The West Sea Barrage is an eight kilometer long system of dams, three locks (capable of handling 2,000 to 50,000 ton ships) and 36 sluices near Nampo. It was built from 1981 to 1986 to close off the Taedong River from the Yellow Sea – the goal was to prevent seawater from entering the Taedong, causing floods. At the same time the Taedong’s water level was supposed to be raised under controlled conditions to improved ship traffic and to make it easier to irrigate fields along the river. Critics claim that the raised water levels destroyed farmland, contributing to the famine that struck North Korea from 1994 to 1998.
Considered a major technological accomplishment the West Sea Barrage is a standard stop for international tourists as well as foreign dignitaries – nevertheless photography was strictly limited until a couple of years ago, since the dam was considered strategically important (if you watched the Vice documentary, this is one of the many aspects where it is completely outdated). Even the former US president Jimmy Carter visited the West Sea Barrage during his stay in the DPRK in June 1994. (Interestingly enough Carter arrived by boat, not by car – I assume you can guess why…)
After a good night’s sleep at the *Ryonggang Hot Spring House* we drove to the West Sea Barrage, more specifically: P’i Do Island, which was included into the dam’s construction. There you can find a visitor center, which is also home to the P’i Do Lighthouse, the tallest and most powerful lighthouse in North Korea, its focal plane at 86 meters. The tower itself is 33 meters high and shaped like an anchor, so it’s also a nice looking monument.
Visits to the P’i Do Lighthouse usually start with the local guide showing you a video tape about the construction of the West Sea Barrage (which was actually quite interesting, despite the fact that it was what most people would consider “a cheesy propaganda video” – nevertheless I liked it quite a bit!), followed by a Q&A session about the dam. Then you go outside to take some photos and leave when your group guides tell you to… The underwhelming opening to a generally slow day.
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