New Year’s Weekend Entry 3: Buyeo, Once-Capital of the Baekje Kingdom

Daejeon is conveniently located in what used to be the Baekje Kingdom. During the Three Kingdom’s period of Korea–before Korea was a unified country–from roughly 55BC to 668AD. Baekje, Goguryeo and Silla fought and shifted borders, and at one time throughout the 700 year period, each one controlled a large portion of Korea. At that time, Daejeon was basically nothing but it was located in the Baekje territory. [Actually the Chinese characters for Daejeon mean ‘big rice field’, which is a testament to how rapidly this place has become urbanized.]

Baekje was said to have been founded by the sons of one of the Goguryeo kings, who fought in a succession dispute, and then established Baekje instead. (Supposedly near present day Seoul, much farther north than what became the stronghold capitals later.) After Goguryeo pushed the Baekje kingdom south, they established the capital at Gongju, where Stephanie and I visited on Chuseok.

However, the capital was pushed farther south in 538AD to Buyeo (then called Sabi), where Stephanie and I visited on Monday. The capital of Baekje was here from 538AD to 660AD, when Baekje was destroyed by Silla.

Buyeo has a lot of interesting things to see, but most of it was reconstructed after a series of Japanese invasions, and of course, the Korean war. Stephanie and I visited the Busosanseong Fortress and the Jeonglimsa Temple site. Most of the buildings in the fortress were either relocated or rebuilt in the 1960s or 70s. The reasons for the relocation are unclear, but what became apparent to Stephanie and I right away was that the ancient part of the fortress was not the buildings, but rather the mountain on which the fortress sat. Like the fortress at Gongju, it did not have surrounding walls, or a moat, or anything that would shout “Castle!” to you. In fact, it was just a mountain with a gate–and it provided some wonderful, invigorating walking. So you can imagine that if we were struggling to walk up the paths, the fortress did its duty in making it difficult to reach the main order of business. The mountain provided its own walls.

The walk around the forested area was pleasant, but what was really spectacular was this great view from one of the pagodas. Buyeo was a much more interesting city than some of the brand new urb-splosions that Korea has. This city has certainly got some character, and it was fun to look at it from the top of the hill. It was also horrifically muddy, and I landed myself flat in the yellow Korean slop.

At the very top of the fortress/steep hill, there is this pagoda. It was built in the 1920s to commemorate the some 3,000 women who flung themselves from the mountain when Baekje fell. They were escaping slavery (most likely sexual) by killing themselves, and so this rock is called “The Rock of the Falling Flowers”, or Nakhwaam. Despite the fact that they were likely freeing themselves from horrible lives, the descriptive sign said that they were instead “saving their dutiful chastity.”

Outside the fortress, Stephanie and I went to see the site of an ancient temple which had a few intreguing things of note–namely a five story stone pagoda, supposedly dating back from the Baekje period, and this ancient Buddha statue. The pagoda turned out to be kind of lame, but the statue was probably one of the more interesting things we saw over the weekend.

Unlike the other Buddha statues in temples, this statue was made of stone, and it was clearly ancient. Its body had been warped and melted by a thousand years of rain on soft rock, and it barely had any definition at all. It looked as if it could have melted back into a mountain if it wished. It was spectacular–quite eerie. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I do have one.

The head of the Buddha was reconstructed about a hundred or so years ago. Oddly enough this eerie, serene, yet barely human Buddha does not register as very important on the Korean tourism sites. Their main focus is the pagoda, which appears to be representative of the switch from wooden pagodas to stone ones. (Perhaps riveting for an architectural studies person, but to me it’s kind of a blip on the radar.) This, on the other hand, seemed to have so much life in it–such a commanding, silencing presence. It invoked emotion.

So our lovely weekend ended with this surprising Buddha statue. We headed back to the Buyeo bus station, got bus tickets back to our respective cities, and then parted ways.

You may find the UNESCO World Heritage Registration information interesting. It describes Gongju and Buyeo, the Baekje Capitals, with meticulous historical accuracy.

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