The town which is now called ‘Buyeo’ in Chungcheongnam Province was once known as ‘Sabi’, and it was the third – and final – capital of the Baekje Kingdom.
The Korean peninsula had once been ruled by three kingdoms – Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla. Of these three kingdoms, Baekje was the oldest.
The Baekje Kingdom had a dramatic history, which I am going to spoil for you by going straight to the end. In 538 C.E., King Seong had moved the capital of Baekje to Sabi (modern-day Buyeo) because it was in a more favorable location than the prior capital, Ungjin (which I will describe in future posts). The palace was built on a hill called Bososan, and the Baekje elite apparently enjoyed very much taking a stroll through the palace grounds and seeing all of the trees.
It also served as a fortress – and it turns out, they really did need a fortress.
Baekje had an alliance with its neighbor, Silla. However, Silla formed a new alliance with the Tang dynasty in China, and Silla and Tang secretly agreed to conquer Baekje. The combined Silla-Tang forces were far too large for Baekje to hold back. In 660 C.E., the Silla-Tang army overran Baekje, and 50,000 Silla-Tang soldiers put the 5000 Baekje soldiers under siege inside Busosanseong (Busosan Fortress).
The Baekje forces were led by General Gyebaek, who was so skilled he won the first four battles defending Sabi. However, he knew in advance that defeat was inevitable, and he had killed his own wife and children before the siege because he didn’t want the Silla-Tang forces to capture or torture them. In the 5th battle, he died with much of his army, and thus Sabi, along with the Baekje Kingdom, fell to Silla and Tang China.
Baekje did have an alliance with Japan, and Japan did offer military assistance to an attempt to restore the Baekje kingdom a few years later, but the combined power of Silla and Tang China was simply too great to be overcome.
So that was the end of the Baekje Kingdom (aside from a short-lived attempt to found a new Baekje Kingdom during the fall of Silla).
I had spent a night at the Buyeo Youth Hostel, which is just a short walk away from Busosanseong. It is by far the largest and most institutional hostel I stayed at in South Korea. It primarily serves school field trips. Even though I heard most school field trips had stopped after the sinking of the Sewol, there must have been one school group there, since I heard and saw screaming adolescents in the hall. However, I got a dorm room all to myself, with its own bathroom, and only for 16,000 won.
On the way to the entrance of Busosanseong, I encountered a restored Joseon-era government office, shown above and below.
I then entered the fortress itself (all photos in this post, aside from the Joseon government office, were taken inside the fortress).
This was a ‘rammed-earth’ fortress – instead of using stone to build the walls, walls had been made from the earth itself, as shown in the photo above.
There are a few pavilions inside the fortress for relaxation and appreciating the scenery. On that rainy day, I thought the trees in autumn colors were a prettier sight than the muddy river which curves around the northwest side of the fortress/hill.
I went over the hill and down to a small temple near the riverbank, Goransa.
Behind this little temple is a spring which was supposedly the favorite drinking water of the Baekje royal family. Now, anyone can drink from it, and that’s exactly what I did.
I grant, Busosanseong is not nearly as impressive or revealing of Baekje as Namsan is both impressive and revealing of Silla. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant place for a stroll, particularly when the leaves are changing color, and it has a very dramatic story.