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  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
Great Tomb of Gangseo
TitleGreat Tomb of Gangseo

The Great Tomb of Gangseo is a mural tomb from the late Koguryo era located in the city of Dae-an within South Pyeongan Province. The murals contained within the tomb are regarded to be the finest examples among all Four Spirits Mural Tombs.
Finely-polished granite slabs were used to construct a stone chamber tomb, and soil was heaped upon the structure to form a tumulus (mound of earth raised over a grave). The burial mound is impressive in scale, measuring approximately 167 feet (51 m) in diameter and 30 feet in height (9 m).
The tomb itself is comprised of the main chamber and an entrance passage. The main chamber's dimensions are 10.4 ft. (3.17 m) in length running north-to-south, 10.2 ft. (3.12 m) in width, and 11.5 ft. (3.51 m) in height. Two to three long stone slabs were stacked to complete the walls, and the top slabs tilt slightly inward. The ceiling was constructed by utilizing a stepping architectural technique called caisson ceiling or spider web ceiling. Two layers of supporting stones were installed in parallel to protrude over the wall, and two additional layers of triangular supporting stones and a cap complete the ceiling. This method of ceiling construction is referred to as an intersecting triangular ceiling or caisson ceiling. Two finely-polished sarcophagi aligned east to west inside the chamber indicate that a husband and wife were buried in the tomb.
The main theme of the murals is the Four Spirits, and they are estimated to have been produced in the 7th century. The Four Spirits consist of the Azure Dragon, White Tiger, Vermilion Bird, and Black Tortoise, and they are regarded as guardian spirits of the cardinal points. The belief of an afterlife was common during the Koguryo era. Thus, tombs were decorated much like houses as places of rest for the body and soul along with the Four Spirits as their guardians. Four Spirits murals were popular in the late Koguryo era when Daoism was prevalent. Due to this fact, late Koguryo era mural tombs are often referred to as Four Spirits Mural Tombs.
The murals were painted directly over polished granite without any applications of whitewashing (limewashing) techniques. Only the Four Spirits occupy the walls of the main chamber, and the murals were painted without any background patterns, instilling a sense of flight in each of the subjects. Such an unusually bold and pure use of space cannot be found in other Four Spirits murals from China or Koguryo Gungnae regions, and the level of artistry is widely considered to be among the best examples of Koguryo tomb murals. The ceiling is densely populated with immortals, celestial beings, flowers, vine and cloud patterns, and a variety of auspicious animals to express an imaginative heavenly atmosphere. The chamber is highlighted by a depiction of the Yellow Dragon in the center of the ceiling together with lotus flowers.