Category Archives: UNESCO World Heritage

Korean World Heritage

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple(1995)


A small but noble pantheon of divinities symbolizing Buddhist philosophy and aestheticism, Seokguram is a structure of sublime beauty culminating religious belief, science and fine arts, which flowered in the golden age of Asian art

Overlooking the East Sea far ahead beyond the mountain ridges from the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Seokguram stands as a proud testimony to Korea’s brilliant tradition of classical Buddhist sculpture. A small but noble pantheon of divinities symbolizing Buddhist philosophy and aestheticism, the eighth-century cave temple is a structure of sublime beauty culminating religious belief, science and fine arts, which flowered in the golden age of Asian art. Seokguram is located near the summit of Mt. Tohamsan, east of the historic city of Gyeongju, capital of the Silla Kingdom (57B.C.-A.D.935).

It is reached after an hour-long walk up a steep, winding mountain path over some four km from Bulguksa, another famous temple dating to the eighth century when Silla was at the peak of its strength. The capital of Silla rivalled in splendor the Dang capital of Jangan and its culture shared in the international character of Dang at this time when all of East Asia enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Buddhism first reached Korea in the fourth century through China but it truly flowered only after the court of Silla officially recognized it as the state religion.

After Silla unified the peninsula in the mid-seventh century by conquering the rival states of Goguryeo and Baekje, Buddhism not only served a religious function but was looked upon as a protective force. Temples of magnificent scale were erected in and around Gyeongju as they were regarded as a supernatural defense against external threats and bastions of national consciousness. According to the scant historical records available today, both Seokguram and Bulguksa, the two supreme accomplishments of Silla Buddhist architecture, were built under the supervision of Kim Dae-seong, who came from the royal family and served as prime minister under the reign of King Gyeongdeok.

The construction began in 742, the year after Kim resigned from his top position in court. He died in 774 without seeing the completion of the historic projects several years later under the reign of King Hyegong. As a complement to Bulguksa, which was dedicated to the present generation, the granite temple of Seokguram is said to have been intended to honor those who had been Kim’s parents in his previous life. Whoever the patron or whatever the motivation, Seokguram was apparently designed as a private chapel for royalty considering its scale, philosophical depth and aesthetic standard, whereas Bulguksa, a grand complex of various worship halls and pagodas, was intended as a state monastery to serve the public.

Too small and cozy to have been conceived as a place for congregation in spite of the enormous resources required for its construction, the grotto shrine represents a pinnacle of religious sculpture not only in Korea but in all of East Asia.

One of Korea’s most popular tourist destinations drawing thousands of visitors from home and abroad daily, Seokguram recalls the long journey Buddhism made from its homeland of India through central Asia and China to Korea. A gem of ancient Buddhist architecture punctuating the eastern terminal of the Silk Road, the shrine testifies to the enthusiasm and sacrifice of early Korean monk pilgrims who risked their lives to experience firsthand the exotic traditions of their faith in the far off land of India. Buddhist grottos are generally believed to have originated in ancient India.

They are divided largely into two kinds according to form and purpose: caitya, literally a “sanctuary” or a hall containing a sacred object to be worshipped such as a small stupa or a Buddha image; and vihara, a monastery or shelter for monks, often with chapels for images or a stupa placed in the central court which also served as a place for instruction. Grottos in the caitya style were later adopted by the Chinese in the hundreds of caves stretching over a mile along the cliffs of Dunhuang and the sandstone hills of Yungang. Seokguram, with a rectangular antechamber leading to a circular domed main chamber, resembles ancient Indian cave temples.

Though inspired by the cave temples of ancient India and China, Seokguram differs in construction to its prototypes which were mostly built by digging into hillsides and carving on natural rocks. Korea’s topographical features comprising solid rock beds probably made it impossible to import the idea of the sculptors of Karle or Ajanta, who carved thousands of figures, stupas and apse ends out of the soft conglomerate rock and clay. Instead, an incredible artificial cave was assembled with granite on the heights of a mountain some 750meters above sea level, an architectural technique without precedent the world over.

