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The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

Confucianism had a large influence on Joseon society (1932-1910), this included the realm of burials and ancestral worship. This can be seen clearly in the Royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty which have been preserved in time up until today.

East Nine Royal Tombs, Guri. Cultural Heritage Administration

There are a few types of royal tombs that can be split up firstly tombs for kings, their wives, and those posthumously given sovereign titles. Secondly the other members of the royal family. Thirdly, the extended members of the family. There are, in total, 42 tombs for the kings, 13 tombs for the crown princes and their spouses, and 65 tombs for other family members. While Yeonsangun and Gwanghaegun were both Joseon Kings their tombs are included in the last group due to them being dethroned.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The majority of tombs are located in South Korea, predominantly in and around Seoul with the exception of 2 early tombs. The tombs of King Jeongjong, the second monarch of the dynasty, and Queen Sinui, King Taejo the founding monarch’s consort, are located in Gaesoeng, North Korea. This is due to Gaeseong being the capital of the predecessor Goryeo Dynasty and the original capital of Joseon before it was relocated to Hanyang, current day Seoul, South Korea. The 40 remaining tombs for the kings located in Seoul are split into 18 areas and are further divided into three groups, in Seoul, east of Seoul, and west of Seoul. The largest of these is Donggureung, with nine royal tombs in Guri-si, Gyeongsang-do.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The tombs were specifically designed to follow strict Confucian ideas of geomantic philosophy. This included not only a required distance from the capital of between 4-40 kilometers but also being surrounded by specific geographical features. This was so important that both King Sejong and King Hyojong’s tombs were relocated for better fitting locations. The burial sites required a mountainous location as well as a waterfront. They were made up of three areas, the burial area, ceremonial area, and entrance area. The burial mound was the center of the royal tombs. These mounds are usually surrounded by stone guardians depicting the 12 zodiac signs, through the burial area there are other stone carvings including figures of civil offices, military officials, and horses. As for ancestral rites, this occurred in the ceremonial area, between the ceremonial area and entrance area is a red spiked gate. Upon arrival at this gate, the king would dismount from a sedan chair and walk through the gate. He would bow four times towards the mound and then would go to the ceremonial hall. The entrance area was primarily for maintenance of the tomb, with things like the tomb keeper’s house and storage areas. Of course there each tomb is unique and not all follow the expected guidelines. The oldest royal tomb that follows the state guidelines faithfully is Hyeolleung of King Munjong the 5th monarch.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

During the Joseon Dynasty, the reigning king took care of the tombs of the deceased kings and other relatives, holding ancestral rites to worship and respect their ancestors as well as strengthen the legitimacy of the state. Rites are still being held at over 50 royal tombs across Korea each year. This has been organised by the Jeonju Yi Family Association alongside royal family descendants since liberation from Japanese colonialism in1945, continuing a tradition that is now 600 years old. Annual rites for King Taejogn are held at Geonwolleung on June 27th, his death anniversary. These are carefully organised by experts but are open to the public and are a great way to learn about the past.


'Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty: Legacies of Elegance.' National Research Insitute of Cultural Heritage

'Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.'

'Royal Tombs.'

'Joseon Royal Court Culture: Ceremonial and Daily Life.' Shin Myung-ho


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