Enjoy Baekje, the birthplace of Hallyu.
The criteria on which the Baekje Historic Areas joined the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites provides a brief overview of the Baekje Historic Areas.
- The archaeological sites and architecture of the Baekje Historic Areas exhibit the interchange between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan in the development of construction techniques and the spread of Buddhism.
- The setting of the capital cities, Buddhist temples and tombs, architectural features and stone pagodas of the Baekje Historic Areas contribute in forming exceptional testimony to the unique culture, religion and artistry of the kingdom of Baekje.
The historical artifacts remaining in the three capital cities of Baekje, an ancient kingdom located in the southwestern region of the Korean peninsula, represent the later years of a kingdom that was in its cultural heyday with frequent trades with neighboring regions.
Baekje, one of the three early kingdoms established in the Korean peninsula, was found in 18 BC and endured for 700 years until it fell in 660. The Baekje Historic Areas consist of 8 archeological sites spread across the three areas of Gongju City, Buyeo County, and Iksan City. The Gongsanseong and Royal Tombs of Songsan-ri, which are related to the Gongju Ungjin Castle, the Gwanbuk-ri historic sites, Busosanseong, Jungnimsa, Royal Tombs of Neungsan-ri, and Buyeo Naseong City Wall, which are related to the Buyeo Sabi Castle, and lastly the Wanggung-ri Historic Site and Mireuksaiji in the Iksan area, Baekje’s second capital during the Sabi Period, illustrate the history of the Baekje Kingdom between the years 475 and 660. Baekje’s historic sites illustrate that Baekje had accepted China’s city planning principles, construction technology, artistry, and religion to adapt them into their own, and the sophisticated culture Baekje developed on top of such foundations was distributed to Japan and other parts of East Asia.
When the city of Hanseong fell from Goguryeo’s attack in the year 475, Baekje abandoned its capital ravaged by war and relocated the capital from Hanseong to Ungjin, current-day Gongju. The most crucial geographical factor in relocating to Gongju was the area’s defense strengths as Baekje’s relocation was motivated by Goguryeo’s invasion into its capital. Therefore, it was a priority for the kingdom to prepare for possible future invasions from Goguryeo. Gongju’s geography is a diamond-shaped basin located on the midstream of Geum River. In the east, Gyeryongsan stretches long from north to south. Moreover, the south and west are also surrounded by mountains and it is difficult to enter Gongju without crossing over the mountains. As such, Gongju’s east, west, and south were blocked off by mountains, and on the north, the Geum River flowing east to west cut off access to the region. Baekje chose Gongju as the most advantageous region based on such geographical factors since the Kingdom would be able to prevent Goguryeo’s invasion. Consequently, it can be concluded that Baekje prioritized defensive strength when selecting their new capital, and Gongju’s geography met their needs. However, the relocation worsened the economic foundations and openness required for a capital area, and these became factors that motivated the second relocation to Buyeo. The Ungjin area was split into east and west by the Jemincheon that now divides Gongju city. The junction of Jemincheon and Geum River was a swale that had the risk of being flooded during storms, so the area that could actually be used in the downtown of Gongju was very small. Regarding the size of Ungjin’s capital area, it had been suggested that there was a fortress surrounding the capital. However, after years of archeological inspections, it was confirmed that there was no fortress surrounding Ungjin at that time. In order to estimate the size of the capital area, one reference is the range distribution of ancient tombs. It becomes clearly evident that the tombs were placed on the outskirts of the capital area in the Sabi Period, but such a system existed in the Ungjin Period as well. The tombs near Gongju are the Royal Tombs of Geumhak-dong in the east and Royal Tombs of Songsan-ri in the west. Therefore, the area surrounded by these ancient tombs can be understood as the capital area of the time.
In the year 538, Baekje relocates its capital for the second time to Sabi, current-day Buyeo. The Sabi Period continued for 123 years until Baekje suffered defeat from the Silla and Tang coalition forces. The defensive strengths that were the most crucial factor in relocating to Gongju were considerably less important as evident from the repeated victories against Goguryeo in the early 6th century. King Seong (reign 523-554), who relocated the capital to Buyeo, worked upon the successful state management of his predecessor King Muryeong and brought even further advancement. To strengthen his sovereign power by restraining aristocratic influence, he relocated the capital. The Gongju basin area was only 10㎢, too confined for a capital region. Buyeo had a relatively wider open terrain compared to Gongju and this advantage in having a larger population capacity must have been a factor in the relocation. Moreover, the ocean reached the Buyeo area during high tides, which allowed large ships to come in and out with the tides instead of some other power source. This feature was an enormous advantage in terms of trade and distribution of commodities. However, that did not mean that Buyeo was at a geographical disadvantage in terms of defensive power. Buyeo’s north, west, and south are surrounded by the Geum River, functioning as a natural shield for the city. Mountains covered east of the city, and while the terrain was not rugged, there were rows of mountains under a 200m altitude that could maximize the capital’s defensive power with additional defensive structures. To strengthen the defense of Buyeo’s eastern area, the kingdom constructed the Buyeo Naseong City Wall on the outskirts of the capital to surround the city. In the year 538, Baekje relocated its capital to Buyeo to overcome the limitations Gongju had as a capital city. Buyeo constructed a set of royal castles—a royal palace, a back garden, and a fortress that could function as a refuge in times of need—in the center north of the capital close to Geum River, and the Buyeo Naseong City Wall surrounded the entire city including the royal castles. A 30-year-long archeological inspection was conducted over the Buyeo capital area in regards to its historical significance. The inspection revealed large building sites assumed to be the royal palace, a Buddhist temple within the capital, the Naseong City Wall, tombs and such discoveries that relay a full account of what Baekje’s capital looked like 1,500 years ago.
The 30th King of Baekje, King Mu (Reign 600-641), is known to have been born in Iksan, and it is understood that he actively attempted to manage Iksan as evident from the Mireuksa Temple established during his reign and such other efforts. The following factors are assumed to have motivated King Mu’s management of Iksan: to strengthen sovereign power by restraining the aristocratic influence that centered around the Buyeo area, to secure Iksan, a key strategy location, for the war with Silla, and to firmly secure dominance over Baekje’s southern regions. Iksan’s proximity to the Geum River, Mankyung River, and the ocean gave the advantage of easy access to water transportation, and the city acted as a traffic hub connecting to Jeonju, Imsil, and Namwon in the south. Such advantages demonstrate the strategic significance of the Iksan area. Iksan and the nearby areas of Nonsan, Wanju, and Kimje are located in the largest plain of the Korean peninsula. Considering the outstanding agricultural productivity in the present day, the agricultural productivity of this area during the Baekje Kingdom must have been vastly superior compared to other regions, and such economic factors must have played a role in Baekje’s management of Iksan. The physical evidences of King Mu’s management of Iksan are the Wanggung-ri historic sites and the Mireuksaji, and the main historic sites of Baekje’s later years are located on Mireuk Mountain (430m altitude) and the fans and hills on the south of Yonghwa Mountain (340m). Such geographical, historical, and cultural factors demonstrate that the Iksan area was sufficient enough to function as a passageway to the capital and act as a compliment to Sabi Period’s capital city.