I walked over the hill from the tomb of King Muryeong of Baekje, in the present-day town of Gongju.
As I’ve said before, Gongju was once Ungjin, the capital of the ancient Baekje kingdom, and the Baekje heritage of both Gongju and Buyeo are a tentative World Heritage site.
The Baekje royal family was merely a teensy-tiny proportion of the population of ancient Baekje, yet only they got the fanciest tombs. Something else had to be done when other people died. As the trail descends from the hill to the Gongju National Museum, there is a display of representative tombs of Baekje nobility.
It’s not nearly as impressive the royal tombs, but permanent enough that archaeologists can find these over a thousand years later.
Just outside is a collection of ancient stone artwork.
Why it’s a … headless Buddha! I’ve seen headless Buddhas before.
It’s a headless Buddha with a Bodhisattva!
This Bodhisattva is paired with a pedestal which is missing its Buddha.
The highlight of the museum, of course, are the treasures from King Muryeong’s tomb. Above is King Muryeong’s own golden diadem ornaments.
Above are the diadem ornaments for King Muryeong’s wife.
And above are the earrings of King Muryeong.
Some of the ‘national treasures’ had been moved to a temporary exhibit showing the cultural links between Baekje and other countries, such as China, Japan, and the region we now call Manchuria.
Above is a seoksu, a stone animal which had been placed inside the tomb to protect King Muryeong and his queen. This guardian did an excellent job – between the time the tomb was sealed after the queen had been placed inside, and when the tomb was rediscovered in 1971, no human had opened the tomb for almost 1500 years.
Baekje’s greatest enemy was its northern neighbor, Goguryeo, even though (or perhaps because) the royal family of both Baekje and Goguryeo orginated from modern-day Buyeo (known as Sabi in Baekje times). The original capital of Baekje had been the city of Hanseong, and while the Baekje kings ruled from Hanseong they once managed to invade Goguryeo, enter its capital Kaesong (currently in North Korea), and kill their king.
Goguryeo did not forget this humiliation, and later, in retaliation, they conquered Hanseong, and drove out Bakeje’s king.
With Hanseong under Goguryeo’s control, the capital had to be moved, and so it was moved to Ungjin, which is now called Gongju. King Muryeong is so highly regarded by historical records because he is credited with making Baekje a strong kingdom once again, partially through prosperity from trade with China and Japan.
Later, of course, the capital of Baekje moved again, to Sabi (now called Buyeo).
Baekje had for a long time been allies with its eastern neighbor, Silla. After Goguryeo had conquered Hanseong and weakened Baekje, a marriage between the royal families of Baekje and Silla was arranged in order to strengthen this alliance. Ironically, it was Silla, not Goguryeo, which ultimately conquered and ended the Baekje kingdom.
It’s not all ancient history in Gongju. When North Korea first invaded South Korea during the June 25th war (a.k.a. the Korean War), they came down through Gyeoggi Province south through Chungcheongnam Province. Here, the retreating South Koreans destroyed this bridge in order to slow down the North Koreans’ advance.
Gongju also has its Joseon history, but I will save that for the next post.