Baekje ( Hangul  : 백제  ; hanja  :百濟;  RR :  Baekje , IPA :  /pɛk̚.t͈ɕe/ , sometimes named Paekche ) , is a kingdom having existed from18 av. J.-C. until 660 in south western Korea during the Three Kingdoms period (Baekje in the west, Silla in the east, and Koguryo in the north), a collection of small states which are collectively named Gaya holding the center of the south of the peninsula.

Baekje, as a kingdom, appears on the territory of the confederation of Mahan, of the previous period, called the Samhan , [the three confederations]. These confederations having been Mahan, Byeonhan (which became Gaya) and Jinhan (which became Silla).

Baekje first goes through a phase of expansion until538. Then the northern part was withdrawn by Koguryo and the kingdom refocused on its southern half. Buddhism, still new in Korea, is supported by the power. Finally the kingdom is destroyed by a coalition which sees the alliance between the Chinese empire of Tang and the kingdom of Silla (신라). It is, in fact, Silla who benefits; he effected the annexation in 660, and expelled the Chinese soon after.

Legendary origins

According to the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms, written in the 12th century  ) Baekje was founded in 18 BCE by Onjo . He was the son of Jumong , who had founded the kingdom of Koguryo shortly before. This Jumong came from a region named after his ethnic group, then a kingdom named Puyŏ , located north of Manchuria . Leaving Puyŏ, he leaves his son Yuri there. He settled near the Han River (formerly Ugni, hangeul  : 욱리하  ; hanja  :郁里河) , in the center of the Korean peninsula.

According to the Samguk Yusa , it was Jumong who fled from Puyŏ , where he was persecuted, to Jolbon  , where he married So Seo-no the daughter of a local chief, and where he established the kingdom of Koguryo. .

Jumong becomes Divine King Dongmyeong and has two more sons with So Seo-no: Onjo and Biryu  . When Yuri , Jumong’s son from his first marriage (in Puyŏ) arrives at Koguryo Palace, his father makes him the crown prince. Realizing that Yuri would become the next king, So Seo-no leaves Koguryo, taking his two sons Biryu and Onjo south to found their own kingdoms with their people, ten vassals. She is [Who?] remembered as a key figure in the founding of Koguryo and Baekje. Onjo and Piryu receive land from the Chief of Mahan . Onjo founds a city in Wiryeseong (current Seoul, capital of South Korea), on the advice of his advisers, and calls his kingdom Sipje (meaning “Ten vassals  “); as for Piryu, he ignores this advice and decides to live by the sea. He therefore builds the city of Michuhol (present -day Incheon ).

However, salt water and swamps make life difficult, while the inhabitants of Wirye lived prosperously. Ashamed of having ignored his retinue’s advice, Biryu kills himself. The inhabitants of Michuhol then move to Wirye and King Onjo welcomes them and renames the country “Baekje” (“Hundred vassals”).

The remains of Baekje in Buyeo

Buyeo hosts 4 of the sites registered with UNESCO:

  • the royal tombs of Neungsan-ri;
  • the ramparts of Naseong;
  • Jeongnimsa Temple;
  • the Busosanseong fortress and the archaeological site of Gwanbuk-ri.
The ramparts of Naseong in Buyeo.

Naseong City Wall was constructed to defend the capital, and its original appearance has remained intact. It surrounds the areas of Buyeo. The city wall protected the northern and eastern parts of the capital city, stemming from Busosanseong Fortress. The city wall not only had defensive capabilities, but also served as a symbolic boundary between the inner and outer areas of the capital city. To the west and south of Buyeo, the Geumgang River functioned as a viable natural barrier and its banks served as a continuation of the city wall. In the eastern side of the city, however, artificial facilities were required as there are many flat areas between the mountains.

The remains of Baekje in Gongju

Gongju was the capital of the Baekje Kingdom during the Ungjin period (475-538). Two of its sites are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO:

The royal tombs at Songsan-ri

The Tomb of King Muryeong and Royal Tombs, Gongju are widely known as the Royal Tombs of Baekje or the Tomb of King Muryeong. They are located on the upper southeast ridgeline of a small hill (75m high), standing in the south of the Geumgang River and extending to a southeast direction.

The first excavation of the Tomb of King Muryeong and Royal Tombs, Gongju was conducted in 1927 and excavations were undertaken in 1932 illegally during the Japanese colonial period. The Tomb of King Muryeong was accidentally discovered during water drainage work on the Tomb of King Muryeong and Royal Tombs, Gongju in 1971, leading to full-fledged archaeological excavation.

