The Koryo royal palace ruins in Kaesong, North Korea. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Manwoldae Koryo Palace, Kaesong, North Korea (DPRK)
Manwoldae (만월대 | 滿月臺) is the former site of the Koryo dynasty royal palace in Kaesong, North Korea and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Manwoldae literally means ‘platform / hill of the full moon’.
Although little remains apart from the Manwoldae palace foundations, it is the site of ongoing joint-archeological excavations between North and South Korea and a place to learn the local lore of the Kaesong area.
On-site there are also the remains of Koryo dynasty astronomical observatory called Chomsongdae (첨성대 | 瞻星臺).
Manwoldae is rarely visited by foreigners but is a must-see for anyone interested in Korean history.
Construction of Manwoldae Palace began in 918/9 when Wang Kon (877 - 943), founder of the Koryo dynasty, established his capital at his hometown of Kaesong.
It is said that Wang Kon chose the location for its proximity to his childhood home near the base of Mount Songak and the favorable geomancy of the site — in East Asian culture a ruler faces south and should have a mountain at his back to the north. The original name of the palace is lost to history.
The palace was destroyed a number of times in its history, first during the Second Khitan Invasion in 1010 and subsequently rebuilt by 1013, then by a rebellion in 1126 AD, by fires in 1171 and 1225. From 1232 to 1270, the location was abandoned when the Koryo court moved the capital to the fortress island of Kanghwa at the mouth of the Han River during the Mongol invasion of Korea. It is possible to visit the ruins of the Kanghwa Koryo-era palace in South Korea today.
The location was finally abandoned in 1361 following its sacking by a marauding army of Chinese peasants, the Red Turbans. The Red Turbans were a rebel army opposed to the Mongol Yuan dynasty who viewed the Koryo, a client state of the Yuan, both as an enemy and potential source of loot and supplies.
Ri Song Gye, one of the Koryo generals responsible for finally driving the Red Turbans from Korea, would later go on to overthrow the Koryo dynasty in 1392. Ri moved the capital of his new dynasty to Seoul. Visitors to Kaesong and Seoul will notice similarities between the former palace locations in both.
Adding insult to injury and to the narrative of foreign aggression in Korea, the Manwoldae ruins were damaged by bombing during the Korean War. The Korean People’s Army is helped to restore the site to its current condition in 1953.
The palace location acquired its current name in Choson Ri Dynasty (1392 - 1910) and is said to be derived from the Mangwoldae (망월대 | 望月臺)，or ‘platform / hill for watching the moon’.
To this day, the residents of still gather at the location to view the first full moon of the Lunar New Year.
Little remains of the former palace except the massive stone foundations and outlines of the successive halls leading to the king’s residence. It is possible to see the outline and approximate size of the former structures, but the rest is up to the imagination.
There has been discussion between North and South Korea to recreate the palace image with laser imagery so as not to disrupt potential archaeological finds.
On-site excavations have continued to yield valuable artifacts from the Koryo dynasty, including metal type. See below for a short segment on finds from North Korean television.
Manwoldae is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site under 'Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong'.
· The on-site guide is the head of Kaesong’s city guides. He is extremely knowledgeable of local history, lore, and on-going archaeological work with South Korea. If you are a history buff, make sure to request him in advance.
· The Kaesong Koryo Museum contains a miniature replica of what the palace is thought to have looked like. It is located at the start of Exhibition Hall No. 1 in the museum.
· Mount Songak, located directly to the north of Manwoldae, is called 'Mommy Mountain' due to its appearance resembling a pregnant mother in repose.
· The Choson Ri dynasty poetess Hwang Jin I is said to have been born in the neighborhood adjacent to the ruins of Manwoldae. Her poetry often evokes the bygone Koryo era. One can’t but help think her nickname, Myongwol (명월 | 明月), or ‘Bright Moon’, had something to do with being born in the shadow of the ‘full moon palace’.
Locations and Access
Manwoldae is located at the base of Mount Songak. It is located approximately at ten-minute drive from Kaesong’s traditional South Gate and the centre of town.
Manwoldae is best visited as part of a Koryo Tours custom independent tour to North Korea. We do, after all, share a name with the dynasty that built the palace!
There is quite a lot to see in North Korea. Unsure what there is to see? Check out our free downloadable guide to North Korea for travel advice and the all the sights to cross off your bucket list!