What is the Capital of North Korea? I’ll give you three guesses. Actually, you probably only need one, of course, it is the city of Pyongyang.
What does Pyongyang mean?
Pyongyang literally means ‘flat land’, and in a very mountainous country like North Korea, we can probably take a guess how they chose the location. From Mt Paektu in the north to the Chilbo mountains in the northeast, Kumgang mountains in the southeast, Mt Myohyang in the centre and Mt Suyang in the southwest, North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to give it its official name, there is no lack of mountainous land.
What fewer people know, is that Pyongyang has had many other historic names. It’s most famous, Ryugyong, which gave name to the famous unfinished pyramid-shaped hotel dominating the city’s skyline, means the capital of Willows. Other names include Changan, Hwangsong, Rakrang and Hogyong. There was a proposal to rename the city as Kim-Il Sung city when the President passed away, but this proposition was dropped.
Where is Pyongyang?
Situated along the Taedong River and only 35 km from the Korean Bay, it was apparently built in 1122 BCE on the site of the old capital of the Chinese dynasty of heavenly King Dangun. The grave of the Chinese sage Kija, who founded the city, lies in the northern suburbs of the city.
Population and administration of Pyongyang
In the 2008 census, Pyongyang had a population of over 3.25 million people. Along with Rason, it is a directly-administered city with equal status to provinces, rather like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing in China. The Chairman of the Pyongyang Party committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea acts as its mayor.
History of Pyongyang
Pyongyang has gone through various lives in its long history. It was originally a trading station of the Chinese, and later became the capital of the Koguryo Dynasty in 407, falling again to the Chinese in 668. In the 16th century, it fell to the Japanese, before again being incorporated into the Chinese empire under the Manchu Qing Dynasty in the early 17th century. At the end of the 19th century, it was known by Christian missionaries as the Jerusalem of the East. It was then almost completely destroyed in the Sino-Japanese War, then completely deserted because of the plague, and then rebuilt with Soviet and Chinese help to become the industrial and administrative hub of the DPRK.
The capital city of South Korea is, of course, Seoul, and along with Pyongyang these two cities often jostled for prominence in the Korean peninsula, reflected of course in the post-Korean War division of Korea after 1953. In Korean, Seoul actually means “capital”, and before the division of the peninsula, Seoul had been the capital of Korea for 750 years or so.
In fact, it is only 195km from Pyongyang to Seoul!
Other cities have also acted as capital cities of Korea. In the Koguryo Dynasty (Goguryeo) the city of Gungnae, located in present-day Ji’an – a city in China on the Korean border – was the capital. Between the 7th and 9th centuries the city of Seorabeol, present-day Gyeongju, ruled most of the Korean peninsula. Gaegyeong, modern-day Kaesong, was also the capital of the Koryo Dynasty (Goryeo) for most of the 10th to 14th centuries. During the Chosun Dynasty (Joseon) the city of Hanyang was the capital, and from the late 19th century the last unified Korean empire was ruled from Hanseong. Both of these cities are modern-day Seoul.
Fun fact – Pyongyang is twinned with Algiers, Baghdad, Chiang Mai, Dubai, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Moscow and Tianjin
Visit Pyongyang with Young Pioneer Tours for as little as €475 on our range of Ultra Budget tours.