The types of Baekje tombs discovered include the “stone chamber tomb with a corridor” and the “brick chamber tomb.” Tombs No.1 to No.5 are stone chamber tombs with a corridor and domed ceiling, which are the traditional type of Baekje tombs. Tomb No. 6 and the Tomb of King Muryeong are brick chamber tombs with a vaulted ceiling – a type of tomb that was popular in China during that period. These tombs were built after 475, the year of the capital’s relocation to Ungjin. The fact that all the tombs except for two were stone chamber tombs with a corridor suggests that the style and structure of a stone chamber tomb was well organized and established as an exclusive type of tomb for the royal family of Baekje during the Ungjin Period.

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How to get rid of the royal tombs in Songsan-ri?

In Korea  : 송상리 고분군 ( Songsanri Gobungun )
Address  : 37-2, Wangneung-ro, Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do
Hours : Open every day from 9am to 6pm, on January 1st and during the Seollal and Chuseok festivities .

Website: www.gongju.go.kr

Gongsanseong Fortress


Located in Gongju-si, Gongsanseong Fortress is a mountain castle which was established during the Baekje Period (234-678). The fortress is more than 2.6 kilometers long at 110 meters above sea level. Built using earthen fortifications during the Baekje dynasty, the fortress was strengthened during the Joseon dynasty with stones. There are many structures and relics left from the Baekje, Goryeo, and Joseon dynasties within the fortress. At the West and East entrances, visitors can enjoy a thick forest with the Geumgang River in the background. It is worth the visit for its historical and cultural significance, and also for the beautiful view of the Geumgang riverside and the walking trail.

How to make a fortune Gongsanseong?

In Korea : 
공산성  ( Gongsanseong )
Address  : 280, Ungjin-ro, Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do
Hours : Open every day from 9am to 6pm, on January 1st and during the Seollal and Chuseok festivities . 

website : www.gongju.go.kr

The remains of Baekje in Iksan

The Mireuksa Temple Site, located in Mireuksan Mountain (430m above sea level), Geumma myeon, Iksan, has been the largest temple site discovered in East Asia.

Mireuksa was the largest Buddhist temple of the ancient Baekje Kingdom (18 BC-AD 660). According to Samgukyusa (historical records published in 1281), King Mu (30th king of Baekje, in power AD 600-641) and his wife Queen Seonhwa were said to have seen a vision of Mireuksamjon (the three Sanskrit) emerging from a large pond. At the time of their revelation, the king and queen were on their way to visit a Buddhist monk in Sajasa Temple on Yonghwasan Mountain (now known as Mireuksan Mountain). In response to their vision, the king drained the nearby pond and established Mireuksa Temple. The temple is believed to have shown the most advanced architectural and cultural skills of Baekje, Silla, and Goguryeo (the three main kingdoms at that time). Records indicate that King Jinpyeong of Silla even sent his craftsmen over to assist with the temple construction.

The two main features of the Mireuksa Temple Site are the stone pagoda (Mireuksaji Seoktap) and the flagpole supports (Mireuksaji Dangganjiju). The 14.24-meter-high west stone pagoda (National Treasure No. 11) is the oldest and largest Korean stone pagoda in existence. The west pagoda currently has only six tiers, but is estimated to originally have had nine. The nine-story east stone pagoda (27.67 meters in height) was restored to its original stature in 1993 based on historical records. Other surviving landmarks include the flagpole supports (Treasure No. 236) to the south of the stone pagodas. The 395 centimeter-tall poles are estimated to have been created during the Unified Silla period (AD 676-935) and are set 90 meters apart from east to west.

Mireuksa Temple Site

The story of Mireuksa Temple was exceptionally written in the 13th-century Korean historical document Samgukyusa (“Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”) as one of Baekje’s temples. According to this ancient record, when King Mu and his wife were on their way to Sajasa Temple, the Maitreya triad appeared from the pond below Yonghwasan (now Mireuksan) Mountain. At the request of the queen, the pond was filled and the pagodas, prayer hall, and corridors were built on three different units.

Mireuksa Temple was a national monument that mobilized Baekje’s national power. Also, the layout of buildings in this temple were in accordance with the Buddhist scriptures, describing that the Maitreya, or Future Buddha, came from heaven to save all people with his three preachings.

Most of these statements were approved by archeological investigations carried out for 23 years starting in 1974. 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.