Bulguksa: The Temple of Buddha Land

As the name indicates, Bulguksa was designed as a realization of the blissful land of the Buddha in the present world. It was intended to embody the happy land where the mortal being is released from the suffering of life by following the teachings of the Buddha, or the Lotus Land as promised in the Avatamsaka Sutra, which offered the theoretical foundation for construction of the temple. Therefore, the temple had to be not only faithful to the teachings of the Buddha but beautiful as well. It is obvious that prominent monks and artists contributed their thoughts and aesthetic ingeniousness to build the temple under the guidance of Kim Dae-Seong, who was a devoted believer and able administrator with a remarkable eye for beauty.

An imposing complex of beautiful wooden shrines and stone pagodas built upon decorative stone terraces, the temple stands on the western midslope of Mt. Tohamsan overlooking fertile plains and the mythical mountain, Namsan, beyond. The elevated compound is reached by climing up thirty-three stone stairs adorned with elaborate railings, named the Bridge of White Cloud and the Bridge of Blue Cloud, which symbolize the thirty-three heavens.

The cloistered sanctuary is divided into two realms, the land of Seokgamoni Buddha and the land of Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light. The “impure land” of Seakgamoni Buddha is larger and higher than the “pure land” of Amitabha. This is because Seokgamoni is praised as the more noble for the chose to appear in the mundane world out of his great compassion. The main courtyard which is dedicated to Seoakgamoni, the Historic Buddha, includes Daeungjeon, the main worship hall enshrining a gilt-bronze buddha triad. A pair of famous pagodas, Seokgatap, or the Seokgamoni Pagoda, and Tabotap, or the Pagoda of Many Treasures, stand in front of the main worship hall, A lecture hall named Musolijeon, or the Hall of No Discourse, stands to the north of the worship hall. The shrines of Vairocana and Avalokitesvara stand at the back of the lecture hall.

Geungnakjeon, or the Paradise Hall, dedicated to Amitabha, the Buddha of Western Paradise, is located to the west of the main courtyard. From the outer terrain, the hall is reached through a separate gate and stairs named the Lotus Bridge and Bridge of Seven Treasures. Amitabha, who vowed that all who believed in him and who called upon his name would be born into his paradise, has a broad following among Koreans. Faith alone ensures rebirth in his paradise, so it is certainly easier than self-attainment leading to enlightenment.
Among the many treasures of Bulguksa, the pagoda pair in the main courtyard have an unmatched reputation. Indeed, part of the fame of Bulguksa itself is owing to this unique pair. The princely dignity and simplicity of the Seokgamoni Pagoda dramatically enhances the complexity of the Pagoda of Many Treasures that stands some 100 feet away with its lavish decorative details. The two stone pagoda have stood in dynamic contrast for over 12 centuries surviving the flames of war that engulfed all of the temple’s original wooden structures. None of the some thousand stone pagodas scattered across Korea excel them for profound philosophical depth and aesthetic charm.

The Seokgamoni Pagoda represents the finest style of Korean Buddhist pagodas that evolved from China’s multistoried pavilion-type wooden pagodas. The three-story pagoda is admired for its proportions and simple but graceful style. The highly decorative Tabotap, symbolizing Prabhutaratna Buddha, is an exceptional case that demonstrates the wondrous skill of Unified Silla masonry. The pagoda features what is assumed to be an enlarged version of a luxurious sarira shrine supported by a roof-like square slab resting on four pillars and massive brackets. The pillars stand on an elevated platform approached by four staircases, each with 10 steps symbolizing the 10 paramitas, or great virtues.

The arrangement of the two pagodas was inspired by the legend that when Seokgamoni preached the Lotus Sutra, the pagoda of Prabhutaratna emerged out of the earth in witness of the greatness and truth of his teaching. Meanwhile, the Seokgamoni Pagoda is also called the “Pagoda without Reflections,” denoting the sad legend of Asanyeo, wife of the Baekje mason, Asadal, who built the pagoda. The poor woman came to Gyeongju to see her husband as years had passed without any news from him. No outsiders were allowed into the site of a holy project and she was told to wait by a pond near the temple until the completed pagoda cast a reflection in the water. She waited in vain and finally threw herself into the pond.

