WHS: Complex of Koguryo Tombs, DPRK

After visiting the DMZ and the monuments of Kaesong, our next destination was most definitely off the normal tourist trips in North Korea; a day out around Pyongyang to check out North Korea’s other inscribed World Heritage Site, the

Complex of Koguryo Tombs

Kangso Three Tombs


Koguryo was one of the strongest kingdoms in northeast China and half of the Korean peninsula between the 3rd century BC and the 7th century AD. The best known cultural heritage remains of this kingdom are the tombs, built of stone and covered by stone or earthen mounds. These tombs, from the middle period of the kingdom, many with beautiful wall paintings, are the representative remains of this culture.

About 100 out of more than 10,000 Koguryo tombs discovered in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China to date are decorated with wall paintings, some 80 of which are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Among the Koguryo tombs identified in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 63 individual tombs including 16 tombs with wall paintings are included in the inscribed property.

The Complex of Koguryo Tombs is a serial property and includes several groups and individual tombs situated mainly at the foot of mountains and some in villages. Located in Pyongyang and surrounding provinces, the tombs are thought to have been made for the burial of kings, members of the royal family and the aristocracy.

There are several types of tombs included in the property, based on the number of burial chambers – single chamber, two chambers, and multi-chambers with side chambers. They represent the full range of the Koguryo tomb typology and showcase the best examples of this construction technology. The tombs are monumental, stone-chambered earthen mounds that were skillfully constructed with ingenious ceiling designs to support the heavy weight above. The technology employed represented a unique, creative and long-sought engineering solution to the technical problems posed by underground tomb construction.

The wall paintings constitute masterpieces of the art of wall painting. The subject matter of the wall paintings of the tombs offers unique evidence of the richness and complexity of the now-vanished Koguryo culture, portraying the costumes, food, residential life and burial customs, as well as religious practices and imagery associated with Buddhism, Taoism and the Four Deities…

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the tombs, so our visual records of the visit are not jaw-droppingly spectacular. You’d hardly know anything was there by looking, really, if it wasn’t for the handy plaques:

Kangso Three Tombs

That particular one is the Kangso Three Tombs property:

The large tomb is 50 metres long and 8.7 metres high, the middle tomb is 45 metres long and 7.8 metres high and the small one is 40 metres long and 6.75 metres high. Frescoes inside the tombs depict four tutelary deities. The large tomb holds depictions of a blue dragon and a black serpent-tortoise, while a white tiger and a red phoenix are depicted in the middle tomb. The frescoes are particularly colourful and show Koguryo aristocratic life in detail, including dancing, wrestling and hunting…

Can’t find any pictures on the internet either … so getting to see the inside is a really special treat. From the outside, well:

Kangso Three Tombs

Here’s another, the Tokhung-Ri Tomb:

Tokhung-ri Tomb


UNESCO World Heritage Site.
North Korean National Treasure #156.
The Tokhung-ri Tomb is one of the more famous of the Koguryo tombs near Nampo, due to its spectacular and historically valuable murals.

And again, that appears to be pretty much the only information there is on the internet; at least it has a few pictures of the murals, if you click through. But us, the most spectacular thing we managed to get a picture of there was Miss Kim.

Tokhung-ri Tomb

There are another twenty-odd tombs making up the inscribed site, but really, you’d be pretty hard put to tell any of them apart on the outside from the two properties here.

This was another day of excitement for my posse — they’d never visited these properties either, never mind go inside which is reserved for tourists that will cough up €100 for the privilege. (Took a little coaxing about refusing to pay up unless the ladies were included to get them in at all, in fact.) Which is probably not one of your more compelling value propositions by visual spectacle, no…


p dir=”ltr”>… but in terms of an experience that virtually nobody you ever meet will ever have done, including the vast majority of North Koreans, — seriously, the minders were more excited than I was — why it’s a downright bargain!


About Author


I go places.


  1. […] Which are somewhat less than monumental from the outside, as you can see in the pictures in our blog write-up of the site, and as far as we can tell, nobody ever visits for all practical purposes; each property has a […]

Leave a Reply