Mireuksa Temple displays a unique layout in which three units of the “one pagoda and one prayer hall” style structures stand in a row, and the central gate, pagoda, and prayer hall are arranged to a straight line in each unit. The size of the unit in the center is larger than that of the east and west units.

The east unit, the central unit, and the west unit were independent divided by long corridors. However, they all converged to one whole unit of a large lecture hall in the north. This means that the place to worship Buddha was segmented into three units, but that the single lecture hall eventually combined them into one. Corridors to the north, east, and west, converged at the lecture hall which were used as monks’ dormitories.

This temple is 134m in length from the lecture hall to the main gate, and 172m wide from outside the east unit to outside the west unit.

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The waterway originating from Mireuksan Mountain was flown into artificial water paths on four sides of the temple. The remaining traces of a large pond were found at the south of the temple. On the north side of the lecture hall are two bridges over the artificial water route. Rear garden section was located behind the watercourse. Originally, a thoroughly designed drainage system was specifically applied to the construction of this temple where were wetland. The prayer hall of each unit had a special structure to ward off humidity. Foundation stones were laid on the floor of the prayer hall and 1m-thick cornerstones were laid out in a diamond shape above it. The remains of wooden supports on top of the cornerstones made an empty room at the floor of the prayer hall.

The Mireuksa Temple’s design was unprecedented layout based on three pagodas and three prayer halls in order to realize the Maitreya belief of Buddhism. The people of the Baekje worshiped the Maitreya Buddha who comes to the real world in near future to save them. The temple would be the perfect embodiment of this belief.

There were initially three pagodas at Mireuksa Temple – a wooden pagoda in the central unit and a stone pagoda in each of the east and west units. It is hard to know when the wooden pagoda vanished from the central unit. The stone pagoda in the eastern unit was completely collapsed when it was excavated in the 20th century, and the stone materials for the pagoda were left scattered nearby. The stone pagoda in the western unit preserved its general shape but in an unstable condition, and many parts were damaged. Only its northeastern side up to the sixth story remained in the 20th century.

A structural safety inspection performed in 1998 raised a concern over the stability of this western stone pagoda. The National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage has been staging a full investigation and has been conducting repair and maintenance on this pagoda since 2001. Academic research has been in full force since 2002.

The cavity in which the sarira was stored was found in 2009 in the middle of the top surface of the first-story stone of the western pagoda, discovered during a deconstructive investigation. Cross-shaped lines in ink and lime seals were also discovered around the cavity. Sarira reliquaries were kept inside this aperture and various offerings to Buddha, such as gold plates bearing inscriptions of the records on the sarira enshrinement, a silver diadem ornament, and bronze bowls, were found from it.

An examination of the gold plates bearing the records on the sarira enshrinement revealed that the stone pagoda in the west unit was built in 639. This constitutes a rare example of an artifact enough to prove historical recored that Mireuksa Temple was established during the reign of King Mu of the Baekje Kingdom.

How to get to the site of the Mireuksa temple?

In Korean  : 미륵사지 ( Mireuksaji )
Address  : 97 Giyang-ri, Geumma-myeon, Iksan, Jeollabuk-do
Hours : Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, closed on Mondays, January 1 and during Seollal and Chuseok holidays .
Prices  : free
Website : Iksan National Museum

The archaeological site at Wanggung-ri

Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri, designated as Historic Site No. 408 on September 17, 1998, has a surface area of 216,862 square meters. The site has various structures and artifacts from Baekje dynasty to unified Silla period. Artifacts were found within the rectangular-shaped fortress site that surrounds Wanggungri Five-story Stone Pagoda, National Treasure No. 289.

This site was originally a royal palace. It was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 7th century , as evidenced by the presence of a 5-storey pagoda.

Built at the foot of Mount Yonghwa, this palace had been placed on a small elevation artificially created for the occasion, in order to make it even more majestic. Excavations uncovered part of its structure, as well as more than 5,000 items, including tiles, bowls, Chinese pottery, decorative stones in a back garden and gold products in a workshop of craftsman.

The workshop was surely used to create gold and silver objects, as well as glassware. As for the garden, it consisted of a hydraulic storage system, which is believed to have reproduced the surrounding landscape.

Of the palace, only the foundations remain. It is a little difficult to project yourself there, just like at the Mireuksa temple.