A collection of precious treasures was found in the Seokgamoni Pagoda during repair work in 1966. They include a paper scroll of the Pure Light Dharani Sutra, printed between 706 and 751. Measuring 6.2 meters in length and 6.7 centimeters in width, the scroll is recognized as the world’s oldest printed material. The pagoda also yielded three sets of exquisitely decorated sarira containers including a gilt-bronze casket in elaborate openwork, a gilt-bronze box with a fine engraving of bodhisattvas and heavenly kings, and a glass bottle containing 46 grains of holy relics.

The Pagoda of Many Treasures was dismantled and reassembled by the Japanese in the 1920s but no record concerning the repair or the treasures found inside it remains. Back in 1593 during the Hideyoshi invasions, a group of Japanese pirates set fire to the temple upon discovering weapons hidden in one of its shrines. All of the wooden structures were burnt down at this time. The temple was reconstructed over a period of 150 years beginning in 1604 but never regained its old splendor.

The foundations of lost structures were excavated in an intensive investigation conducted in 1969. Based on the result of the excavation, several buildings and cloisters were reconstructed and the stone terraces were repaired in the early 1970s. But a lotus pond known to have existed beneath the staircases leading up to the main courtyard was left out of the renovations.

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories of theTripitaka Koreana Woodblocks(1995)

Its religious significance aside, the Tripitaka Koreana preserved in impeccable condition testifies to the outstanding achievements of medieval Koreans in science and technology, especially printing and publishing.

Every day at the wee hour of three o’clock in the morning, the monks wake up to the deep, reverberation sound of ancient instruments coming from a music pavilion in the main courtyard of the temple. The clergy assemble within half an hour for a predawn service in accordance with the time-hon-ored regulations of monastic life. With their hearts cleansed of all worldly concerns, the monks from all ranks of the community worship the Buddha and chant holy sutras to the beating of wooden gongs as the pious sound echoes along the still pitch-dark mountain valley. For the past twelve centuries, Mt.Gayasan in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province, has been home to one of Korea’s most treasured Buddhist monasteries, Haeinsa, or the “Temple of Reflections on a Calm Sea,” and its many hermitages.

Famous for the stunning beauty of its craggy peaks and peaceful valleys with burbling streams lined with lush foliage, Mt.Gayasan is believed to have been named after a mountain in Buddha Gaya, India, where Seokgamoni, the Historic Buddha, attained enlightenment. Or, some contend that the name was derived from the Gaya league of tribal states which thrived in the southeastern province from around the first century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. ,before the neighboring Silla expanded its territory to unify the peninsula. Korea’s ancient center of the Avatamsaka (Huayen in Chinese and Hwa-eom in Korean) school of Buddhism, Haeinsa was established by two enlightened monks, Suneung and ljeong, in 802 during the Unified Silla period. Its name was taken from a phrase in the Avatamsaka (The Great and Vast buddha Garland) sutra, which compares the wisdom of Buddha to a calm sea. When the sea, that is the human mind, is freed from the wild waves of worldly desires and follies, it will finally attain a mirror-like peacefulness where the true image of all existence is clearly reflected.

Most Koreans instantly associate Haeinsa with the Tripitaka Koreana, a 13th century edition of scriptures known to be the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Chinese script. This is one reason why the temple, tucked away in a secluded valley in the deep mountains, has maintained its reputation as a religious heaven among Korean Buddists over the centuries. Haeinsa is one of Korea’s three major temple which represent the “three jewels of Buddhism,” that is, the Buddha, the sutra and the monks. No doubt that, aside from their normal clerical duties, the temple’s some 500-strong legion of bhikkhus is responsible for protecting their “jewel,” the 81,258 wooden blocks for printing the scriptures, which have been housed in the temple since 1398.

Thus have I heard… These are the words with which the disciples of the Historic Buddha began their recitations of the Enlightened One’s sermons. This indicates that his teaching had been transmitted orally before it was written down. The compilation of the Tripitaka, as the Buddhist canon is known, took place during a council convened by the Indian Emperor Asoka around 250 B.C., some two centuries after the Buddha’s death. The sacred texts were copied by hand and translated into various languages over the following centuries as the Buddha’s teaching spread all over Asia.

