The tomb of King Sejong the Great (Yoengneung) is in Yeoju, about an hour away from Seoul by bus. We went last weekend and even though it was coming to the end of March, it was still cold – minus 2 and very windy. It even snowed for a bit on the way too. But while we were there the sun came out. It seems to be a popular place for school / church trips and there was a constant stream of people arriving – families, adjummas, groups of kids. And as we were leaving, a huge (and I mean HUGE) party of children and adults with megaphones arrived. But we were on our way out by then. Good timing.
The tomb is up on a hill surrounded by pine trees following geomantic rules
There are 40 Joseon tombs and this is said to be in the top 4 in geomantic terms – Korean geomancy or feng shui (풍수지리 pungsu-jiri) is concerned with the flow of the earth’s energy (ki). Landmarks in nature are used to help create the most auspicious environment for the flow of ki, which in turn brings benefits to people. So mountains, trees, water etc. are taken into consideration as well as which directions buildings should face – north, east, south, or west.
This tomb was originally located to the west of the Heonngeung tomb in Seoul (in King Taejong’s tomb compound) but was moved here in 1469, the first year of the reign of King Yejong, as this location was considered better by geomantic experts. (The art of pungsu-jiri was taken very seriously during the Joseon period and Seoul was chosen as the capital of the new dynasty as it ticked all the boxes for a good flow of ki.) King Sejong’s wife, Queen Soheon, is also buried here and this is the first Joseon joint tomb for King and Queen.
We paid 500 won to get in, which I thought was very cheap. I noticed at the entrance there was a dial on a board showing the likelihood of fire for the day. The blue zone means that the risk is low. (well, there had been some rain and snow earlier in the day) Red is the danger-zone. Understandably there is a huge concern here about fires, since all the buildings are wooden. There were ‘no smoking’ signs and fire extinguishers everywhere.
At the entrance (on the left side) a sign shows today’s risk of fire – low
In the grounds at the entrance to the area are replicas of other scientific devices that were invented during King Sejong’s reign including a rain gauge, a celestial globe, and a sundial.
groups of children look around the outdoor museum of inventions
훈민문 Hunmin Mun
We began at the Hunmin mun – the entrance gate to the tomb. There are two entrances at either side of the gate, but a sign tells us that we must enter from the east gate (to the left) and exit through the west gate (right). (I’m guessing this must be something to do with geomantics again – entering gates through the east and exiting through the west was the rule in Jongmyo Shrine in Seoul too.)
hunmin mun – entrance to the tomb
The long path up to the tombs is in a spacious area and surrounded by pine trees. The centre part of the pathway is raised higher as always especially for the king to walk on. Then we reach the memorial gate called Hongsalmun ‘Red Arrow Gate’, where the red posts with arrow-like spikes indicate the beginning of the sacred area.
According to the information sign here, Joseon Royal tombs traditionally had a little stream in front of them marking the sacred zone between the inner and the outer world where the king’s spirit resides. Because, according to geomantic principles, water prevents fierce land energy from mountains from making further progress. So in front of the gate is the Geumcheongyo Bridge 금천교 over the Geumcheongyo ‘Forbidden River’.
Hongsalmun ‘Red Arrow Gate’ marks the sacred zone separating inner and outer world
This is the building where memorial services are held and food offerings placed on the memorial table. Again there is a sign that clearly states which set of steps we should go up to the the building and which steps we should use to come back down. (We were following the rules but other people were ignoring the sign though! And I wondered why there were three sets of steps? see below) There’s a storehouse near here for ritual vessels and living quarters for the grave keeper.
There are more steps leading up to the tomb. It’s surrounded by stone guardians and there’s a feeling of peace looking out across the open space. (once all the crowds of children have gone of course – we had to wait a while to take these pictures, so we took a walk around the area while we were waiting and I learned some interesting stuff about Korean trees – more on that later)
After the memorial rites are completed and while the food offerings are being removed, the invocation paper (used during the ceremony) is burned in this square stone box called the Yaegam. It’s always located at the rear west of the jeongjagak.
the yaegam stone box at the bottom of the hill
It seems this tomb is a great example of what a Joseon tomb should be – it’s in a spacious area, mountains in the background, a stream in front, and trees all around.
There’s a museum in the complex here too where you can see reproductions of Joseon paintings and some traditional Joseon musical instruments. We had a look around and then headed off to a jimjilbang outdoor sauna made with Korean red soil, because we were freezing. But there are several other interesting places to visit in the area too, including King Hyojong’s tomb, Silleuksa temple (the only riverside temple in Korea), and the birthplace of Empress Myeongseong.