Palace Wall

The walls built to protect the palace form a rectangular shape measuring 492.8m long in the east, 490.3m long in the west, 234.1m long in the south, and 241.4m long in the north. The width of each wall is 3 to 3.6m. The ancillary facilities include water gates, a stone drainage path, a culvert, and four doors. The structure, as identified from the southern section of the east wall, has two layers of stonework, of which only 1m remains, and a tiled roof placed on top of the stone work. According to archaeological investigations, the interior space of the palace had building sites related to ceremonial rites and governing offices to the south, and a rear garden, resting area, and craftsman’s workshop to the north.

The royal palace was meticulously designed with proportions of 2:1 and 1:1. The ratio between the distances from north to south(492.8m, 490.3m) and from east to west (234.1m, 241.4m) is 2:1, while the inside of the royal palace was divided into a southern section and northern section in the equal ratio of 1:1. This arrangement, where the core residential areas were located in the south and the rear garden was in the north of the royal palace, is also found in ancient royal palaces in China and Japan. The Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri showed that ancient kingdoms in East Asia were actively engaged in sharing the principles and techniques for the construction of royal palaces.

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Stoneworks

A progression of stoneworks was constructed to secure surfaces level so that buildings could be situated. The interior of the palace was segmented in a particular ratio, and four east-west stoneworks and two north-south stoneworks have been discovered. For stonework, well-chiseled stone materials were piled up in an orderly manner and then filled with clay and rubble. Parts of these stoneworks, which measure approximately 2m high (6-7 layers), still remained. Four layers of stonework were laid out in the southern section to divide the space into four areas. The width of each stonework is 76.6m, 44.5m, 72.3m, and 45.7m respectively, from south to north, and their ratio is about 2:1:2:1.

In terms of the height of the stoneworks, the first east-west stonework is higher than the others, as it measures 2m and the others are 0.5 to 1m. The fact that the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri was constructed with the ratios of 2:1 and 1:1 for its area or space usage, suggesting systematic design from the beginning.

Large Building Site

The large building site, considered as the king’s official palace, was discovered right the first east-west stonework. It was the largest building site at this location (35m from east to west by 18.3m from north to south), similar to the large building site unearthed at the Archaeological Site in Gwanbuk-ri, Buyeo. It is located at the center of the palace, and a large space to view the central gate and buildings was secured by placing buildings as close to the first east-west stonework as possible. This architectural creation has been a multi-storied building similar to a king’s official palace.

Building Site on Tiled Platform

The building site on tiled platform once stood right in front of the third east-west stonework made of piled tiles. This type of platform was frequently found in the royal palaces and temple sites from the Baekje Period in the Buyeo area. A total of 36 units of building sites, besides these ones, have been verified at the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri.

Rear Garden

Facilities associated with the garden were found in the northern area of the royal palace. This garden was a miniature version of the surrounding natural scenery by using oddly formed rocks, rectangular stones, and river gravel. The water for the garden was stored in pond. The water system comprised a control system to manage and control the flow of the water, a culvert drain system to control the volume of the water tank, a system to collect the water that flowed out from the garden, an inlet facility, and a pavilion. A U-shaped water-hole was used for gathering the water that was supplied to the rear garden, in the north of the main garden.

Historical records indicate that the style of the Baekje’s gardens had a considerable influence on the development of Japanese gardens. 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 oddly formed rocks in the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri contain Chinese viewing stones, indicating the international nature of Baekje culture.

Workshop and Everyday Life Facilities

Many types of production-related archaeological finding, such as gold and silver objects, glass craftworks, ingredients for producing these objects and craftworks, slag, crucibles, and blast pipes, have been unearthed from the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri. The craftsman’s workshop discovered at this site belonged directly to the royal family, and the craftsman resided inside the royal palace.

In addition, to the south of the workshop, 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 comparable with its counterpart in Japan.

Buddhist Temple Facilities

The Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri was initially constructed as a royal palace, but this function was changed to that of a Buddhist temple in the 7th century. In the process, existing buildings were demolished to make way for the main constituents of a temple, including a pagoda, lecture hall, and prayer hall. There is disagreement in the academic field as to exactly when this shift was made at the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri.

How to get to the archaeological site in Wanggung-ri?

In Korean : 왕궁리유적 ( Wanggung-ri Yujeok )
Address  : 666 Gungseong-ro, Wanggung-myeon, Iksan, Jeollabuk-do
Hours : Open daily 9am-6pm, closed Mondays, January 1 , and holidays of Seollal and Chuseok.
Prices : free
Website : www.baekje-heritage.or.kr

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