Jongmyo Shrine(1995)

Throughout much of traditional Asian culture, including China and Korea, rite has been highly important, and in modern society preserving rite carries with it the meaning of maintaining basic social order. There are a number of rituals which are considered important forms of rite, and the most significant of these in Korea are the Jongmyo and the Sajik rituals. Jongmyo is the term used for a place where memorial services are performed for deceased kings, and Sajik is the term for a place where services for the Gods of Earth and Crops are performed. These rituals are symbols for nations themselves in that they guarantee order and successful ruling of the nation. Consequently, due to the importance of these rituals, the Jongmyo and Sajik shrines where the rituals are performed are classic in their architectural grace, detail and beauty.

Although such facilities existed in Korea as early as the Three Kingdoms Period, those that remain today in Seoul are from the Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910).

The first Jongmyo of the dynasty was erected in Seoul in 1395, and the main hall, Jeongjeon, contained 7 rooms, One room was used for the memorial tablets of one king and his queen. The 4th king of the dynasty, King Sejong, had an additional hall, Yeongnyeongjeon(“Hall of Eternal comfort”), built beside the main hall to house all of the tablets which could not be housed in the main hall. With successive reigns and an increasingly large number of memorial tablets, however, additions had to be made to the facilities.

Rooms were added from west to east until there ware a total of 19. The original Jongmyo, however, was destroyed in 1592, and today’s Jongmyo was built in 1608. Jongmyo was located to the left of the main palace, Gyeongbokgung, and Sajik was built to the right (as viewed from the king’s throne), a tradition of planning which goes back to ancient China. The main hill of the Jongmyo complex is called Yeungbong, and from it a number of smaller hills extend southward until they encompass the Jongmyo compound of the Jeongjeon, Yeongnyeongjeon and other auxiliary buildings. They were built according to terrain, however, and in totality they appear to the modern eye not to be very balanced in distribution. Jeongjeon is comprised of 19 identical rooms, and they are extremely simple with no ornamentation. However, the building as a whole is both grand and impressive, and the twenty thick, round pillars sufficiently project the dignity and grandeur of royalty. In front of Jeongjeon is an impressive 150-meter-long, 100-meter-wide elevated stone yard called “Woldae” which is used during ceremonies by musicians, dancers and other participants. The large stone blocks which compose the yard provide a striking and solemn atmosphere as they lay in silence before Jeongjeon, and the yard greatly complements the architecture. The Jongmyo ritual itself has been designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the government not only for its historical importance but for the splendor of the music, dance and ceremony.

Changdeokgung Palace Complex(1997)

Located in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, Changdeokgung Palace was built during the Joseon Dynasty(1395 – 1910) and has more buildings preserved than any other palace from that period. The palace is designated as Historical Site No. 122 and covers a total area of 580,000 square meters, although the main palace grounds which do not include the Secret Gardens cover an area of 120,000 square meters.

The capital of the Joseon Dynasty was moved from Gaeseong in the north to Hanyang(today’s Seoul) in 1392, but construction of the palace actually began in October of 1404 during the 4th year of the reign of King Taejong. Construction of the main building Jeongjeon began in February of 1405 and was completed in October of the same year.

From then on, the palace was called Changdeokgung or “Palace of Prospering Virtue.” Since the palace was located in the east of the existing palace, Gyeongbokgung, it was often referred to as “East Palace.”

The current palace grounds are somewhat larger than the original grounds, since succeeding kings often had additions made during the palace’s long history, and Changdeokgung palace was a favorite place of the kings during the dynasty. Although Gyeongbokgung Palace was in fact larger, Changdeokgung was a favorite of the kings because it was the most purely Korean of all the palaces.

Gyeongbokgung Palace was built on level ground and served the official functions of a palace. It was built according to planning and specifications for an official residence to meet the requirements of the capital city. Changdeokgung Palace, however, was designed and built according to more Korean specifications handed down from the Three Kingdoms Period, and consequently retained much more that was uniquely Korean.

