water and, ideally, layers of mountain ridges in the distance. Alongside the burial area, the royal tombs feature a ceremonial area and an entrance. In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings that are an integral part of the tombs include a T-shaped wooden shrine, a shed for stele, a royal kitchen and a guards’ house, a red-spiked gate and the tomb keeper’s house. The grounds are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects including figures of people and animals. The Joseon Tombs completes the 5,000 year history of royal tombs architecture in the Korean peninsula.
Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
Outstanding Universal Value
The natural surroundings of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, shaped by the principles of pungsu, create a delicate setting for the living tradition of ancestral worship and its associated rites. The royal tombs, with their hierarchical ordering of areas from the profane to the sacred, and their distinctive structures and objects, are an ensemble that resonates with the historic past of the Joseon Dynasty.
Criterion (iii): Within the context of Confucian cultures, the integrated approach of the Royal Tombs of Joseon to nature and the universe has resulted in a distinctive and significant funeral tradition. Through the application of pungsu principles and the retention of the natural landscape, a memorable type of sacred place has been created for the practice of ancestral rituals.
Criterion (iv): The Royal Tombs of Joseon are an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble and landscape that illustrates a significant stage in the development of burial mounds within the context of Korean and East Asian tombs. The royal tombs, in their response to settings and in their unique (and regularized) configuration of buildings, structures and related elements, manifest and reinforce the centuries old tradition and living practice of ancestral worship through a prescribed series of rituals.
Criterion (vi): The Royal Tombs of Joseon are directly associated with a living tradition of ancestral worship through the performance of prescribed rites. During the Joseon period, state ancestral rites were held regularly, and except for periods of political turmoil in the last century, they have been conducted on an annual basis by the Royal Family Organization and the worshipping society for each royal tomb.
Integrity and Authenticity
As a serial nomination, the sites convey a complete understanding of the setting, layout and composition of the Joseon royal tombs. As individual sites, there are minor exceptions represented by part of sites included in the buffer zone. Urban development has affected the sight lines of some of the sites (Seolleung, Heolleung and Uireung), but it appears that urban construction is visible only near the top of certain tombs. Strict legislation now ensures that development within the buffer zones is controlled. Over time, elements of the sites have been repaired, restored and reconstructed. The burial areas have seen the least intervention, while the ceremonial and entrance areas have seen the most, and largely because the use of wood as a building material. The original function has been continued at all sites and a sacred atmosphere has been largely maintained, especially at the less urban sites. Regarding form and design, only a few entrances have been changed; overall, the Royal Tombs of Joseon have marked authenticity.
Management and protection requirements
Extensive legal protection, including traditional protection, exists, and an integrated management system is able to ensure consistency from property to property, including implementing and maintaining efficient measures in conservation initiatives and on-going property maintenance.
The place of tombs, and especially royal tombs, is central to understanding Korean culture. As expressed in the nomination dossier, royal tombs are the final resting places for the royal family, and, as such, the tombs not only indicate the status of the family but become carefully constructed complexes for ancestral worship.
The dolmen, the oldest known tomb in the Korean Peninsula, was built from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. During the Three Kingdoms Period, construction principles were defined for tombs and it was the Silla Kingdom, in particular, that developed the tomb system unique to Korea: a wide hole in the ground, lined with wood, filled with stones and covered by earth (the mound). After the Silla conquered the other kingdoms (with the help of the Chinese), what is called the Unified Silla Period emerged and it was within this period that Korean royal tombs developed unique characteristics, such as stone tigers in four directions, stone tables in front of the burial mound and stone objects with unique features. Royal tombs were built not only on flat land, but on mountains as well.
During the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), royal tombs continued to be built using Unified Silla principles, but they were built between mountain ridges with west to east flowing streams. They included new features as well, such as the watch stone pillar, stone lantern, T-shaped shrine and stele shed. Additionally, stone tigers, lions and sheep surrounded the burial mound.
Construction during the Joseon Dynasty has a degree of consistency, although there are some variations reflecting the wishes of the king or his descendants. Compared to royal tombs built during the Goryeo Dynasty, royal tombs constructed during the Joseon Dynasty were built on hills and divided into three areas, with the upper/burial area having upper, middle and lower platforms.
There are five development phases of the Royal Joseon Tombs:
-In Phase 1, Continuation of Goryeo Kingdom principles, changes are seen in the design of stone lanterns and the use of octagonal stone pillars.
- In Phase 2, Emergence of Joseon principles, the Joseon Dynasty adopted its own funeral system based on The Five Rites of the State (state protocol and etiquette).
-In Phase 3, Emphasis on geomancy principles, some simplification of tombs occurs, i.e. balustrades replace screens and stone chambers are replaced by those with plaster walls.
- In Phase 4, Emergence of realism, the practice of having stone figures of scholars occupy a platform higher than the one for stone figures of soldiers is discontinued and stone figures are reduced to life-size.
- In Phase 5, Transformation to reflect the change in royal title from king to emperor, there is an increase in the number of stone figures and they are placed in new positions at the front of the platforms used for ancestral rites.
In addition to the five development stages, stone objects, in particular, underwent slight changes in size and shape, although the object types and their layout remained unchanged. Four phases of stone objects have been identified.
-First Phase: Early 15th century to middle 15th century. Examples: Geonwolleung of King Taejo (1408) and Changneung of King Yejong (1470). Characteristics: Royal tombs built on hills; stone horses.
- Second Phase: Late 15th century to late 16th century. Examples: Seolleung of King Seongjong (1495) and Gangneung of King Myeongjong (1567). Characteristic: Stone objects increase in size.
-Third Phase: Early 17th century to early 18th century. Examples: Mongneung of King Seonjo (1630) and Uireung of King Gyeongjong (1724). Characteristic: Stone objects become smaller in later years.
- Fourth Phase: Middle 18th century to early 20th century. Examples: Wolleung of King Yeongjo (1776) and Yureung of Emperor Sunjong (1926). Characteristic: Two platforms replace the usual three.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation