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Baekje Historic Areas

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The Baekje Historic Areas cover 8 archeological sites from the late Baekje Kingdom (475-660 CE), with its unique culture. The remains are related to the three former capital cities of this kingdom: Gongju, Buyeo and Sabi.

This serial site comprises the following locations:

- Gongju: Gongsanseong Fortress, Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri

- Buyeo: the Busosanseong Fortress and Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings, Jeongnimsa Temple, royal tombs in Neungsan-ri and Naseong city wall

- Sabi: the royal palace at Wanggung-ri and the Mireuksa Temple

Map

Visit January 2017

The Baekje Historic Areas cover 8 archaeological sites in 3 clusters, representing the 3 former capital cities of this historic kingdom. During my stay in Seoul, I visited the Gongju cluster on a day trip by public transport. It was my first experience with Korea's long-distance bus system since my earlier visit in 2001, and it was a real pleasure to be transported on-time for only 7.20 EUR on a luxury coach with wide and comfy seats. It took 1.5 hours from the Seoul Express Bus Station to Gongju Bus Station.

Gongju nowadays has an odd city plan, with the river splitting it in two. A quick look at this provincial city proves that not everywhere in South Korea is as modern and prosperous as Seoul. The two components of the WHS are clearly visible from afar, each covering a hilltop near the river bridge closest to the city center. I first walked to Gongsanseong fortress. As I had spent the day before at Namhansanseong, I couldn’t bring up much enthusiasm for yet another Korean fortress. The flags are yellow here (“the national colour of Baekje, representing the center of the universe”), the walls steep and the main area without much sites of interest. Very little reminds of the Baekje area: the absolute low point is the “Site of Baekje Building”, which is just a flat piece of grass land.

After half an hour or so I decided to move on to the second component of the WHS and the renowned Gongju museum. As said, this part is also clearly visible on a hill – but how to get there? I went on foot from the fortress, and quite nearby there’s a sign pointing to ‘Jeongjisan Archaeological Site’. However I ended up in a residential area with fiercely barking dogs, and never found any access to the WH area from this approach.

I had brought a sketch of a map with me, and it seemed to show the main entrance of the complex to the back of the hill. So that meant another rather long walk on the Gongju pavements. Finally I ended up at the Royal Tombs of Songsan-ri. The area seemed deserted, but when I approached a ticket seller lifted the shutter of his booth and sold me a ticket. Then a trail awaits along the underground exhibitions and the tumuli outside. The interiors of the tumuli are all closed off nowadays, so the underground exhibition is the only way to admire the creative, Chinese inspired way of burial chamber design of the Baekje. Undoubted highlight is the tomb of King Muryeong: it looks as if he was buried in a book case!

The outdoor area is nice enough for a short stroll, but doesn’t bring more than a series a grassy bumps that cover the original graves. The trail along the tumuli ends at the far end of the archaeological area, and that’s where the entrance to the Gongju Museum lies. It’s a gigantic modern building. At the entrance I’m overloaded with free brochures, including a map of the whole Baekje area (including the other former capitals next to Gongju). The main hall on the first floor is dedicated to the findings from the Songsan-ri tombs. The most impressive one is that of the aforementioned King Muryeong. He and his wife were buried with many of their possessions such as weapons, tableware (from China), jewelry and shoes. A couple of the exhibits are currently away on loan to the National Museum in Gongju, where I had also admired them about a week ago.

So that’s all there is. I must say that the museum exhibits and the underground reconstruction of the tombs were the most impressive. There’s not much left of the structures that the Baekje built. For future visitors to Gongju and both WH locations, I’d like to suggest taking a taxi or local bus (101 apparently) from the bus station to the Gongju National Museum. I walked everywhere, and especially the way back from the museum to the bus station across the river is tiring.

Community Reviews


Jarek Pokrzywnicki - December 2016

November 2016. The whole site is divided into 3 different clusters. Due to reconstruction process at Mireuksa Temple I decided to focus on Gongju and Buyeo areas.

Gongju - two different sites: Gongsanseong Fortress and Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri. At first do not buy combine ticket to the sites - separate are a little bit cheaper (local Gongju Archeological Museum mentioned on a combined ticket may be visited free of charge).

Gongsanseong Fortress - well preserved fortress walls but there is not much inside (only a few reconstructed temples or pavilions). Some reconstruction works are still in progress (including huge area around Lotus Pond). Not to be missed - nice views of a city from different spots while strolling on the walls.

Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri - walking distance from Gongsanseong Fortress. There is a small museum with copies of some royal tombs including the most famous tomb of king Muryeong and vast area of real tombs (locked, impossible to visit). Some excavations are also available on a way to Archeological Museum (around one km from the last tomb, the path is well signed)

Buyeo - Busosanseong Fortress - much bigger than the fortress in Gongju but also less preserved (at least the walls), also contains some (mostly) reconstructed buildings (temples). Do not miss Nakhwaam Rock (the cliff of falling flowers) where royal ladies of Baekje Kingdom jumped off to kill themself during the invasion of Shilla army. Allow at least 2 hours as the area is quite huge. In the lower part of the fortress (to the south) there are remnants of different temples and palaces of Baekje Kingdom.

