The Revolutionary Martyrs‘ Cemetery (just down the road of the *Kumsusan Palace*) was one of those locations I thought I took dozens of photos and several videos of – and when I looked at the stuff I shot it was barely a dozen photos and no video… Nevertheless the location is way too important to be cut from this travel report, so here we go!
If the United States and North Korea have one thing in common then it’s their love for the military and their appreciation for the people who gave their lives for the greater good. (Sadly their definitions of “greater good” couldn’t be more different…) So it isn’t a surprise that Pyongyang has not only one, but two cemeteries for… not just soldiers… but martyrs.
The Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery in the north of Pyongyang is dedicated to the people who fought in the Fatherland Liberation War (usually known as the Korean War) or contributed to the Korean society after the armistice in 1953. We didn’t visit that one, probably because the people buried there are not as well known and the location itself isn’t that spectacular.
The Revolutionary Martyrs‘ Cemetery on the other hand is beautifully located on a gentle slope of Mount Taesong, overlooking Pyongyang so the people buried there can witness the rise of the country to beauty and wealth through the busts on top of their graves. (Impolite individuals would have pointed out that they still wait to witness that… None in our group did, at least not while the guides were present.) This cemetery is dedicated to those who contributed to the liberation of the country and the socialist construction – in other words: People who fought against the Japanese during the occupation and helped organizing the country after World War 2. The most famous people buried there are General Kim Ch’aek, Kim Il-sung’s mother Kang Pan-sok and his first wife Kim Jong-suk.
(BTW: As of 2013-05-29 Wikipedia gets that wrong – the amateur writer collective claims it’s the other way round, which doesn’t make sense at all since Kang Pan-sok and Kim Jong-suk both died before the Korean War even started. Always question your sources, especially the simple and convenient ones! And those with bad reputations… 😉 Interestingly enough the source they refer to gets it right.)
Being equal parts cemetery and memorial the Revolutionary Martyrs‘ Cemetery is quite a tranquil place. Most locals start through a Korean style gate at the bottom of Mount Taesong, but being lazy tourists with a limited amount of time we drove halfway up and saved a couple of dozen steps. (Which is only fair since we didn’t arrive by subway, like most local visitors… Rakwon Station, to be specific, also used to get to the Pyongyang Zoo and the Taesongsan Park & Fun Fair.) But we walked the rest up the hill, past two gigantic sculptures depicting the struggle of the armed forces and through the sea of bronze busts of the fallen heroes. Well, not all of them fell during the occupation. Some of them actually lived till the 1980s. Details, I guess… Another interesting detail though is the fact that the busts were staggered, so they don’t block each other’s view at Pyongyang. It’s amazing how much thought goes into some things, while blatantly obvious things are completely ignored.
At the highest point of the cemetery, past most of the graves and busts, is a final monument, featuring a huge revolutionary flag made of red granite and five more graves / busts. At the center is Kim Jong-suk’s bust, not only Kim Jong-il’s mother, but generally referred to as the “Mother of Korea”; at least by our guides. And what do you do with mothers? You show respect! In this case: bowing and laying down flowers. (As for the laying down flowers thing in general: When this was expected to follow local customs our western guide Sarah did it in place of the whole group, although additional individual signs of respect were appreciated. I’m not sure if it was on purpose or coincidence, but one group member actually bough flowers and since he only had a 5er he got enough so half of the group could lay down some individually, much to the joy of our guides. Also: I don’t think I ever saw somebody laying down real flowers. The “flowers” you lay down in North Korea are artificial ones and look more like draped strings of cloth – makes it easier to sell them again to the next visitor group…)
So much text, so few pictures – so look forward to the Tower of the Juche Idea, there I took some great photos of Pyongyang’s city center!
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