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Preservation of Royal Tomb

How the royal tombs of King Suro and his Queen were established and preserved at Geumgwan-guk

Although Geumgwan-guk succumbed and fell to outside forces, the royal tomb of King Suro is preserved to this day. Why was King Suro's Tomb constructed and how was it preserved? Can we really be sure the tomb is King Suro's? According to an "Garak-guk-gi" in Samguk-yusa, King Suro's Tomb was constructed in 199 A.D., and there was a small building called Pyeonbang (便房) beside the tomb at that time. But the old tomb had a wooden outer-coffin and a lower mound than the tomb we see today. It is generally thought that King Munmu of Silla re-established the royal tomb of King Suro in its present location in 661 A.D. Immediately after being enthroned, King Munmu gave the following order: "King Suro is my ancestor from my mother's side fifteen generations previous, so attend to him at the shrine of my royal ancestors."

The foreground of Suro's Royal Tomb The foreground of heo's Royal Tomb

The shrine was not a detached palace, as it is these days. Rather, the shrine was placed in front of the grave. King Munmu likely built a new shrine in front of King Suro's royal tomb, and raised the mound. At this time, King Munmu probably slightly changed the location of King Suro's Tomb and remodeled the interior into a stone chamber with a side entrance, making the tomb look like a typical Silla royal tomb.

tombstone of heo's Royal Tom

King Suro's royal tomb and shrine, thus established, managed to survive through the final days of the Silla Dynasty into the Goryeo Era. However, it faced challenges from new local powers, grave robbers, and the Goryeo Dynasty. The tomb endured because King Suro's descendants in the region managed to maintain some influence into the Goryeo Era. In the latter part of the twelfth century A.D., King Munjong repaired the tombs of King Suro and Queen Heo and erected a gravestone.

However, as the result of raids by Mongol and Japanese pirates between the end of the Goryeo Dynasty and the early days of Joseon, the area surrounding King Suro's tomb lay in ruins for hundreds of years. In 1439 A.D., during the reign of King Sejong of Joseon, the provincial governor of Gyeongsang-do had a rice paddy made at the gravesite and oxen and horses were pastured on the collapsed mound of the tomb. The tomb's boundary was now scarcely thirty feet square. During the reign of King Seongjong toward the end of the fifteenth century A.D., Hoiro-dang and the shrine house were built.

Jibong-yuseol claims that Japanese pirates raided King Suro's Tomb in 1592 A.D. At that time, it was said that the hollowed-out area inside the tomb was very wide and two young women outside the coffin seemed to have been buried alive with the deceased. In the process of restoring the tomb, gravestones and stone animal figures were erected at the tomb of King Suro and Queen Heo in the twenty-fourth year (1646 A.D.) of King Injo's reign.

Over successive generations, the number of buildings attached to King Suro's Tomb gradually increased. In the seventeenth year (1793 A.D.) of King Jeongjo's reign, the King permitted the local inhabitants to rebuild buildings on the site and construct Napreung's Main Gate and Garak-ru. In the fifteenth year (1793 A.D.) of King Jeongjo's reign, the shrine palace, called "Sungseon-jeon," received letters written on a signboard from the King. The royal tomb and royal ancester's shrine at old Garak-guk were restored.

Napreung's Main Gate Sunaseon-ieon Garak-ru

The royal tombs of Silla, Goryeo, and Joseon are the most well-known tombs, and given the power that the three dynasties wielded on the Korean peninsula, the tombs have been well-preserved to this day. Thus, it is somewhat of an anomaly that the tombs of King Suro and his wife Queen Heo managed to survive for so long. It means that those who performed memorial services for the two tombs--that is, the royal families of Garak-guk--maintained influence in their region even after the fall of their Gaya state for fifteen hundred years.