Sometimes, I really wish we (meaning me, and me alone) had a time machine. Although we still have some pretty amazing places around the world, for every surviving monument, a hundred have been destroyed by war, burned by fire, and simply weathered away with time (source: guess-work using the proven ‘it sounds about right’ method). What would you do if your once proud civilization had it’s glorious capital destroyed. If you are Korean, you rebuild it.
This last weekend, I finally made it out to Buyeo, the former capital of Baekje. After visiting the National Museum of Korea in Seoul last year, I gained an interest in Korean historical kingdoms, so this visit was a long time coming.
Baekje was one of the three kingdoms that ruled Korea from 18 B.C.E.- 668 C.E. (C.E. is the non-religious way of saying A.D. just in case you’re wondering). Following its demise, the capital city which also goes by the name of Sabi was wiped out from the face of the earth and reduced to a hand full of historical documents (read: footnotes) and ancient poems of later kingdoms. In 1993, following further archaeological discoveries (a fancy way of saying they were randomly digging in the dirt and got lucky) in the region, the Korean government made a plan of massive proportions (read: $$$). With a budget of 690 million dollars, they planned to rebuild Sabi / Buyeo on the outskirts of where it used to stand 1500 years ago. Straight up dope… I can’t put that any more eloquently, sorry.
The Baekje Cultural Complex (Baekje Cultural Land)
At first glance (read: after coming across it on the pamphlet at the Buyeo bus station), this totally sounds like a cheesy theme park and I almost passed it up because of that. With a huge Lotte Hotel near by, I thought it would be another one of those overcrowded and underwhelming ‘things to see’ that the Korean government tries to shove down visitors’ throats which end up being much blander than advertised (if I am ever considered for a job there, I hope they don’t read this line). I was wrong.
I can’t really think of the words to describe how awesome this place is, so instead, here is a picture walk through what I feel, is a top 10 thing to see in Korea.
Esentially, the front door.
The Royal Palace
Here is the main hall…
Cool looking corridor. On the walls are pictures of the excavation history of Buyeo over the last 3 decades.
I’m always impressed by the detail in Korean buildings.
Dragon patterned tiles…
3) Neungsa Temple
Possibly the most bad-ass wooden pagoda ever. Neungsa is thought to be one of the most important temples of the time. At its height, Baekje actually introduced Buddhism to Japan.
Here is another view…
4) Royal Tomb Park
Given that the actual tombs still exist and are within the same city, you could just visit the real ones… but it is a nice inclusion nonetheless.
They really just look like lumps. Nowhere near as complex and beautiful as the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
5) Living Cultural Village
You should really click on the picture to enlarge. Quite incredible.
If you look closely, no cement is used on the walls. The stones are mearly stacked nicely. In some of the more rural places like Sado, they really look like this.
6) Wiryeseong Castle
This is the first palace of King Onjo, founder of Baekje in 18 B.C.E.
He built a pretty sweet wall with a moat!
Their fortress was made of dirt, but hey, it was 2000 years ago.
Inside the Wiryeseong Castle
In front of the throne is this ‘punishment table.’
7) Baekje Historical Museum
It has the history of how they built the complex as well as a bunch of Baekje stuff. Unfortunately, it was closing when we got there so we only skimmed it.
It was some pretty nice miniatures!
8) Not Done Yet
In the true spirit of Korea, they decided to open the complex years before it was fully finished. There is still quite a bit of construction, but not enough to cause an annoyance. It looks like they are planning on putting some guards in and making it even better.
690 million dollars is a huge investment, but personally, I don’t think you can put a price tag on culture. The Baekje Cultural Complex is worth every penny. Check it out if you come to South Korea.