After the Japanese Occupation which began in 1910 however, parts of the palace grounds were rearranged, partially destroyed, and even taken to Japan. As with the other palaces, Changdeokgung Palace also had many of its auxiliary buildings removed, and in general the grounds lost much of their authenticity. Changdeokgung Palace was ideally located, however: to the east was Changgyeonggung Palace, to the southeast was Jongmyo (site of the royal family’s ancestral tablets and memorial shrines), and to the west was the official residence,Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The main structures of Changdeokgung Palace include the gate, Donhwamun, the beautiful granite bridge Geumcheongyo, and Injeongjeon which served for official state functions. Seonjeongjeon was used for affairs of state between the king and his ministers. Daejojeon served as the queen’s guarders as well as the king’s sleeping quarters, and as educational quarters for the princes. The original quarters were destroyed on several occasions, and during the Japanese Occupation the existing quarters became somewhat westernized. The current quarters are a combination of both Korean and western styles.

Other major buildings on the palace grounds included Hamwonjeon, Gyeonghungak, Gajeongdang, Eochago, Naeuiwon and Seongjeonggak, Gwanmulhon, the old Seonwonjeon, Nakseonje, Chwiwunjeong, Hanjeongdang, Sangnyangjeong, Manwolmun, Sunghwaru, Samsamwa, and Chilbunso.

A particularly distinctive feature of Changdeokgung Palace is the fact that it was built with minimum effect on the natural environment and designed to harmonize with nature as completely as possible. Buildings were designed and constructed to blend easily with the immediate surroundings and even directions were given for careful consideration in planning and building. Space was utilized to provide distinctly different atmospheres throughout the grounds. Also, careful consideration was given to provide continuous yet different views from each site on the grounds.

At the same time, however, the grounds retained a great deal of privacy for palace life, as evidenced by the small number of entrances. But there is a large number of artifacts which have been preserved to inform us of life in the inner world of the palace. And even today, Changdeokgung Palace remains the most Korean of all palaces.

Hwaseong Fortress(1997)

The fortress is the shining accomplishment of a sagacious king who led a political and cultural renaissance with the counsel of young scholars seeking institutional reforms and practical application of academic theories.

“Oh! Sadness! How can I ever put into words what happened that day? The sky and the earth seemed to come together; the sun seemed to be losing light, and everything went dark.” So said Lady Hyegyeong, a princess of the 18th century Joseon dynasty, in her tearful memoirs.

She said she had no desire to linger in this world for even one more second after the terrifying filicide. “I desperately wanted to kill myself; I looked for something sharp, but found nothing. ” In her autobiographical account, Hanjungnok (Reminiscences in Retirement), a masterpiece of court literature and an invaluable historical record, Lady Hyegyeong recalls the death of her husband, Prince Sado, in what is undisputably the most bizarre incident in the five-century history of the Joseon royal court. One hot summer day in 1762, King Yeongjo ordered the crown prince to commit suicide, accusing him of undermining morality in the royal household and plotting a rebellion. When the poor prince’s repeated efforts to kill himself failed, the enraged king ordered his son to climb into a large wooden rice chest and locked it up himself.

The 27-year-old prince died of hunger in the rice chest eight days later. In her memoirs, a vivid account of her personal ordeal as well as a veritable political testimony, Lady Hyegyeong contends that the fateful incident was motivated by the rampant factional strife in court and a personality conflict between the dogmatic reigning king and his introverted son, the heir apparent. Despite deep chagrin and a professed desire to end her life, Lady Hyegyeong lived on and lent support her son who had been left vulnerable by his father’s tragic death. She explained that she could not double the sorrow of her little son by following her husband to death. “And, even more important than that, I was deeply concerned how the Grand Heir would do without me as the future King.” The Grand Heir, who was not yet ten, grew up into a wise monarch. Endowed with the posthumous title of Jeongjo, he was an able administrator of state affairs and a staunch patron of science and the arts, helping the nation embark on its modernization process.
Stigmatized by the traumatic childhood experience surrounding his father’s death and the imperfect legitimacy of his authority, Jeongjo is also recognized for his extraordinary filial devotion. He reinstated his father’s title of crown prince in 1777, the year after he came to the throne succeeding his grandfather, Yeongjo. In 1789, When his royal authority had gained a solid base and the nation prospered under his rule, Jeongjo ordered his father’s tomb be moved from the eastern suburbs of Seoul to Mt. Hwasan, about 8km from the present city of Suwon, which was commended as the most auspicious site in the country. The old Suwon Magistracy was upgraded to a separate capital and a beautiful fortress was constructed around the booming new town, named Hwaseong, meaning “Brilliant Fortress.”