Jeongnimsa Temple - located in modern Buyeo, around one km from the fortress - contains relicts of old buddhist temple from Baekje period and a real treasure - five-storied stone pagoda (comparing to Mireuksa this one is standing).

Royal tombs in Neungsan-ri - around 3 km from Buyeo city center - the same situation as in Gongju - the real tombs are sealed and closed for visiting while full scale reconstructed tombs are open for tourists. Comparing to Muryeong tomb all these are more colourfull.

Naseong city wall - originally covers the whole area of Buyeo - currently there are huge works towards restoration / reconstruction the site. From Royal tombs in Neungsan-ri it goes to the north (towards the Busosanseong Fortress) although I am not sure which part was reconstructed. It also goes to the south (certainly climbs the nearby hill towards Geum river).

Both cities (Gongju and Buyeo) are easilily connected by very frequent buses (less then an hour), also they are both connected to major Korean towns (Seoul, Suwon, Daejon).


Kyle Magnuson - June 2011

The two most important sites in this serial property are the Tomb of King Muyeong and Mireuksa Temple. The famous tomb, which was discovered intact, became one of Korea's most famous archeological discoveries. The tomb included items from Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. The interior of the tomb can only be visited by an onsite replica. Like Kaesong and Gyeongju, this WHS is made up of mostly tombs, fortresses, and temples. The fortress in Gongju and Buyeo are both pleasant walks, but have been partially rebuilt in later historical periods. I am very interested in visiting the Naesong City Wall, which (to my knowledge) was never rebuilt following the Three Kingdoms period.

While Gongju and Buyeo are very easy to visit, it gets more complicated in Iksan. First and foremost if you visit Iksan hopefully it's by car, as these sites are spread out and only few of them are accessible by bus. I visited Mireuksa temple site, and the Wanggung-ri Palace site. These historic areas really feel like archeological sites. There are few remains, but fascinating nonetheless. Interestingly enough the famous and enormous Mireuksa 5-story pagoda (originally 7-story) no longer exists in a sense. Pretty much the only major remain at the site, Mireuksa pagoda has been dismantled to strengthen the base and back portion. So what you see is a huge building over a largely disappeared pagoda. The original stones are numbered and laid out over an area the size of a basketball court, all properly numbered and waiting to be put back together. (Very much like a jigsaw puzzle) The pagoda was in serious danger of collapsing under its huge weight, so I think the current plan is the best option. Mureuksaji was likely the largest temple in Korea, and the pagoda is the largest. The Japanese in 1915 built concrete supports at the back of the pagoda, helping the pagoda last another hundred years. When the pagoda is put back together it will be whole for the first time in about 400 years. The pagoda dates back to around 600 AD, likely the oldest stone pagoda in Korea.

Baekje Historic Areas (14)

The Wanggung-ri palace site is almost completely gone with only another stone pagoda (5-stories high), and some small stone pillars, foundations, and wall structures remaining. (Much of the site is closed for archeological studies) In the Iksan area alone there have been more than 19,000 Baekje artifacts already unearthed. The sites in Iksan are interesting, but most visitors will come away somewhat disappointed if you don't also visit Gongju or Buyeo. I would recommend visiting some of the excellent museums to add value to the sites. Baekje mostly demonstrates its OUV because of its connections and how it came into contact frequently with Japan and China along its coastal areas though trade and regional dominance. (Noteworthy is Baekje's influence on ancient Japanese kingdoms) I am happy to see the Baekje Historic Areas become Korea's 12th world heritage site. In so doing, it completes the representation of Korea's many dynasties on the list.

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.


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Site Info

Full name: Baekje Historic Areas

Site History

  • 2015 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
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  • 2015 - Revision

    Combination of former TWHS Gongju and Buyeo Historic Sites and Iksan Historic Areas (both 2010)
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  • 2010 - Revision

    As former TWHS Gongju and Buyeo: includes former TWHS Tomb of King Munyong (1994)
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Locations

The site has 8 locations.

  • Archeological Site in Gwanbuk-ri and Busosanseong Fortress
  • Archeological Site in Wanggung-ri
  • Gongsanseong Fortress
  • Jeongnimsa Temple Site
  • Mireuksa Temple Site
  • Naseong City Wall
  • Royal Tombs in Neungsan-ri
  • Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri

Connections

The site has 26 connections.

