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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Yeonghwiwon-Sunginwon Tomb, Seoul Dongdaemun-gu: Former Royal Tomb of Hongneung, present-day Hongneung Park

Yeonghwiwon Tomb - Tomb of Imperial Consort Empress Sunheon of Yeongwol Uhm Clan
Hongneung was the burial ground of Empress Myeongseong of Yeoheung Min Clan (1851-1895), the first wife of the 25th King of Joseon Dynasty, Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu (1852-1919). In 1919 the queen’s tomb was moved to Geumgok-dong in Namyangju City, Gyeonggi Province. Since then the current site of Hongneung houses the tombs of two royal family members, the King’s consort, Empress Sunheon of Yeongwol Uhm Clan, whose tomb is known as Yeonghwiwon (Hanja: 永徽園), and her grandson Yi Jin (이진/李晉) - son of Imperial Crown Prince Uimin, known as Sunginwon (崇仁園). These two tombs are located at 90 Hongneung Avenue/Hongneungno, Cheongnyangni-dong (204-2 beonji for Yeonghwiwon and 205-beonji for Sunginwon), Seoul Dongdaemun-gu. Apart from its historic significance, the greenery and beautiful surroundings have always attracted people’s interest and it has become a must-see for sightseers.

This site has traditionally always been a burial ground for royal families and was known as Hongneung when the shrine to Empress Myeongseong was established here. In Korean, tombs for kings and queens are traditionally called “neung” and tombs of princes and king’s consorts are called “won”. Today, Hongneung preserves these traditions. It houses Yeonghwiwon, the tomb of Empress Sunheon and Sunginwon, the small tomb of Imperial Hereditary Prince Yi Jin. The little prince died at a tender age of two but his tomb is as regal as any royal tomb should be, and reveals to visitors the love of his parents and of the people towards the young prince at that time. 

Sunginwon Tomb - Tomb of Imperial Hereditary Prince Yi Jin, son of Imperial Crown Prince Uimin
The composition of the two tombs is similar, but Yeonghwiwon is larger than Sunginwon. The first sight when entering the burial grounds is the red gate (the red color denoting holiness). Beyond the red gate is a sacrificial building where the memorial rites were performed. After passing through the thick forest in Sunginwon, visitors encounter a sacred well encircled by low walls, which is used for ancestral rites. The pavilion in front of Yeonghwiwon is a sacrificial site known as “Jungjagak”, constructed in the shape of the Chinese letter 丁 (jeong/정). It also features the exquisitely beautiful traditional paintwork known as “Dancheong”. This traditional Dancheong pattern was favored in every aspect of Korean cultural decorative work, particularly in palaces and temples.

Behind the sacrificial building is the royal tomb. On the eaves of the sacrificial building are stone sculptures called japsang, which are carved into the shapes of animals such as monkeys and are believed to exorcise evil spirits. There is a pavilion next to the sacrificial building where the tombstone is located. The tombstone indicates who lies in the mound. The stone figures guarding the king’s tomb are memorable. A sacrificial building called "jasil" is now used as maintenance office and is worth visiting. The eaves, latticework and wooden floor are so well preserved that visitors can truly get an authentic feeling when walking through the premises. 

Close to the site of the royal tombs there are a couple of unmissable sights, namely the Memorial Museum of King Sejong the Great and the Hongneung Arboretum. Hongneung Arboretum is open to the public at weekends. The museum was established in 1973 to commemorate King Sejong’s great achievements. Yeonghwiwon & Sunginwon boast splendid views in the fall when the leaves change colour. The promenades and the stonewalls of the entrance are beautiful. Its tranquil and pleasant atmosphere attracts many families and the couples.