Embracing the busy downtown area of the present Suwon-si, capital of Gyeonggi-do, some 30km south of Seoul, Hwaseong Fortress embodies Jeongjo’s devotion to his ill-fated father and his ideals for a modern administrative and commercial center with stalwart defense. The 5.74Km wall, fortified with various military facilities, is the shining accomplishment of a sagacious king who led a political and cultural renaissance with the counsel of young scholars seeking institutional reforms and practical application of academic theories. To stroll along the fortress is to share the aspirations of an ancient king who use admirable academic and artistic expertise to build a city of fresh conception, ensuring that the industrial activities of its residents are protected from external invasions. For those who are inclined to historical romance, the King’s tragic childhood experience and his lauded affection for his parents adds a rueful color to the excursion along the fortress, parapeted with crenels and merlons and highlighted by lofty watch towers and secret gates leading down to dark labyrinths. Hwaseong Fortress stretches over changing terrain from high mountain ridges overlooking a crowded urban center to flatland park with well-tended lawn to a bustling marketplace surrounded by a densely populated neighborhood. The fortress looks remarkably different from most other ancient town walls and military fortifications scattered around Korea. It stands out not only for its diverse functions but the aesthetic novelty and technical innovation involved in its planning and construction.

Gyeongju Historic Areas(2000)

The Gyeongju Historic Areas contain a remarkable concentration of outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, in the form of sculptures, reliefs, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces from the flowering of this form of unique artistic expression. Gyeongju City and its surroundings have inherited traces of the glory that flowered and withered in the ancient Silla Kingdom (BC 57 – AD 935).

The centre of the town and its suburbs contain many royal burial mounds and Buddhist remains which preserve this apogee of art and culture.

Excavations continue to reveal the buried secrets of this enchanted city. Before the arrival of Buddhism in the early Silla period, Mount Namsan in Gyeongju City was worshipped as one of the five sacred mountains. It was the seat of a refined form of shamanism with elements of native cults, fetishism, and animism. With the spread of Buddhism it became the earthly representation of Sumeru, the heavenly mountain of the Buddhist lands. Its gorges and ridges are embellished with granite pagodas, filigree works, pottery buried in the earth for more than a thousand years, impressive royal graves and palace sites, and stone sculptures and rock-cut reliefs of Buddha. It is a treasure house of thousands of relics that embody Buddhist benevolence and law. The Buddhism of the Silla Kingdom was intimately linked with its sovereign power, with social and state affairs, and with family well-being. The Gyeongju historic areas constitute a reserve of materials for studying Buddhist culture and the arts of the Far East. The ruins of Wolseong, the Half Moon Palace, many temple and fortress sites, including Hwangnyongsa, the Temple of the Yellow Dragon, huge royal mounds, and ancient wells and bridges have provided a wealth of archaeological data and will continue to do so. The legends of the Gyeongju Kim clan, the family that ruled throughout most of the Silla Kingdom, are located in the serene woods of Gyerim. Cheomseongdae is the most exquisite example of an astronomical observatory in the Orient. The Gyeongju Historic areas may be considered to be an outdoor museum housing many cultural properties centred on Mount Namsan and its surroundings. The craftsmen of the Silla Kingdom worked stone and wood with spontaneity and great artistry.

