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Explore history and the sky in Yeongwol: County in Gangwon is where King Danjong was exiled and killed

Jan 25,2019
A staff member at the Byeolmaro Observatory in Yeongwol county, Gangwon, prepares a telescope, above, to see details of the moon, pictured on the left. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Above: The view of Cheongnyeongpo Cape, where King Dangjong of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was imprisoned. The area is surrounded by the stream in front and mountains in the back to keep the king isolated. Top left: Models of rebuilt houses on Cheongnyeongpo help visitors imagine where King Danjong lived. Top center: Jangneung, the tomb of King Danjong. Top right: Gwanpungheon, where King Danjong died. [LIETTO, LEE SUN-MIN]
YEONGWOL COUNTY, Gangwon - One of Korean history’s great mysteries has attracted amateur sleuths looking for answers to this mountainous county in the northeast for centuries.

Far away from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) capital in modern-day Seoul, Yeongwol County is where King Danjong (1441-1457), was sent in exile after he was pushed out of the throne by his own uncle. Not long after that, at the age of 16, he was killed, but historical records fail to describe the details of his mysterious death.

The county is filled with areas related to the king and the people who tried to help the teenager after he was sent far away from his home. Those who want to delve deeper into the historical enigma can visit the sites themselves, imagine what life must have been like for the young king during his exile and put together some of the facts for themselves.

Although the king was dethroned and stripped of his title after his uncle King Sejo took over, the Joseon Dynasty’s King Sukjong and King Yeongjo later took great efforts to give their tragic ancestor his name back. They tried to mark the traces of King Danjong across Yeongwol to let future generations know that they are royal places.

King Danjong was sent to Cheongnyeongpo Cape, a land surrounded by a wide stream and mountains, making it impossible for him to get away or communicate with anyone else. Accessible only by boat, the teenage king was left to fend for himself.

Any small stone around Cheongnyeongpo Cape could be one of the stones the young king played with centuries ago, according to a local guide. The area isn’t too large, and walking around the forest will take less than an hour even if you walk slowly while taking pictures.

After Cheongnyeongpo Cape flooded, King Danjong was taken to Gwanpungheon, a regional government building in the county. Not long after, he died.

There are many stories about how the teenage royal died. The most well-known story says that he was given a bowl of harmful drugs, but other historical anecdotes say he was killed through other means.

After he died, his body was thrown into the stream and it was forbidden to collect his floating body and bury him. But a man named Eom Heung-do risked his life and gathered the king’s corpse to bury him in an area now called Jangneung.

The exact location of the burial site was unknown for about a century, but locals have said that residents in the area long knew where the king was buried and they paid respects to the site without telling many others.

After exploring matters on the ground during the day, switch your attention to the sky after dark. The Byeolmaro Observatory, built on top of a mountain that is 800 meters (2,624 feet) high, is a large telescope that allows visitors to check out all of the details of the moon and the stars up close.

The observatory staff will set up the telescope so that you can see details of the moon that would be invisible to the naked eye. You can also put your cell phone or digital camera onto the lens to take a spectacular close-up of the moon to share with family and friends. But, the staff warns that sometimes the moon is so bright that it is difficult to see the stars, and of course, if the weather is not clear, it may be hard to spot anything in the sky. When the moon is clear and bright, it outshines smaller stars. A sky full of sparkling stars can only be seen when the moon’s brightness is obscured by clouds.

Don’t worry if you don’t know much about constellations. Prior to looking into the telescope, the staff will take visitors to a dark room and explain all the possible stars one may see that day. Reservations for the tour are required, especially on the weekends. Go to www.yao.or.kr or call (033) 372-8445 for more. The observatory is closed on Mondays.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

To get to Yeongwol County, go to Express Bus Terminal in southern Seoul or Dong Seoul Bus Terminal in eastern Seoul. It takes about two hours and 20 minutes on a direct bus. For more travel information, go to www.yw.go.kr or call 1577-0545. General travel information across Korea can be found by calling 1330. Major travel spots like Cheongryeongpo and Jangneung will have on-site tour guides from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Inquire in advance by calling (033) 374-4215 for Cheongryeongpo and (033) 374-1317 for Jangneung. Depending on availability, guided tours in Chinese are also available.