UNESCO World Heritage Series: Part 6 – Baekje Historical Areas

By Matthew Fennell, Contributing Writer

June 2017 - The most recent addition to Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage catalog is the Baekje Historic Areas, put on the famed list in July 2015. The area consists of eight cultural heritage sites spread across the neighboring cities of Gongju, Buyeo, and Iksan, the three former capitals of the ancient kingdom of Baekje. Controlling territory in the south-western part of the peninsula from 1BC to the 7th century, Baekje played a significant role in the development of the arts in Korea and helped contribute to the cultural development of East Asia. Many of the characteristics found in Baekje’s art and artifacts stemmed from the development of Buddhism in the region, which was adopted from China and then exported to Japan and other neighboring countries.

The places that make up the historical areas include Gongsanseong Fortress and royal tombs found in present-day Gongju; the Busosanseong Fortress and Gwanbuk administrative buildings, Jeongnimsa Temple, Neungsan royal tombs, and the Naseong city wall located in Buyeo; and the Wanggung Palace and Mireuksa Temple in Iksan. According to UNESCO, these sites together “represent the later period of the Baekje Kingdom, during which time they were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious (Buddhism), cultural, and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China, and Japan.”

While the art and architecture of the Baekje kingdom are considered some of the finest of the Three Kingdoms, they have also suffered the greatest destruction thanks to warfare with Silla, Goguryeo, and China over the centuries in addition to the various Japanese invasions. Despite this, a significant collection of tiles decorated with detailed landscape paintings still exists along with an extensive collection of pottery and ceramics. These remains, which include clay pipes, inscribed stones, and roof tiles, tell us that the kingdom was way ahead of its time concerning city planning and was also a place where social elites enjoyed an extremely high standard of living.