Management and Protection Legal status

More than sixty sites and monuments are designated and managed as historic sites under the provisions of Sections 4 and 6 of the Korean Protection of Cultural Properties Act and Sections 12 and 18 of the Cultural Property Protection Ordinance of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. The entire area nominated for inscription was designated as a national park under Sections 4 and 5 of the National Park Law. These two sets of protection legislation severely restrict any form of development within the nominated area. The Urban Planning Law imposes further constraints on all forms of development in and around the protected areas. Each of the components of the nominated area is surrounded by wide buffer zone. All proposals for construction within these zones require authorization in the form of a permit from the Provincial Governor, as prescribed in Section 74 of the Cultural Properties Protection Act. Furthermore, no extraction of gravel or other aggregate material is permitted within a zone two km wide around each of the protected areas. The sites are also designated as Natural Environment Preservation Zones under Section 13 of the National Land Use Management Act. Any changes that might affect the topography require authorization by the Cultural Heritage Administration.


The nominated areas are all the property of the Republic of Korea.
At the national level, the Cultural Heritage Administration is responsible for establishing protection policies and enforcing them. Its subsidiary, the National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, carries out scientific research and field surveys. Direct management is delegated to the administration of Gyeongju City. Repair work and maintenance on national designated sites and monuments are financed by national (70%) and local (30%) funds. For locally designated monuments the proportions contributed by national and local government are 50:50. There are currently management plans in force for the Gyeongju Historic Areas, on the Preservation of the Original Status of the Historic Areas, Preservation of the Surrounding Environment of the Historic Areas, and Utilizing the Gyeongju Historic Areas for the Education of Citizens and for Field Studies by Students. However, little information about these plans is provided in the nomination dossier. They include the establishment of long-term plans, the strengthening of measures against forest fires, floods, and other natural calamities, a scientific research programme, including archaeological excavations, and a policy of seeking systematic investment and site-management proposals that are eco-friendly and consistent with world-class tourist policies. In addition there are programmes for regular conservation and maintenance of sculptural and monumental antiquities and for selective restoration, based on thorough prior scientific research. There are proposals for the purchase of private land adjoining the protected areas which are known to contain significant archaeological evidence. Regular monitoring will be carried out on the open sites, to check any illegal use of the land for unauthorized burials or shamanistic rites. Parking facilities are to be extended and marked paths laid out so as to prevent uncontrolled access to the land.

Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites

The prehistoric cemeteries at Gochang, Hwasun, and Gangwha contain many hundreds of examples of dolmens, tombs from the 1st millennium BCE constructed of large stone slabs. They form part of the Megalithic culture, to be found in many parts of the world, but nowhere in such a concentrated form. Dolmens are megalithic funerary monuments, which are numerous in Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Korea has the greatest number of any country.

These are of great archaeological value for the information that they provide about the prehistoric peoples who built them and their social and political systems, beliefs and rituals, arts and ceremonies, etc.
The Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa sites contain the highest density and greatest variety of dolmens in Korea, and indeed of any country. They also preserve important evidence of how the stones were quarried, transported, and raised and of how dolmen types changed over time in north-east Asia.

History and Description


Dolmens are manifestations of the “Megalithic” culture that figured prominently in Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures across the world during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. This use of large stones resulted from the emergence of new technologies and led to the creation of stone alignments and ritual circles such as Stonehenge and the Orkney monuments in the United Kingdom, the chambered tombs of Brugh na B inne in Ireland, and the stone circles and tombs of West Africa.

They are a notable feature of the prehistory of East Asia during the 1st millennium BCE. They are to be found in western China (Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu) and the coastal areas of the Yellow Sea basin (the Shandong peninsula, north-western Kyushu). Dolmens appear to have arrived in the Korean peninsula with the Bronze Age.

The Jungnim-ri group in Gochang are considered on the basis of archaeological data to date from around the 7th century BCE. Dolmen construction ceased here in the 3rd century BCE. The Hwasun dolmens are a little later, from the 6th-5th centuries BCE. There are insufficient data to permit dating of the Ganghwa group, but they are thought to be earlier rather than later.


