North Korea’s Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang’s answer to Paris
The Pyongyang Arch of Triumph
The North Korean Arch of Triumph (개선문 | 凱旋門) is a 60-meter stone archway built to commemorate the role of President Kim Il Sung in the ‘Anti-Japanese Armed Struggle’ and the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. This is Pyongyang’s answer to Paris.
The monument itself was constructed for the 70th birthday of Kim Il Sung on 15 April 1982 with an accompanying mural added nearby in 1985 to mark the president’s 75th birthday.
Built in Neo-classical style, the Arch of Triumph incorporates symbols of Kim Il Sung, the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, and the Korean nation. The Arch of Triumph towers over major arterial leading into the city and one of the first monuments seen by visitors arriving by plane. It is said to be built from approximately 25,500 white granite blocks, one for everyday of Kim Il Sung’s life up to his 70th birthday.
Most visitors only view the exterior of the Arch of Triumph, but it is also possible to go up to the observation platform at the top for views the surrounding neighborhood, Kim Il Sung Stadium, and Moranbong Park.
See below for a short tour of the Arch of Triumph from Korean television and a more in-depth explanation of the decor and symbology.
The years ‘1925’ and ‘1945’ are affixed on either side of the Arch of Triumph. These years represent the two decades spent by Kim Il Sung away from Korea in China and Russia.
According to Kim Il Sung’s autobiography, the future leader of North Korea left his home in Mangyongdae, then a village on the outskirts of Pyongyang, in January of 1925 and vowed not to return to Korea until the country’s independence had been won.
The Arch of Triumph specifically celebrates the return of Kim Il Sung to Pyongyang at the end of World War II and a speech given at this location on 14 October 1945. During the speech, Kim Il Sung asked ‘those with power to contribute power, those with knowledge to contribute knowledge, and those with money to contribute money’* to the construction of the new nation.
The bronze statues on the Arch of Triumph show workers, farmers, and the intelligentsia - the three pillars of the future Korean Workers’ Party - and soldiers from the Korean Revolutionary Army, the fore-bearer to the Korean People’s Army.
The nearby mural, entitled ‘Acclamation of the Nation’ (민족의 환호 | 民族의 歡呼), gives an artist’s depiction of the speech to cheering crowds of Pyongyang residents. The words on the mural read: ‘All one’s strength for a Democratic Choson’ (모든 힘을 새 민주조선을 위하여’).
Rainbow Gate and Azalea Flowers
The archway itself represents a rainbow made of 70 azalea flowers, said to show the wish of the people for the health of Kim Il Sung. The azalea flower is a symbol of Korea popularized in North Korea for its association with the struggle against Japanese colonial rule.
The Song of General Kim Il Sung and Mount Paektu
The Arch of Triumph is inscribed with the first and second verses of The Song of General Kim Il Sung (김일성장군의 노래 | 金日成將軍의 노래).
The same spaces on the east and west site of the Arch of Triumph have an image of Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain associated with the foundation of the Korean people and the Korean Revolution.
The Arch of Triumph is 60 meters tall and 52.5 meters wide. The upper portion contains four accessible levels totaling 36.2 meters.
It is 11 meters taller than its counterpart in Paris.
*It costs 5 EUR to go to the observation platform at the top of the Arch of Triumph. The ticket should be purchased on the spot and generally not included in a tour.
*Reaching the top of the Arch of Triumph requires taking an elevator and climbing and interior flight of stairs. The observation platform is not wheelchair accessible.
*Large trucks are not allowed to drive under the Arch of Triumph.
*Due to over two decades spent living in China, President Kim Il Sung is said to have spoken excellent Chinese and in a dialect considered closer to the modern standard than many of his contemporaries in power in the People’s Republic of China, such as Mao Zedong.
* The Arch of Triumph was built on the former site of Pyongyang’s Mao Zedong Square (모택동과장 | 毛澤東廣場).
Location and Access
The Arch of Triumph is located in Pyongyang’s Moranbong Distict at the intersection of Moranbong Street, Chilsungmun Street, and Kaesonmun Street. The Kaeson Metro Station is located nearby.
The Arch of Triumph is open everyday.
*<<힘있는 사람은 힘으로, 지식있는 사람은 지식으로, 돈있는 사람은 돈으로>>