The Kaesong Koryo
Museum | North Korea
Travel Guide

A museum dedicated to the medieval Koryo dynasty and a Korea UNESCO World Heritage site located in Kaesong, North Korea

The Kaesong Koryo Museum, Kaesong, North Korea (DPRK)

The Kaesong Koryo Museum (개성고려박물관 | 開城高麗博物館 ) is a museum dedicated to the medieval Koryo dynasty (918-1392 AD) and a Korea UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kaesong, North Korea.

The museum is occupies the former grounds of the Sungyun Academy (성균관 | 成均館), the highest institute of of Confucian learning in both the Koryo and Choson Ri dynasties, and houses relics and items displayed thematically to give an overview of the history, life, and times of the Koryo-era.

The museum is a common stop on the regular Kaesong tourist route. Perhaps overshadowed by Kaesong’s main attraction, Panmunjom and the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the Koryo Museum nonetheless has a lot to offer, especially for those interested in history.

The museum provides important context for a number of national narratives in North Korea today.

Thousand-year-old gingko and zelkova trees at the Kaesong Koryo Museum, North Korea.

Historic Background of the Sungyun Academy

Founded in 992 AD, the Sungyun Academy was the highest institute of Confucian learning in the Koryo dynasty. The academy came to this particular location in Kaesong in 1089 AD. Following the establishment of the Choson Ri dynasty (1392-1910 AD), the Sungyun Academy itself moved to Seoul following the transfer of the capital from Kaesong in 1394 AD.

The academy still exists today in the form two successor universities: the Kaesong University of Light Industry in North Korea and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea. This lineage is considered on of the oldest continuous educational institutes in the world.

Kaesong Koryo Museum Layout

The Koryo Museum has 12 primary buildings and six auxiliary structures covering 20,000 square meters.

There is both a modern site entrance located adjacent to the parking lot and a traditional main gate. After entering the traditional main gate, the site is divided between two main areas: Myongryun Hall and the Taesong Hall.

A 1930's Japanese postcard showing the Myongryun Hall of the Sungyun Academy, once the main teaching hall of the institution.

The Myongryun Hall is the first pavilion at the end of a long courtyard and where students traditionally received lectures. On either side are the buildings once used for student dorms. There are 1000-year-old gingko and zelkova trees in the courtyard.

The Taesong Hall is located behind the Myongryun Hall and served as the traditional shrine for Confucian scholars. The No.1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 exhibition halls (see below) of the museum today are found in the Myongrun Hall and flanking structures.

Upon exit from the Taesong Hall, there is a small gift shop selling local products, including ginseng, and a streamside park with an open-air exhibition.

Koryo Dynasty Architecture

The structures of the Koryo Museum today date back to the early 17th century, the original structures having been destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598 AD), the invasion of Japanese armies under Toyatomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉).

The current current buildings were reconstructed between 1602-1610 AD in the original Koryo dynasty style, based on China’s Tang dynasty architecture, which is elegant and simple compared to later Choson Ri dynasty structures.

Roofs of Koryo structures are gently sloping with only simple decorative eaves. Building roofs are gently sloping and have a single-layer of bracketing compared to the decorative brackets of later Choson Ri dynasty structures (cf. Kaesong’s Gwanum Temple). The pillars of Koryo dynasty structures are squat and bulge slightly in the middle.

The Taesong Hall, once the location where Confucian ceremonies were held, and today Exhibition Hall No. 2 of the Kaesong Koryo Museum.

The Koryo Museum Today

The Koryo Museum houses over 1,000 artifacts from the Koryo dynasty displayed thematically and accompanied by hand-painted posters providing relevant historical background.

The museum is divided into four exhibition halls plus an open-air exhibition:

Exhibition Hall No.1

Exhibition Hall No. 1 provides an overview of the political consolidation, economy and commerce, agriculture, society, architecture, and military of the Koryo dynasty.

Highlights include the a family lineage of local family descended from the Koryo royal house of Wang, early paper, an old map of Kaesong, and the image of a Bodhisattva.

Exhibition Hall No. 2

Exhibition Hall No. 2 provides an overview of science, technology, and culture during the Koryo dynasty. Highlights include a piece of movable metal type excavated at Manwoldae, the site of the former Koryo royal palace, and celadon pottery.

Exhibition Hall No. 3

Exhibition Hall No. 3 contains an iron sculpture of the Buddha originally located in Chokjo Temple (적조사 | 寂照寺) once located near Kaesong. The iron Buddha is 1.6 m tall and in the style of the early Koryo dynasty. A marble Koryo dynasty sculpture exists at Gwanum Temple in Kaesong.

Exhibition Hall No. 4

Exhibition Hall No. 4 contains exhibitions on metal craft, architecture, sculpture, and painting during the Koryo dynasty. Highlights includes gilt bronze pagodas unearthed at Pulil Temple, bronze mirrors and Buddhist statues, copper incense burner, and stone coffin.

Open-air Exhibition

The open-air exhibition displays stone pagodas, stupas, sculptures, and beacons from the Koryo dynasty and taken from former temple sites in the Kaesong area.

The modern campus of Kaesong University of Light Industry, the northern descendant of the Sungyun Academy, with a wedding party in the foreground.

Practical Tips

*Hall No. 3 containing the iron Buddha is usually not included in the tour for non-Korean visitors. Visitors can look through crack between the doors for a view or ask very nicely for the guide to open the exhibition.

*The site is sometimes chosen for local weddings in Kaesong.

*The on-site restrooms are located next to the entrance and sometimes locked.

Anecdotes

*The Kaesong region is home to a disproportionate number of people with the surnames Chon or Ok. In this case, many are secret descendants of the Koryo royal family with the surname Wang. The Chinese character for Wang can, at least in apocryphally, be modified with a few brushstrokes to be read as Chon or Ok.

*Isabella Bird described the locations as 'a dismal temple to Confucius' in Korea and Her Neighbours (1896), but later Japanese commentators note the location as 'beautiful'.

Location and Access

The Kaesong Koryo Museum is located in eastern Kaesong and open everyday.

The majority of Koryo Tours group tours visit the Kaesong Koryo Museum as part of a Kaesong tour. It is also possible to visit the museum on a custom independent tour to North Korea with us!

Learn more about all the sights you can see in the DPRK with our 75-page Koryo Tours North Korea Travel Guide. It's free to download!

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