Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Least Visited Capital City

When I ran across this spread in an old Wallpaper, I was really intrigued. Most of us will never visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) capital city of Pyongyang as the state of our foreign relations with the country is looking pretty bleak these days. So what are we missing out on? Well, this photo shoot in cooperation with the Korea International Travel Company was made possible in 2002 and I was blown away by some of the architecture and monuments of the city. Above is a Party Foundation Monument. Erected in 1995, this monument celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Worker's Party of Korea, also 50m tall. Very reminiscent of that hammer and sickle of the old U.S.S.R., which I did have the opportunity to visit in the 80's before Communism fell. Now home to over two million people, North Korea's socialist city is somewhat subdued and picturesque.

A city with no traffic? It's true. Inhabitants of the capital city enjoy a bucolic comfort that most city dwellers can only dream of. Completely rebuilt in rapid time after the end of the Korean War, Pyongyang still resembles a model of 1950's planning. There are over 200 garden spaces and endless tree lined roads along the River Taedong. In fact, 58 sq m of green space per citizen is their claim. Jerusalem has only 2.5 sq m and Paris on 12 sq m. It's almost unbelievable. The Arch of Triumph above was shot on a normal day. Constructed of white granite, the structure was dedicated to to the Great Leader Comrade Kim IL Sung. Specifically, it celebrates his liberation from Japanese colonialism. There are in fact dozens of rooms located inside the arch but no one is prepared to say what purpose they serve.

There is little visual pollution as well as no product advertising. Neon is only used for revolutionary slogans and photography is practically forbidden along with Americans. About 1000 tourists pass through the city every year and among those westerners are mostly students wanting to study their brand of socialism and steam train buffs. Above clockwise from the top: East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, Tower of Juche Idea, Athletics Stadium, and Mansudae Arts Theatre. The Tower of Juche Idea is 170m high including a 20m real fire-flame which flickers at night.

I really love the concrete detail of this Combat Sports Gymnasium. This type of wall work is seen on many of their buildings, demonstrating both the popularity of this type of work at the time (1950's) and a slight nod to propaganda for permanence.

Another commonality with the former U.S.S.R. is the amount of monuments. Even though many of the Soviet Union's monuments were brought down in shame, there were still several standing of great stature on my visit. We don't have so many of these in the U.S., maybe in D.C. and other older cities but definitely not on the level that you see in other countries. Monument to Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War.

You can get a sense of scale just by looking at that high-rise in the near background. This one is massive! Above, the Chollima Statue of a fabled winged horse was built as a testament to the speed of the post-war reconstruction of Pyongyang.

Also built with great detail and decoration are schools and restaurants. Above is the interior of the Yanggakdo Hotel which hosts a revolving restaurant on the top floor and a casino in the basement.

Left, the Puhung (Revival) Metro Station is equally elaborate. Huge chandeliers light even bigger mosaics depicting heroic citizens. Not to mention that the stations double as nuclear bunkers. Located more than 100m underground, they were built with steel shutters that can be closed in an attack. Surprising? Not really. Right, a chandelier at the Mansudae Schoolchildren's Palace.

Clockwise from top left: Mangyongdae Schoolchildren's Palace, Okryu Restaurant, Yonggwang (Glory) Metro Station, and Chongryu Restaurant. The Schoolchildren's Palace is like our Fame, built for extra-curricular activities of gifted students in 1989. More than 103,000 sq m, the Palace includes teaching rooms, a swimming pool, an indoor stadium, and a 2,000 seat theatre. Unreal, right?

The Carriage of Happiness is a sculpture in a series outside the Mansudae Schoolchildren's Palace. These sculptures are based on folk tales told to children by none other than Kim IL Song and Kim Jong IL. Charming.

The Mansudae Art Theatre (left) was completed in 1976 with a total floor space of 60,000sq m and a 40m high revolving stage. The interior is lavishly decorated in local marble. You can catch performances like, "Sea of Blood" and the favorite heartwarming classic, "A True Daughter of the Party". Right, another monument titled The Monument to Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War, erected in 1993 on the 40th anniversary of the war victory.

The two sculptural memorials flanking the statue of Kim IL Song in the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill, consists of 228 bronze figures. Representing the anti-Japanese struggle against Japanese occupation of 1910-1945, another imposing monument of colossal size. See the little people on the lower left side of the steps?

These are some great buildings. Clockwise from top left: May Day Stadium, Three Revolution Exhibition, Electronic Industrial Hall, and Three Revolution Exhibition Saturn Planetarium. The May Day Stadium is situated on Rungna Island. completed in 1989, it has a seating capacity of 150,000 (highest in the world), 80 exits, and underground facilities including training rooms, swimming pools and saunas. The Three Revolution Exhibition is home to products made in the DPRK. Various halls host ideological, technological and cultural exhibits.

The Ice Rink is located at the foot of Moran Hill where Kim IL Sung made a famous speech at the end of Japanese occupation in 1945. It is used for various athletic events and can seat over 100,000.


The Townhouselady said...

I think I need to get me a N. Korean chandelier!

This is outrageous. The scale of everything is remarkable. The other thing that strikes me is the emptiness. It almost seems as though the place is abandoned. The Athletes Stadium reminds me of an evil eye.

Chloe said...

I agree with Townhouse Lady. It's breathtaking, but...bizarre. Where are the people?

Wait. Don't answer that.

Jill said...

This was incredibly interesting...I'd like to see the average home. I agree with TL. It has a very Twilight Zone vibe.