Secret tunnels and escape routes in the Korean palaces

Dr JM Parks picture of the Russian Legation escapeway
I am sure most of you readers have heard the rumors/tales/legends of the secret tunnel that ran between the Russian Legation and Toksu palace, but have you heard of the other tunnels and escapeways allegedly used by the Korean royal family?

Well, if you haven’t, you can read about them here – in the Korea Times.

Picture credit – courtesty of Dr. J. M. Park, the owner of the Coffee Museum.  If you ever get a chance – go – the coffee is fantastic (and, make sure you mention my name – hopefully he will give me a free cup next time I am there….hint hint hint)

P.S. Sorry for doing three posts (two of them long) back to back – this one is my last one for tonight.

  • hamel

    I thought that story about there being a tunnel from Deoksugung (then called Gyeongun-gung) to the Russian legation had been put to rest?

    If you look at the map of Gyeongun-gung in 1904, the fact is that the palace and the legation properties were contiguous, and a small gate was all that was needed to go from one to the other. Digging a tunnel from the legation building itself to Jungmyeongjeon or another of King Gojong’s residence buildings would have been a BIG job and would have taken years with the tech of the time.

    Have a look at this. Here is another great view of the Russian legation with the wall of 경운궁/덕수궁 next to it – it is a photo I hadn’t seen before.

    I am sad that of all the buildings disappeared from 덕수궁, we have lost the lovely 돈덕전 Dondeokjeon. Incidentally, yet another Western style building apparently designed by Seredin-Sabatin, the Swiss-Russian Renaissance man of fin de siecle Korea.

  • robert neff

    Hamel – my arch nemisis – we meet again. lol

    As you already know, I, too, thought the tunnel story was nothing more than fiction. How and who built the tunnel? How could you have kept it secret? But, I have it on very good authority by two individuals (you know them) that a tunnel of some sort seems to have existed. They both claim to have seen it. One at the Russian Legation’s grounds and the other on the American compound – (part of the palace’s land was purchased by the American government in the late 1940s). The next time we meet I’ll let you know who they were.

  • DLBarch

    You don’t suppose the Korea Times would let you do a piece on the “secret” presidential escape tunnel that runs from Chong Wa Dae to a helicopter landing pad nestled in the back side of the Biwon Gardens, do you?

    Neither do I.


  • R. Elgin

    The Korea Times needs an escape tunnel.

  • kuiwon

    Great stuff. Does the Russian legation building still exist?

  • hamel

    kuiwon: just the tower. The rest was destroyed during the Korean War.

    You can see a photo of the tower and some text about the Russian who built it and several other buildings (including, apparently, 독립문) here:

    Incidentally, Soviet diplomats were at the Russian legation building until July 1946, when the US military government ordered them to pack up and leave, because the USSR would not allow the US to open a similar consulate office in Pyongyang.

  • Wedge

    Hamel: Would it not be better to have a tunnel running from under the king’s residence to the legation, rather than an above-ground gate out the back? Anyway, I’ve heard Mr. Neff’s story and it sounds plausible to me.

  • hamel

    Hamel: Would it not be better to have a tunnel running from under the king’s residence to the legation, rather than an above-ground gate out the back?

    It might be, but:
    1) Deoksugung palace (then called Gyeongun-gung) didn’t come into use as a royal palace until AFTER King Gojon had already come out of his 1 year+ in hiding in the Russian legation.
    2) I have seen no evidence that the tunnel /bunker/shelter under the legation actually extends all the way to any of the buildings in the palace complex
    3) if such a tunnel did exist, it would have taken a long time and a lot of technical expertise to build. I don’t think there was that time to complete such a tunnel
    4) When the Japanese began cutting Deoksugung apart in 1910-ish, they would have found any such tunnel. They might have been tempted to make it public to embarrass both the retired King and the Russians.
    5) the Palace grounds at the time extended to the walls of the US, British and Russian legations, and there were gates/access points directly from within the palace compound to each of them (Amb Uden remembers that the gate to the UK embassy was only removed in recent decades).

    The tunnel story is an attractive one, and somewhat plausible, but I don’t see any evidence for it going all the way.

  • hardyandtiny

    interesting story

  • M Arnold

    Hey there!

    I’m really interested in finding out where this “secret tunnel” entrance is! I went to the old legation today, and could find no trace of that doorway that is pictured in this article.

    That’s not next door in the American compound is it?