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Korean royal tombs named UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site

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Korea Tourism News Update : A group of 40 ancient royal tombs in South Korea has been given World Heritage status by a U.N. organization, becoming the nation’s ninth such site, officials in Seoul said Saturday.

The collection of tombs, all belonging to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), was given the designation during a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain, on Friday, the officials said.

The Joseon royal tombs, all scattered around the nation’s capital, were created for 27 generations of kings, queens, crown princes and even those overthrown or posthumously recognized as kings during the dynasty. The tombs built from 1408 to 1966 using Confucianism principles and geomancy are known for their unique construction method and landscape architecture.

Of the nine World Heritage sites in South Korea, eight are cultural and one is natural.

Most recently, Jeju Island’s volcanic mountain was designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2007. The nation’s World Cultural Heritage sites also include the Jongmyo royal ancestral shrine, Changdeok Palace, Gyeongju Historic Area, the Tripitaka Koreana at Haeinsa Temple, Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon and the dolmen sites in Gochang.

Including North Korea’s Goguryeo Dynasty tombs, approved by UNESCO in 2004, the Korean Peninsula is now home to a total of 10 World Heritage sites.

Besides the overall good management of the Joseon Dynasty tombs, ancestral rituals and other intangible traditions related to the tombs are still intact, appealing to the delegates at the UNESCO committee meeting, said the officials.

“The royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty honored the memory of ancestors, showed respect for their achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and provided protection from vandalism,” UNESCO said on its Web site.

Spots of outstanding natural beauty were chosen for the tombs, which typically lie at the base of a hill, face south toward water and, ideally, have layers of mountain ridges in the distance. Alongside the burial area, the royal tombs feature a ceremonial area and an entrance, UNESCO explained.

In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings that are an integral part of the tombs include a T-shaped wooden shrine, a shed for stele, a royal kitchen and a guard house, a red spiked gate and the tomb keeper’s house. The grounds are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects including figures of people and animals.

Prior to the UNESCO committee meeting, the International Council on Monuments and Sites decided in May to include the 40 Korean ancient tombs on its tentative list of World Cultural Heritage.

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