Archaeologists in western Japan have unearthed the remains of a wooden palace believed to be that of a seventh-century emperor who laid the foundations for the nation’s bureaucracy, a member of the team said Tuesday.
The discovery in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, revealed new details about the layout and architecture of a complex of palaces and temples that briefly served as the capital in ancient times.
Archaeologists who have been excavating the site for decades recently found remains of a stone courtyard, a pond and holes for wooden pillars they believe were part of the residence of Emperor Tenmu, who reigned from 672 until 686 and is remembered for establishing a centralized bureaucracy. Previous digs had uncovered remains of walls, gates and other outlying parts of Tenmu’s palace, known as the Asuka Kiyomihara Palace, but never the emperor’s residence itself, said Kiyohide Saito, a researcher with the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara-Nara.
Archaeologists believe the courtyard, paved with more than 2,000 granite stones, and pond were part of a private garden adjoining a wooden palace that was 24 meters long and 12 meters wide.
“We were fuzzy about the layout of the complex,” Saito said. “This find allowed us to pinpoint where the emperor actually lived — certainly the magnificence of the courtyard points to that.”
Saito said earlier that Imperial palaces excavated to date did not have similar gardens on their grounds.
The Kiyomihara Palace is described in detail in the first official history of Japan, believed to have been started during Tenmu’s reign and completed about 40 years later in 720.