Turn Back the Clock
Thursday - Wonsan Agricultural

The former grounds of a German Benedictine abbey

Examples of pre-Korean War modern architecture in the DPRK are relatively rare. Most of the country’s cities were leveled by aerial or sea-based bombardment during the Korean War, eliminating or at least severely damaging any prominent structures. Only a small number of pre-war buildings remain having both survived the war and found a subsequent use in the post-war DPRK.

Two examples in Pyongyang are the city’s art deco Puppet Theatre, built by the Japanese, and Widow Paek’s House on the Taedong River, a stone building originally built as a community centre for Koreans during the colonial era. The Namsan Hotel in the DPRK northeastern port of Rajin is a more typical example of Japanese colonial architecture.

European-American built structures are even more rare. Prior to liberation from Japanese colonial domination (1905-1945), European and American missionaries made up the most significant non-Japanese foreign population in Korea, especially in the northern provinces today making up the DPRK. These missionaries built a number of complexes made up of churches, schools, homes and hospitals, the largest being that of American missionaries based in Pyongyang.

A combination of internecine violence before and during the Korean War and aerial bombing ensured the majority of missionary complexes in the DPRK did not survive into the post-war era even in a converted forms in line with the DPRK's socialist system. The major exception is the former Territorial Abbey of Tokwon, now the Wonsan Agricultural University in Kangwon Province.

Tokwon Territorial Abbey
Monestary and Church Building

German Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Missionary Benedictines of Saint Ottilien established the abbey in 1927-1928 with the construction of a seminary building, followed by construction of the impressive Neo-Romanesque monastery and church between 1929-31. The order constructed buildings in similar style around the world, see here, here, and here.

The abbey remained in operation following the liberation of Korea in 1945 until 1949 when it was dissolved and the grounds were converted to Wonsan Agricultural University. At this time the seminary building became the No. 2 Teaching Building, while the monastery-church became No.1 Teaching Building.

During the Korean War, the No.1 Teaching Building was bombed and subsequently repaired. The remaining monks of the Tokwon Territorial Abbey relocated to South Korea where they established a new abbey in 1952 at Waegwan in North Kyongsang Province. Today Wonsan Agricultural University is the DPRK’s largest agricultural university.

Below are photos of the No. 1 Teaching Building shortly after the establishment of Wonsan Agricultural University and today.

No.1 Teaching Building
No 1 Teaching Building
No. 1 Teaching Building
No. 1 Teaching Building Today

And photos of the No. 2 Teaching Building.

No. 2 Teaching Hall Then
No. 2 Teaching Hall Today

Plus a view of the campus lotus pond then and now.

The Lotus Pond Then
The Lotus Pond Today

This year Koryo Tours' Summer Holiday Tour (July 1-8) and National Day Mega Tour (September 2-23) will visit the university.

'Turn Back the Clock Thursday' brings you 'then and now' views of Korea from more than two decades of Koryo Tours' trips to the DPRK and images in the public domain. Photo credit to Wikipedia Commons for the first two photos in this blog post. The remaining photos were taken at Wonsan Agricultural University in 2017.

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