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    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

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    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Jordan!

    Jordan: Petra. Go Now!

    Tucked away in this Middle Eastern country, the famed city of Petra (pictured) links the past to the present culture. Explore Jordan!

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    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

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Architecture of North Korea

WARNING: North Korea is unstable, please read this travel warning before going!

Note: since most latter North Korean architecture was based on earlier styles, which were in both modern day South Korea and North Korea, the early architectural history will cover the entire Korean Peninsula; since division to north and south in 1950 only North Korean architecture will be discussed.

Little early Korean architecture exists as the earliest people were believed to live in numerous structures, both stone and wood, but these have since collapsed and there are few archeological remains. Oddly, the earliest remains are of houses dug into the ground and heated flooring, which is a very traditional Korea feature still found today. After this early architecture, the Korean Peninsula was divided for much of history and architectural styles developed primarily by dynasty, although all followed the same general path; this begins with the Three Kingdoms.

The Baekje Dynasty (18 BC-660 AD; occupied much of the western and south-western Korean Peninsula) gained strong relations with China and Japan as their architectural styles matched this relationship. Unfortunately, nothing more than ruins remains from them today. The best example of their architecture is the Horyuji Temple in Japan, which they helped design and built.

The architecture of the Goguryeo Dynasty (37 BC-668 AD; primarily based in what is today North Korea with its capital in Gaesong) has been lost to time with the exception of a few archeological sites (many of which the North Korea government refuse archeologists access to). What is significant from these finds though is that Buddhist temples (begun after 372 AD) have been found in the structure of having an octagonal base surrounded on three sides with chapels, a structure that has been carried into the future. There were also a number of fortresses built during their rule. This style and design is essentially copied from the Chinese, but Buddhism also arrived from China so the religion and temple style were in many ways united at the time for the Koreans.

Pagodas from this time do exist though, including the Silla Dynasty's (57 BC-935 AD, based in the eastern half of the Korean Peninsula, in both modern day North Korea and South Korea) Bunhwangsa Temple (634 AD; in South Korea) and in the Pulguk Temple (700s; in South Korea), both in or near Gyeongju (Kyongju). During the Silla rule (after defeating the Baekje and Goguryeo dynasties in 688, this dynasty was called the Unified Silla Dynasty), most latter pagodas were three stories tall and had set proportions that were deemed to be in perfect proportion. Temples were also built during this time, but again little remains outside of ruins. Bulguksa Temple (500s, rebuilt in 752; in South Korea) in Gyeongju is the oldest temple in Korea.

The Silla Dynasty also built other structures, including a cave monastery that was built near Gyeongju, called Seokguram. This monastery was carved into the stone cliff with the walls covered in Buddhist sculptures and art. They also built the observatory, Cheomseongdae in the early-600s.

The Goryeo Dynasty (or Koryo; 936-1392 AD; occupied the entire Korean Peninsula) at first gained most of its architectural inspiration from China and the earlier Unified Silla Dynasty as it developed the Chusimp'o Style. Perhaps the finest example of this style is the Pusok Temple (Temple of Eternal Life; 1200s; in South Korea) in Yongju and is believed to be the oldest original wood structure in the Korean Peninsula today. This dynasty introduced a shift in style as paintings became a more significant aspect of a building's overall look and style. One of the last pagodas built by the Goryeo Dynasty was the marble pagoda built for the Wongak Temple (1348; moved to the Kyongbok Palace), which is now in Seoul (in South Korea).

These architectural adaptations from China continued into the late 1300s and early 1400s with the arrival of the Tap'o Style, which was derived from the Song Dynasty in China. This blossomed under the Confucian Joseon Dynasty (or Choson; 1392-1897). During this time there was a significant shift from building pagodas, as Buddhism was rejected by the new leadership.

Many buildings were built in the Tap'o style, but some of the best are also the earliest, including the Simwon Temple's Pokwangjon Hall and the Sokwang Temple's Eungjinjon Hall, both from the late 1300s. In addition to these early Tap'o buildings, numerous other examples from the Joseon Dynasty remain today. Much of the still standing architecture in this style was built during the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty's reign and the bulk of it was built in Seoul. The massive Kyongbok Palace (1500s, but destroyed and rebuilt in 1865-1867) in Seoul (South Korea) is a great recreation of this style in the palace form. The temples from this time and in this style are also numerous, including the Hua'om Temple, Kaisim Temple, Muwi Temple, and the Pongjong Temple. Despite the lack of pagoda-building, there is a significant marble pagoda in the Tap'o style in Seoul's Pagoda Park (South Korea).

In 1910 the Korean Peninsula was taken over by Japan and this foreign occupier encouraged traditional Japanese architecture. This led to the building of some new Japanese-styled buildings, but more often just resulted in the lack of maintenance in traditional Korean structures and the destruction of some. The Japanese also introduced the Neo-Classical style from Europe and the Seoul Station (1925; in South Korea) and Seoul City Hall (1926; in South Korea) are both prime examples of this style.

After World War II Japan lost control over the Korean Peninsula and shortly after the peninsula was divided into north and south. The north fell under strong Soviet and Chinese influence and their architectural style moved parallel to the Soviet's. Much of the construction since this time has been focused on economic growth, meaning factories and housing have been the focus as religion has been fought. This leaves much of the country's modern buildings, most notably in the capital of Pyongyang to consist of simple concrete Soviet-styled housing complexes and factories. Also like the Soviets, the North Koreans built a massive and impressive subway system in the capital and have built on a scale larger than is logical, including Kim il-Sung Stadium, which is the largest in the world.

This page was last updated: July, 2012