DPRK’s real-life potemkin village(s)

Pyongyang is often referred to as a “potemkin village” because visitors to the city are often skeptical that what they see is representative of reality.  However while making updates to North Korea Uncovered this weekend, I stumbled on what appears to be an an actual “potemkin city” in the DPRK.  It is very large and appears to me to be used for military training–because frankly I can’t  immediately think of another use (probably too large for a movie set).  Here is an overview image of the facility:

Click on image for larger version

The “main street” in this model city is appx .75km (running from NW to SE in the image) . The width of the city is .47km.  I checked very quickly to see if the city plan matched up with anywhere in Seoul, but could not find any similarities.  The compound itself looks very “Soviet” in design so it might not be a location in South Korea at all (It kind of reminds me of Bucharest).  The other possibilities are that it could be a location that no longer exists (I do not know how old this “training area” is) or it could be a model of a location that has never existed.

Here are a couple of close up images:

potemkin-closeup1.JPG  potemkin-closeup2.JPG
(Click images for larger version)

Here you can see how thin the “buildings” are as well as the sun shining through the facades and dotting the ground where the “windows” are.

You can see the facility in wikimapia here.  The coordinates are:  40° 0’52.32″N, 125°53’11.79″E.

If anyone has a better theory about this place, please let me know in the comments.  If I am wrong I would like to know before my reputation is completely destroyed.

UPDATE: In the comments, DCK points out another facility near Pyongyang:

Click image for larger version.

 This one is located at 38° 58.079′N, 126° 6.328′E.


16 Responses to “DPRK’s real-life potemkin village(s)”

  1. Adamu says:

    Personally I wouldn’t put it past KJI to construct a fabulously large permanent movie set as a setting for his beloved movies. I haven’t actually seen any NK films but maybe these facades show up in some of them?

  2. eunsung says:

    It seems to be a bit far from Pyongyang to be a movie studio.

    Some thoughts: The curved walls, and the crest on one of the buildings remind me of Japanese colonial architecture. You can see a lot of this in Seoul.

    Secondly, the streets are straight. This is a contrast with most locations in South Korea, except for newly-built cities like Ilsan, Daejeon, Yeoeui-do, etc.

    I’ll look around a bit. My starting place will be Daejeon, because it has both straight streets and colonial architecture.

  3. Fred says:

    Probably a KPA Special forces unit urban-warfare training center for street battle simulation in either Seoul or Pyongyang. Most armies have this.

  4. Robert says:

    Thanks for sharing your excellent detective work. The military training center sounds like the best hypothesis.

  5. Matt says:

    Are all those building facades? If they are this might weaken the case for an urban training site. I saw the grand main avenue and started thinking about a runway, though.

  6. Matt says:

    Also, notice the big soccer pitch, covered in snow, down towards the river? Does this belong to what looks like a small hamlet, off to the east?

  7. NKeconWatch says:

    I was thinking that the football pitch was for the soldiers garrisoned there…

  8. Planeman says:

    My first thought is a film set but not compelling. A country and western theme park?

    Agree, most FIBUA (Fighting in Built Up Areas, or Fighting in someone else’s house) have whole houses.

    But the proof it’s military training is the assault obstacles on the hills to the
    north west – no civilian explanation for them. And the large numbers on the hills around (ie 40.017884°, 125.879544° and 40.024908°, 125.885593°).

    There aren’t many other military sites nearby although the lighting of the imagery makes it hard to ID most. I found a couple in a two min search….

    a) Probable artillery in area of 40.003313°, 125.882254° – trenches in front and garrison at southern end of site.

    b) AAA site at 40.111163°, 125.920847°

  9. meep says:

    My guess is that it is a military training ground, but specifically for vehicles (tanks, especially) to train for maneuverability in an urban setting. The roads appear well-used, and the long buildings at the bottom of the image may contain some garages.

    If it is for tanks, you wouldn’t necessarily want whole buildings, because it’s cheaper to replace a fake wall than it is an entire structure if someone plows into it.

  10. Planeman says:

    good thinking, seems probable.

  11. Mike says:

    The whole structure very much looks like a military aircraft (training) shooting-range.

  12. Matt says:

    Good Comments.
    1. At 40 00 50.90 N 125 53 12.28 E it looks like a line of 6 “somethings” parked. AFVs?

    2. If this is an armor training site, we would expect to see some support buildings, like maintenance sheds, garages, etc., right? Does the building at 40 01 01.79 N 125 52 51.17 E look like one? Long, broad, straight road leading to it. Also, which would be more reasonable, units bring their vehicles with them, or use vehicles on-site? If it is the latter, then maybe some storage facilities?

    3. I know some people have looked around nearby, anything resembling a live-fire range, to go along with the maneuver training?

  13. derwoolley says:

    The building at the top centre appears to have tanks or bmps parked in front of it. If you follow the track that diverges from the main street at the left (actually North), follow it out of the picture for a few miles, there also appears to be a tank park by the river. The separate structure on the bottom left (really northwest) appears to be a forecourt into underground storage and parking. So it looks as if it is a practice range for anti-tank urban warfare, and for tank urban warfare. Just west of north of that underground park is a large numeral 2 carved into the undergrowth. West of these is a square of reflecting glass that doesn’t seem to be a glass house — but may be an enormous skylight for an underground workshop.

  14. dck says:

    Possibly an urban warfare training area where units train how to best quell unrest in those big rectangular coal mining cities not far away from that site?

    the Pyongyang urban warfare training range is located at a river southeast of the capital (38° 58.079’N, 126° 6.328’E).

    Another tactical landscape model can be found at 38° 43.451’N, 127° 52.511’E

  15. NKeconWatch says:

    The first location you mention is correct. Excellent work. However, I do not see anything at the second location that resembles a training facility.

  16. J.D. Fielder says:

    The facades only need basic plywood guts to function as an effective MOUT site: cheap to build, but with plenty of cover for the opposition force.

    Kind of scary, though, we can do this level of analysis using open-source imagery. I’m still miffed Google street view has a picture of me drinking a beer with a neighbor, let alone what this means on the larger national security scale.