A trickle of water from a small spring eventually forms a brook, and when streams meet and become a larger body of water river is born. Streams and torrents follow the mountainous paths and ravines, irrigating the gorges and the valleys they travel to, creating fertile alluvial plains.
The Geumgang River, named for its beauty reminiscent of a roll of silk fabric unfolding across the landscape, runs by basins that were the setting to the ancient kingdom of Baekje and its once glorious history. The pristine natural environment along its course retains stamps of the cultures that flourished there over the past thousands of years.
The stream begun in Tteunbongsaem Spring, the main source of the Geumgang, located in Subun‐ri, Jangsu‐eup, Jangsu‐gun, Jeollabuk‐do, forks at one point in its course to give rise to the Geumgang and the Seomjingang Rivers. A river having a rather modest straight length of some 80km, the Geumgang travels a total distance of 400km, through Muju of Jeollabuk‐do, Daejeon of Chungcheongbuk‐do and sections of Chungcheongnam‐do, before it empties into the sea, west of Gunsan. It is the third longest river in South Korea, after the Hangang and the Nakdonggang Rivers. The journey down this river with a sober yet elegant allure promises to be a sensational one.
This museum dedicated to artworks and artifacts of Baekje displays its collection of some 1,200 items across four exhibition areas: the Prehistoric Hall, with bronze‐age items discovered in former Baekje territories, History Hall with Baekje treasures, Buddhist Art Hall with Buddhist artwork from Baekje, and the outdoor exhibition area.
The crown jewel of the museum’s collection is without a doubt the famous gilt‐bronze incense burner of unusually large proportions. The incense burner, resting on a stand shaped like a dragon, has a lid with twelve smoke holes, and its surface, covered with lotus blossom designs, is divided into three sections, each depicting multiple tiers of mountains. The pointed knot at the center of the lid is shaped like a phoenix. No less compelling to the eye is the gilt‐bronze standing Maitreya Buddha statue. The Buddha has a well‐defined nose and eyes cast slightly downwards, and the face is lit with a gentle smile, displaying a congeniality and temperance that is typical to Baekje Buddhist sculptures. The tour of this museum feels indeed much like a journey back to the past.
Gungnamji Pond lies at the end of a stretch of level land, extending from the south side of Busosan Mountain. As the oldest manmade pond in Korea, 160,000m2 in total area, it earned its name after the fact that it lies south of the Baekje palace. Surrounded by willow trees, all around its edge, this lovely pond has an islet in its middle. The garden pavilion on the islet, named “Poryongjeong,” is connected to the shore by a stone bridge. Every year, starting from the month of May, the pond is flooded with flowers. The entire surface becomes covered with lotus blossoms, whose pastel tones are beautifully contrasted with the vivid colors of the wildflowers at the water’s edge.
An olden tale reports that Seodong, who later became King Mu of Baekje, cruised this pond aboard a rowing boat with Princess Seonhwa from Silla, to allay the sadness of the home‐sick young woman.
This couple tomb, belonging to King Muryeong, the 25th ruler of Baekje, and his queen consort, is built in bricks. The excavation of this tomb yielded slews of National Treasure‐grade artifacts. All items discovered in the tomb of King Muryeong are on display at the Gongju National Museum.
Gold crowns and accessories including gold earrings, bronze mirrors, headrests and footrests are amongst the most notable burial goods found in this tomb. At the entrance of the Songsanni Ancient Tombs, there is an exhibition hall reproducing the interior of the tomb of King Muryeong, the way it was presumed to be at the time of construction. The interior of ancient tombs was designed much like the interior of a residential home, reflecting the ancient belief that the dead live on.
Buyeo and Gongju are both famous for a dish called “dolssambap.” Dolssambap is rice cooked in a stoneware pot which is eaten wrapped inside fresh leaf vegetables. The rice is cooked with a variety of other ingredients such as soybeans, pieces of sweet potatoes and carrots and ginseng. This nutritious rice is served with some twenty vegetables, including kelp, cabbage, mustard leaves and kale. A spoonful of warm rice is placed inside a leaf, along with a cold slice of boiled meat to make a bite‐size vegetable‐wrapped bundle.
Two of the best‐known places serving this dish are Gudeurae Dolssambap (tel. 82-41-836-9259), a restaurant having several branches, whose main establishment is located near the road toward Gudeurae Ferry, and Goma Naru Dolssambap (82-41-857-9999), located outside the front gate of Gongsanseong Fortress of Gongju.
☞ Gongju City Hall Homepage: http://tour.gongju.go.kr:8090/jsp/en/index.jsp