The Koryo Museum in Kaesong was without the shadow of a doubt the historical and cultural highlight of my trip to North Korea.
As I mentioned before, Koryo was a kingdom on the Korean peninsula from 918 to 1392; the modern term Korea derives from that name. With modern day Kaesong (then Songdo, later Gaegyeong) being the capital for most of its existence (919-1232 and 1270-1392), it’s not really a surprise that a museum about Koryo is located in Kaesong.
The current day Koryo Museum is located at the Songgyungwan Academy since 1987 and houses more than 1000 artifacts from the Koryo period – and of course the academy itself has a very long history that dates back… to the Koryo kingdom. It started as the Taemyon Palace in the early 11th century and later became first an imperial guesthouse and then the Bureau for Confucian Doctrines. In 1089 it started to house the highest educational institution of the kingdom (for the children of state officials), the Gukjagam. In the early 14th century it was renamed Songgyungwan Academy and burned to the ground during the Imjin War in 1592, when Japanese troops failed to conquer Korea. The Songgyungwan Academy was rebuilt in 1602, so going to the Koryo Museum is impressive for the fact alone that you usually don’t have the opportunity to visit museums in buildings more than 400 years old…
Except for the missing English labeling (compensated for by a local and one of our regular guides) the Koryo Museum totally lived up to international standards, not only exhibiting countless artifacts, but also presenting plenty of photos, models and recreated places like a tomb. I’ve been to quite a few museums in my lifetime and this was definitely one of the better ones!
Even better than the museum itself was the gift shop in front / outside of the museum. Gift shops in the DPRK are more or less the same, but this one was amazing! It offered a huge selection of stamps (to collect and for use to send postcards to all countries but South Korea), a decent selection of art, quite a few different T-shirts, local ginseng products as well as… propaganda postcards and mini-posters! Most gift shops only sell photo postcards, but this one had about 40 different painted propaganda motives – anti-American, anti-Japanese, pro-education, pro-industry, pro-reunification; about a dozen of them available as mini-posters, slightly larger than DINA4. Luckily Sarah told us ahead of time, so I bought all the postcards I’ve sent to family and friends there, plus a few spare ones; but not nearly enough.
I actually regret only one thing about my trip to North Korea – not buying more stuff at that gift shop!
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