It seems incredible to think it, given its stark, thoroughly 20th-century appearance, but Pyongyang is ancient, stretching back to when the Goguryeo dynasty built its capital here in AD 427. By the 7th century the kingdom of Goguryeo had started to collapse under the strain of successive, massive attacks from Sui and Tang China. Cutting a deal with the Tang Chinese, the Shilla kingdom in the South was able to conquer Goguryeo in 668, creating the first unified Korea.
Later, during the Goryeo dynasty, Pyongyang became the kingdom’s secondary capital. The city was completely destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and then again by the Manchus at the beginning of the 17th century. Pyongyang thenceforth remained a relative backwater until the arrival of foreign missionaries, who constructed over 100 churches in the city. Pyongyang was once again destroyed during the Sino-Japanese War (1894–5) and remained neglected until the occupying Japanese developed industry in the region.
The US practically wiped Pyongyang out between 1950 and 1953, and yet as the capital of the DPRK under Kim Il Sung, modern Pyongyang rose from the ashes with inimitable ‘Chollima speed’. Few historic buildings remain, but there are some in evidence, including a couple of temples and pavilions, the Taedong Gate and a few sections of the Goguryeo kingdom’s inner and northern walls.