8 Facts About The Arch Of Triumph (Pyongyang)

Who would have thought that an ancient Roman invention would once become one of the most popular attractions in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea?

This monumental arch is not only one of the most amazing structures in this city, but also one of the tallest of its kind in the world.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, a monument with a couple of fascinating stories to tell.

1. It’s located near the foot of a prominent hill in the city

The Arch of Triumph is a huge monument located just north of the center of Pyongyang, the capital of the most secretive country on the planet, North Korea.

That’s quite unfortunate because, in just about any other country in the world, this astounding monument would be one of the most visited tourist attractions.

Instead, it’s located in a somewhat isolated position in an empty public space referred to as “Triumph Return Square.”

This square is situated at the foot of “Moranbong,” also known as “Moran Hill,” a hill in the center of the city that reaches an elevation of about 95 meters (312 feet) and which is topped with the imposing Pyongyang TV Tower.

Arch of triumph pyongyang facts
View of the arch on the square / Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

2. It was built in honor of a special occasion in the country’s history

Cost nor effort was spared to erect this structure in the early 1980s, and there was a special reason for it.

The monument was built to commemorate the struggle of North Korea to fight against Japanese rule. That’s why the years 1925 and 1945 were inscribed into the arch.

1925 represents the year that the eventual founder of the country, Kim Il-sung (1912-1994), started his epic quest to liberate the Koreans from the Japanese.

1945 represents the year that he supposedly succeeded in this quest. He eventually ended up establishing the country in the year 1948.

why was the arch of triumph in pyongyang built
Detail of the inscribed years / Oldmanisold / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

3. The number of granite blocks used to build it has a special meaning

The propaganda machine in North Korea is very particular when it comes to details regarding their national monuments.

This notion becomes clear when you realize that the monument was unveiled on April 15, 1982, the 70th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country.

This is nothing compared to the fact that 25,500 blocks of high-quality white granite were used to build the arch, the exact number of days that the “Great Leader” had lived by then.

The same principle applies to the “Juche Tower,” a monumental tower that was unveiled on the same day and which was built with 25,500 blocks of granite.

Arch of triumph granite blocks

4. It was modeled after its more famous brother that stands in Paris

Even though the first triumphal arches in the world were built during ancient Roman times, one of the most famous arches in the world can be found in Paris, France.

The “Arc de Triomphe” stands 50 meters (164 feet) tall and is 45 meters (148 feet) wide and was built between 1806 and 136. It served as the main inspiration for the designers of the Arche of Triumph in Pyongyang.

Obviously, they made it slightly taller and wider than its world-famous brother in Paris, as one could expect when it comes to a monument glorifying the nation of North Korea.

arc de triomphe paris
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris /

5. It’s the second-tallest triumphal arch in the world

Even though they added about 10 meters (32.8 feet) to the height and 5 meters (16.4 feet) to the width of the arch in Paris, the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang isn’t the tallest triumphal arch in the world.

It stands 60 meters (200 feet) tall and has a width of 50 meters (160 feet). This makes it the second-tallest triumphal arch in the world.

The highest triumphal arch is located in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, and is called the “Monumento a la Revolución.”

This arch was constructed between 1910 and 1938 to commemorate the Mexican Revolution and stands 67 meters (220 feet) tall.

Mexico triumphal arch
The triumphal arch in Mexico / Ismael Villafranco / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

6. The lyrics of a popular North Korean song were carved into the arch

Apart from the inscribed numbers 1925 and 1945, the arch is elaborately decorated with sculptures glorifying North Korea as they liberated themselves from Japanese rule.

These sculptures are joined by carved azalea flowers and also glorify the “Workers’ Party of Korea,” the country’s only political party. These decorate the arch’s 4 vaulted gateways.

Another remarkable decoration that is located just above the main gateway of the arch is the lyrics of a song known as the “Song of General Kim Il-sung.”

This propaganda song was composed in 1946 and strengthened the cult of personality that emerged in the country following the conclusion of WWII.

This marching song that extensively praises Kim Il-sung’s efforts is still played often in the country (whether people like it or not).

Arch of triumph lyrics kim il sung song
Detail of the lyrics that were carved into the arch / Wiki Commons

7. The arch can be accessed and features an observation platform

Even though the structure was built as a monument, it serves a lot more functions than merely decorative. It can be accessed and features dozens of rooms.

Some elevators allow people to travel to the top of the arch. This section features multiple observation decks that provide astounding views of the city of Pyongyang.

The arch also features 4 vaulted gateways that reach a height of 27 meters (89 feet) each.

Arch of triumph sideview
Sideview of the arch / Uwe Brodrecht / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

8. This astounding monument looks even more impressive at night

To emphasize the importance of this monument, it was equipped with numerous lights that allow it to be illuminated at night.

It’s nearly impossible for these lights to be switched off as well because there’s a single-cylinder diesel generator that serves as a backup in case the main power source fails.

The lights surely turn this remarkable monument into a fascinating landmark at night, don’t you think?

Arch of triumph pyongyang at night
The illuminated arch at night / Roman Harak / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/