Architecture

  • Brick architecture “The stone chamber tombs with a corridor and the brick chamber tombs that were discovered in the Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri and the Royal Tombs in Neungsan-ri clearly illustrate that Baekje embraced – and advanced – the royal tomb-building technique of vaulted brick chamber tombs, which were popular at that time in China.” - Nomination File
  • Chinese Garden “Historical records indicate that the style of the Baekje gardens had a considerable influence on the development of Japanese gardens. However, as a garden in the royal palace from the Sabi Period was discovered at the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri, it was confirmed that China, the Baekje Kingdom, and Japan were closely engaged in exchanges of their garden cultures. Some of the oddly formed rocks and strangely shaped stones in the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri contain Chinese viewing stones, indicating the international nature of Baekje culture.” - Nomination File
  • Mud / Earth Architecture “Gongsanseong Fortress consists of both earthen wall sections and stone wall sections, although most parts are stone walls. The total length of the fortress amounts for 2,660m (stone walls: 1,925m; earthen walls: 735m).” - Nomination File

Constructions

  • Cultural sites connected to Cliffs Nakhwaam Rock, The Cliff of Falling Flowers “Nakhwaam Cliff and spring sites in Busosanseong Fortress form the background to many legends related to the royal family of Baekje.” - Nomination File
  • Dynastic Burial Places Baekje Dynasty (Tomb of King Muryeong)
  • Latrines Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri “Three units of large toilet were found lying in a row from east to west. Among them, Toilet No. 1 is 10.8m long, 1.8m wide, and 3.4m deep. These large toilets seemed to be used by ministers or court servants living in the royal palace. This was the first large ancient toilets found in Korea as an important archeological discovery. The remains have been covered with a protective layer of soil for conservation. Wooden strips for toilet discovered at the sites are housed at the Buyeo National Research Institute.” - Nomination File
  • Tombs Tomb of King Muryeong (501 to 523)

Damaged

  • Destroyed during invasion Mireuksa Temple, “The findings indicated that the temple was established in the early 7th century during the reign of King Mu and was demolished around the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592.” - Nomination File

History

  • Buried treasures Baekje Treasures (Tomb of King Muryeong and Mireuksa Temple)
  • Famous suicides Nakhwaam Rock (Buseosanseong) “Nakhwaam is a rock cliff towering over Baengmagang River in the northern end of Busosan Mountain. According to the legend, this is where the royal court women of Baekje jumped off to kill themselves when the kingdom of Baekje was defeated during the invasion of Sabiseong Fortress (now Busosanseong Fortress in Buyeo) by the Shilla-Tang Alliance. The name of this rock, Nakhwaam, literally means "the cliff of falling flowers" and symbolizes the fidelity and loyalty of Baekje women.”
  • Three Kingdoms of Korea 

Human Activity

Individual People

  • Queens and Empresses Queen Seonhwa and the origin of Mireuksa Temple, “The discovery of a record of the offerings alongside the sarira reliquaries confirmed that the Mireuksa Temple was established in the in 639 CE during the reign of King Mu by the Queen’s wish as part of her efforts to invoke Buddha’s favor.” - Nomination File

Religion and Belief

  • Buddhist Pure Land “The presence of so many temples and pagodas in Baekje suggests a high level of political symbolism intended to show that the capital of Baekje was the ‘land of Buddha’ and that the sovereign power was so divine that religious authority transcended the actual world.” - Nomination File
  • Legends and Folk Myths Nakhwaam Rock, The Cliff of Falling Flowers “Nakhwaam Cliff and spring sites in Busosanseong Fortress form the background to many legends related to the royal family of Baekje.” - Nomination File
  • Pagoda Mireuksa jiseoktap (National Treasure 11), built in 639 AD is the largest (and oldest) stone pagoda in Korea. “The Stone Pagoda at the Mireuksa Temple Site was the prototype of Korean stone pagodas and the first structure built with granite – which is hard to work with, but exceptionally durable – to express the architectural style of wooden pagodas built with materials that were easy to process. The construction of this stone pagoda laid the foundation for Baekje’s transformation into “the nation of stone pagodas.” - Nomination File

Timeline

  • Built in the 5th century “The Baekje Historic Areas serial property comprises eight archaeological sites dating from 475-660 CE” - AB Evaluation

Trivia

  • Built or owned by Japanese Mireuksa Temple Pagoda, in 1914 the Japanese government supported it with a concrete backing.
  • Dragon “The mural depicting the Four Deities (supernatural creatures representing the four directions, namely, the Blue Dragon, White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Black Tortoise) discovered at Tomb No. 1 is widely recognized as one of the most representative tomb murals of the Baekje.” - Nomination File
  • Famous Love Stories “The Song of Seodong”
  • Located in a Former Capital Baekje Kingdom (Gongju, Buyeo)
  • Poetic Quotations Baekje’s Stone by Kim Je-hyun
  • Recently discovered Tomb of King Muyeong (1971) “The tomb was accidentally discovered during water drainage work on the No.5 and 6 tombs in 1971. It had been untouched by grave robbers and thieves for over a millennium, and when it was excavated it was the first time the tomb had been opened since the bodies of the king and queen were interred there fifteen hundred years earlier.” - wiki
  • Replica cultural sites “The Exhibition Hall of the Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri displays a replica – reproduced in precision – of an ancient tomb closed to the public for reasons of protection. Visitors can learn about the excavation done for the royal tombs, interior appearance of the tombs, and Baekje culture of the time.” - Nomination File

WHS Hotspots

World Heritage Process