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Pyongyang is the infamous capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a city of soaring monuments and beloved willow trees. Poised on the banks of the Taedong river, the city is home to some 3.2 million inhabitants, mostly Communist party faithful and other notables, who dwell in a stark maze of state-owned apartment blocks. Citizens of Pyongyang are considered the fortunate ones, enjoying benefits otherwise denied to villages beyond the capital, including well-stocked state-run markets where goods can be bought at a fraction of the price of the black market.
In true Communist fashion, Pyongyang is a planned city, heavily rebuilt since the Korean War. Its long, wide boulevards are flanked by immense and imposing buildings, all conforming to the dimensions of state-endorsed architectural styles. In North Korea, urban environments are believed to shape human consciousness, thus the layout of any city becomes a vital part of ideological control. An architect is considered much more than a designer of buildings, rather he is an engineer of the soul.Read more
As much as any monument reflects the political intent of its maker, Pyongyang’s colossal statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il – 20m high and forged from bronze – are among the city’s most important and astonishing works of propaganda. When visiting, you will be expected to lay some flowers at their feet. For the holiest of holy Communist shrines, however, head to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, formerly the official residence for North Korea’s head of state. Converted at a cost of many millions of dollars, it is today a mausoleum for Kim II-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il, their embalmed bodies encased within glass sarcophagi, heads resting on pillows, bodies swathed in Communist party flags.