Complex of Koguryo Tombs (2004)
Democratic People's Republic of Korea

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The site includes several groups and individual tombs - totalling about 30 individual graves - from the later period of the Koguryo Kingdom, one of the strongest kingdoms in northeast China and half of the Korean peninsula between the 3rd century BC and 7th century AD. 

Korea DPR 2005. View of the complex of Koguryo Tombs. 

The tombs, many with beautiful wall paintings, are almost the only remains of this culture. 

Only about 90 out of more than 10,000 Koguryo tombs discovered in China and Korea so far, have wall paintings. 

Almost half of these tombs are located on this site and they are thought to have been made for the burial of kings, members of the royal family and the aristocracy. 

These paintings offer a unique testimony to daily life of this period. 

  • Korea DPR 2005. View of the complex of Koguryo Tombs. 

The earliest known Korean state was Old Choson, in what is now northwestern Korea and southern Northeast China; it was conquered by the Han Chinese in 108 bc. Thereafter the Chinese set up military outposts in Korea that helped spread Chinese culture and civilization. The first of the three main Korean kingdoms to come in contact with the spreading Chinese influence was Koguryo, which emerged in the 1st century BC in the north. Paekche in the southwest and Silla in the southeast, which emerged in the 3rd and the 4th century AD, respectively, had contact with China as well. 

To a degree these kingdoms accepted Buddhism, Confucianism, and most importantly, Chinese characters as a means of communication and education. Paekche and Silla also had contact with Japan, along with a fourth, smaller kingdom called Kaya, located on the central southern coast. Paekche and Kaya had political and military alliances with Japan; Paekche would later call upon Japan during a war with Silla, but the aid came too late for Paekche to survive. 

Kaya and Japan had particularly close ties, and for many years Japanese historians depicted Kaya as a Japanese-dominated kingdom. Korean scholars have long rejected that view, and most modern historians are divided as to which kingdom, if either, dominated the other. At the time, both the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese islands were divided among several kingdoms and fiefdoms. 

  • Korea DPR 2000. Wall paintings from Koguryu Tombs. 

Korea DPR 2000. Wall paintings from Koguryu Tombs.

Korea DPR 2000. Wall paintings from Koguryu Tombs.

Koguryo was initially the most powerful kingdom, controlling most of the peninsula and Manchuria by the 5th century. 

In the mid-6th century, Silla conquered Kaya and seized the area around what is now Seoul in the Han River valley, while inflicting steady territorial losses on Koguryo and Paekche. By 688 Silla, in alliance with the Chinese Tang (T’ang) dynasty, had conquered first Paekche and then Koguryō, creating the first unified Korean state. 

  • Korea DPR 2000. Wall paintings from Koguryu Tombs. 

Buddhism, which appeared on the peninsula during the 4th century and grew to a powerful force by the 6th century, inspired much of Silla’s intellectual and artistic life. Chinese culture, written language, and political institutions were also extremely influential. Silla’s native culture, however, was the basis for Korean development in this period. By the 10th century a distinctively Korean state was firmly rooted, and despite many later changes and vicissitudes, this Korean polity has endured until modern times.

Sources and links: 

There are no other World Cultural Heritage Properties in Korea (DPR). For more information about this property, please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Korea DPR-section.

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
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