Few foreign tourists visit North Korea, and even fewer get to see the metro stations in Pyongyang. Traveller’s itineraries are highly curated—if you wish to visit the Pyongyang metro stations you can only disembark at a couple stops. But what is arguably the world’s most enigmatic public transportation line is also home to some of the most beautiful stations, each depicting a tenet of the North Korean revolution.
It’s a long escalator ride below Pyongyang’s streets to the deepest subway system in the world, also designed as a bomb shelter. According to a prominent defector, a former president of Kim Il Sung University, a second underground system is hidden farther below the public metro that would allow leaders to escape in case of emergency.1
Yonggwang (Glory) Station: its chandeliers represent the fireworks that celebrated the nations victory, and the pillars are sculpted in the shape of victory torches.
Docent-led tours stop at Pyongyang’s most opulent stations, Puhung (Reconstruction) and Yonggwang (Glory) to marvel at the lighting fixtures, reminiscent of fireworks. In Yonggwang Station the lights are intended to “bring to view the victory celebrations after the war,” and its pillars evoke torches bursting into flame. On the walls, massive mosaics depict the leader flanked by strong and smiling workers.
With SubArt’s global Subway Art Guide, you can explore other stations, including those sequestered from foreign tours. Unique among the world’s subway systems, Pyongyang’s stations are named not based on their geographic location but on nationalistic ideals. Each station’s design reflects these motifs in the socialist realist style. Over 100 murals and 100 sculptures tell the cultural narrative of North Korea’s revolution and national origins at each subway stop.
Kwangbok (Rebirth, or Restoration) is lined with murals showing scenes of the forest from which Kim Il Sung was purported to have led the country’s anti-Japanese attacks.
Scenes of the North Korea countryside line Kwangbok (Rebirth, or Restoration) and depict the places where various military affronts and successes played out.
The chandeliers in the Hwanggumbol (Golden Fields) Station are intended to evoke bunches of grapes from a productive harvest.
This station, Hwuanggumbol (Golden Fields), celebrates the fertility of the country’s land.
Konguk (National Foundation) is lined with an intricate 30-meter long mosaic—each square meter contains 10,000 tiles. Thick and densely spaced pillars march down its platform.
Kim Il Sung is depicted in this mural in the Konguk station working alongside the citizens of North Korea.
Modeled after Moscow’s opulent subway system, it includes marble and stone accents and lavish chandeliers. The fixtures hanging from the ceiling of Puhung are rumored to weigh 4 tons each. Kim Il Sung is quoted to have said that “The system was built to provide for a civilized and convenient life to the people” so no expense was spared in decorating the metro’s interior.
Pyongyang’s subway stations borrow motifs from Moscow’s underground art, with ornate chandeliers and marble hallways.
The unifying design of Pyongyang’s subway stations is an opportunity for collective cultural enrichment and placemaking. Take a virtual tour in this hidden metro system here.
1 Kim Jong-il 'Has Secret Underground Escape Route' http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2009/12/09/2009120900263.html