Buyeo and Gongju are austere, modest towns, where one can feel the dignity of the Baekje Kingdom (18 BC – AD 660). Once capital cities of the Baekje Kingdom, the area is filled with attractions bearing the history of the kingdom and places manifesting a genuine harmony between man and nature. In appreciation of these aspects, the cities of Buyeo and Gongju were recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Read on to discover more about what these historical cities have to offer!
Gongju was the capital city of Baekje for 63 years. In 1971, there was a breakthrough in the discovery of the Royal Tomb of King Muryeong, the only royal tomb from the Three Kingdoms Period whose occupant has been identified. The bodies of King Muryeong (r. 462-523) and his queen had been interred here together and over 2,900 pieces of artifacts have been excavated, including the King and Queen's crown ornaments and other accessories.
The relics and artifacts removed from the Royal Tomb of King Muryeong are on display in exhibition halls at Songsan-ri Ancient Tombs and Gongju National Museum. The excavated tombs themselves are now closed for preservation, but recreations of the interior of Tomb No. 6 and the Royal Tomb of King Muryeong have been built for visitors to enter. The two ancient tombs are the only brick tombs of Baekje, indicating the kingdom's exchange with China. The arrangements of the bricks and the diverse patterns engraved on them are emblematic of Baekje's brilliant culture.
Unfortunately, the exhibition hall at Songsan-ri Ancient Tombs is currently closed until late summer 2019. However, visitors can still walk around Songsan-ri Ancient Tombs and see the many relics and artifacts on display at Gongju National Museum.
Gongsanseong Fortress was the site of the protective fortress and royal palace built at the time when Gongju was designated as the capital of Baekje. In addition to its great historical significance, the fortress offers a pleasant walk along its ramparts. The most scenic spots of the fortress are the section stretching from Geumseoru Pavilion to Manharu Pavilion and its lotus pond, and the section leading from Jinnammun Gate to Ssangsujeong Pavilion and the presumed palace site.
By hiking up the ramparts from Geumseoru Pavilion, one gets a commanding view of the Geumgang River flowing around the fortress and the newer part of Gongju across the river. In the opposite section near the Jinnammun Gate, you can enjoy looking down upon the old part of town.
At Gongsanseong Fortress, a guard changing ceremony takes place every weekend and public holiday, every hour on the hour between 11:00 and 17:00. Visitors to the fortress can also enjoy a variety of hands-on experience programs such as practicing archery, and making their own bows.
The Great Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje (National Treasure No. 287) and the Five-story Stone Pagoda of Jeongnimsaji Temple Site (National Treasure No. 9) are considered the most representative Baekje era relics in Buyeo. Created over 1,500 years ago, these artifacts show a graceful dignity that is unique to Baekje and the elaborate skills of Baekje craftsmen.
The Great Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje is kept in the Buyeo National Museum. The support is symbolically carved in the form of a blossoming lotus flower and the lid in the form of Samsinsan (Three Gods Mountains). The Five-story Stone Pagoda of Jeongnimsaji Temple Site is preserved on the grounds of Jeongnimsaji Museum. The stone pagoda was part of Jeongnimsa Temple, a central temple of the Baekje era that was built around the time the capital was transferred from Gongju to Buyeo. Although only faint traces of Jeongnimsa Temple remain, the Five-story Stone Pagoda has stood firm throughout the last 1,400 years.
A total of seven ancient tombs from the Baekje era make up the Ancient Tombs in Neungsan-ri, Buyeo. The identities of the grave occupants are still unknown but they are presumed to be part of the royal family. One tomb in particular, Junghachong, has an arched ceiling just like that of the royal tomb of King Muryeong, differentiating it from the remaining tombs that have ceilings in the shape of squares or hexagons.
Next to the tombs, visitors can see what remains of Buyeo Naseong, the outer fortress wall protecting the ancient capital city. The wall is made up of a flat stone exterior, with a gentle sloping hill on the city side to allow those inside the fortress to more easily fight off outside attacks. The location of the wall provides insight into how large the capital city was during the Baekje period in Buyeo.
The Gwanbuk-ri Relics and Busosanseong Fortress are all that remain of what was once the Baekje Kingdom’s last capital city, then called Sabigung Palace and Sabiseong Fortress. The relics site provides important details into the layout of the palace, with many small artifacts showing building and well placements. The most popular attraction at Busosanseong Fortress is Baekhwajeong Pavilion perched on the cliffs of Nakhwaam Rock. The approximately 1.3 kilometer-long forest path up to Baekhwajeong Pavilion makes for a nice walk. The path is especially beautiful in the spring and fall for its verdure and crimson foliage respectively. From Baekhwajeong Pavilion, visitors can enjoy a fine view of the Geumgang River below and its surrounding landscape.
Located approximately 200 meters below the pavilion is Goransa Temple. This small temple is famous for its spring water, said to make who drinks the water become three years younger. At the entrance to the temple is a dock for the ferry and hwangpo sailboats, offering the best views of Nakhwaam Rock. There are no set departure times for these boats as they set out when they have seven passengers.
Baekje Cultural Land offers a unique chance to experience Baekje's history, the life of its people, and an array of its relics. The complex includes the Baekje History & Culture Museum, offering a comprehensive history of Baekje; and Sabiseong Fortress, a reconstruction of the most symbolic palace of the Baekje kingdom. Also within the fortress area are Neungsa Temple, the representative temple of the Baekje era; a small tomb park; a reconstruction of Wiryeseong Fortress, a royal palace site located in the Hangang River basin during the Hanseong Baekje era (18 BC – AD 475); and the Living Culture Village.
The most striking structure at Sabiseong Fortress is the 38 meter-high, five-story wooden pagoda. It is a real-size replica of the artifact uncovered near Buyeo Neungsan-ri Ancient Tombs and displays the splendid culture and dignity of Baekje. The Living Culture Village features restorations of houses in a wide range of classes, from the lowest of low to the houses of generals and governors. The inside of these houses recreate the lives of the past.
Situated near Gongju National Museum is a hanok (traditional Korean house) accommodation facility known simply as Gongju Traditional Korean Village. These hanok buildings, including both tiled-roof houses and thatched-roof houses, are equipped with modern amenities on top of traditional features. The Korean floor heating system using gudeuljang (flat stone slabs used as floor tiles) make the hanok accommodations especially charming in winter.
The village is divided into a group visitors’ area and individual visitor’s area, making it an ideal stay not only for families and friends, but also groups of travelers. For visitors' convenience, there is also a range of restaurants serving hanjeongsik (Korean table d'hote), hanu gukbap (beef rice soup), and dishes made with chestnuts, a regional specialty. The village also provides various programs of hands-on experiences that trace back to Baekje’s culture including a tea ceremony, preparing chestnuts dishes or injeolmi tteok (rice cakes coated with powdered soybeans), making artifacts, and book-binding.
* This column was last updated in May 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.