Shuri Castle: 5 things to know about Japan's fire-ravaged World Heritage Site landmark

Shuri Castle: 5 things to know about Japan's fire-ravaged World Heritage Site landmark

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at Shuri Castle, listed as a World Heritage site, in Naha on
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at Shuri Castle, listed as a World Heritage site, in Naha on the southern island of Okinawa, Japan October 31, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

NAHA, Japan: The historic Shuri Castle on Japan's Okinawa was reduced to a burnt shell on Thursday (Oct 31), after fire gutted a large part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site attraction. 

As firefighters continue to tackle the blaze on Thursday, here are five things to know about this significant hilltop landmark: 

SEAT OF POWER

The 14th-century Shuri Castle in Okinawa's capital city Naha was once the seat of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom. 

The castle served as the administrative centre and residence for Ryukyuan kings for centuries until 1879, when Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan. 

READ: Fire engulfs Shuri Castle, a 500-year-old World Heritage Site in Okinawa

With its flaming red facade, sloping tiled roof and Chinese-influenced decorative features, the castle's architecture is distinct from those found on mainland Japan. 

In 1933, it was designated by Tokyo as a national treasure. 

Shuri Castle throne
Above the throne in Shuri Castle's main hall - a replica of 17th century calligraphy penned by Qing dynasty emperor Kangxi and gifted to the Ryukyu king Shou Tei. Shuri Castle was the capital of the Ryukyu kingdom during this era. (Photo: Gwyneth Teo)

THE COMPLEX GROUNDS 

The castle grounds consist of the main hall (Seiden), which is flanked by the north hall (Hokuden) and the south hall (Nanden), as well as the distinctive Shureimon Gate. 

The Seiden, which sits in front of the expansive Una Plaza, was completely ravaged in Thursday's blaze.  

Shuri Castle view
This photo taken in November 2018 shows a view of Shuri Castle. (Photo: Gwyneth Teo)
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Inside, sat a replica of the throne and crown used by Ryukyuan kings alongside historical artefacts and information displays for visitors. 

The castle grounds is encircled by a wall and a park. 

FIRE-PRONE

Thursday's fire is the latest in a series of blazes that have blighted the castle over the centuries. 

Japan Okinawa Shuri Castle fire
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at the north hall of Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, Oct 31, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kyodo News/Jun Hirata)

Feudal tussles over succession to the Ryukyuan throne has seen the castle destroyed multiple times, including by fire. 

The present-day castle and several other buildings on the complex grounds are reconstructions that were built in 1992. 

The World Heritage Site status for the castle covers only the remnants of the ancient castle and not the rebuilt section. 

WORLD WAR II BASE

Okinawa was right in the thick of action during World War II, as Japan battled the Allied forces on the Pacific front. 

The Japanese army set up base on the castle grounds, where its hilltop fortress location provided it a semblance of strategic cover from enemy attacks. 

Shuri Castle diorama
The Ryukyu Kingdom was a tributary state of China's Ming and Qing dynasties; Ryukyu kings had to be confirmed by the Chinese emperor. This model in Shuri Castle depicts such an investiture ceremony by a Qing envoy, taking place in the castle's distinctive red and white courtyard. (Photo: Gwyneth Teo)

This aerial picture shows Shuri Castle after a fire ripped through the historic site in Naha
This aerial picture shows Shuri Castle after a fire ripped through the historic site in Naha, Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture, Oct 31, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Jiji Press)

However in the lead-up to the main push for the Battle of Okinawa, allied forces shelled the Shuri Castle for three consecutive days, razing it almost completely. 

POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTION 

The complex is a popular tourist attraction, drawing both locals and foreign visitors. It had been scheduled to be included as a stop on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay route.

This aerial picture shows the smouldering remains of Shuri Castle
This aerial picture shows the smouldering remains of Shuri Castle after a fire ripped through the historic site in Naha, Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture, Oct 31, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Jiji Press)

Among the highlights is a museum containing a host of interesting artefacts, from traditional outfits to Ryukyuan classical instruments. 

Its hilltop vantage point also offers panoramic views of Naha. 

Source: CNA/rw(cy)

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