Dolmens usually consist of two or more undressed stone slabs supporting a huge capstone. It is generally accepted that they were simple burial chambers, erected over the bodies or bones of Neolithic and Bronze Age worthies. Earth mounds (barrows) would have covered them, but these would gradually disappear as a result of weathering and animal action. However, it is also possible that they were platforms on which corpses were exposed to permit the process of excarnation to take place, leaving bones for burial in collective or family tombs. Dolmens are usually to be found in cemeteries on elevated sites. This would permit them to be seen from the settlements of the people who built them, which were usually on lower-lying ground. In East Asia two main groups have been recognized, classified according to their form: the table type (the northern type) and the go-board type (the southern type). The first is an above-ground construction: four stone slabs are set up en edge to form a box or cist and a large capstone is laid on top. In the second case, the burial chamber is constructed below ground, with walls of slabs or piled stones; the capstone is supported on a number of stones laid on the ground. The so-called “capstone” type is a variant of the go-board type in which the capstone is laid directly on the buried slabs.

Gochang Dolmen Sites (8.38ha)

The Jungnim-ri dolmens, the largest and most diversified group, centre on the village of Maesan. Most of them are located at altitudes of 15-50m along the southern foot of the hills running east-west. The capstones of the dolmens here are 1-5.8m in length and can weigh 10-300t. A total of 442 dolmens has been recorded, of various types, based on the shape of the capstone.

Hwasun Dolmen Sites (31ha)

Like those in the Gochang group, the Hwasun dolmens are located on the slopes of low ranges of hills, along the Jiseokgang river. Individual dolmens in this area are less intact than those in Gochang. The Hyosan-ri group is estimated to comprise 158 monuments and the Daesin-ri group 129. In a number of cases the stone outcrops from which the stones making up the dolmens were quarried can be identified.

Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (12.27ha)

These sites are on the offshore island of Gangwha, once again on mountain slopes. They tend to be higher than those in the other sites and stylistically early, notably those at Bugun-ri and Gocheon-ri. Management and Protection Legal status The three sites are designated Historic Sites or Local Monuments under the provisions of the Protection of Cultural Properties. Together with their buffer zones they are further designated Cultural Property Protection Zones under the same law.

As a result, any form of development or intervention requires authorization and the carrying out of an Environmental Impact Assessment. Any repair work must be carried out by licensed specialists. The sites must be open to the general public. The sites are also designated Natural Environment Preservation Zones under the National Land Use Management Law and similar constraints apply.


All the properties belong to the Government of the Republic of Korea. Overall responsibility for the preparation and implementation of protection and conservation policies at national level rests with the Cultural Properties Administration. The National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, an agency of the Cultural Properties Administration, carries out academic research, field survey, and excavation (in association with university museums). Day-to-day preservation and management is the responsibility of the relevant local administrations (respectively Jeollabuk-do Province, Gochang-gun County; Jeollanam-do Province, Hwasun-gun County; and Incheon Metropolitan City). Funding for repair work is provided by the central government under the terms of the Protection of Cultural Properties Act. Other sources of funding are the revenues from admission fees to the sites and private donations. Anticipated visitor figures are 350,000 (Gochang), 300,000 (Hwasun), and 280,000 (Ganghwa). Management plans have been drawn up in respect of the three properties. Their primary objective is preservation of the original character of the dolmen sites and their immediate environments. The plans cover scientific research (survey, inventory, selected excavation, palaeo-environmental studies), protection of the environment (selective clearance of vegetational cover, routing of visitors so as to cause minimal impact on the natural environment, purchase of neighbouring farmland to prevent incursions, etc), systematic monitoring, and presentational aspects (signage, access roads and parking, interpretation facilities, increasing public awareness and participation of local communities, organization of festivals and other events on-site).

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes comprises three sites that together make up 18,846 ha, 10.3% of the surface area of Jeju Island, the southernmost territory of the Republic of Korea. It includes: Geomunoreum, regarded as the finest lave tube system of caves anywhere, with its multi-coloured carbonate roofs and floors, and dark-coloured lava walls; the fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, rising out of the ocean, a dramatic landscape; and Mount Hallasan, the highest in Korea, with its waterfalls, multi-shaped rock formations, and lake-filled crater. The property, of outstanding aesthetic beauty, also bears testimony to the history of our planet; to its features and processes.

Jeju Island is the southern most point of the Republic of Korea. It is an ellipsoid with the major axis lying southwest-northeast, with its area 183,160 ha. Volcanic activities of Jeju Volcano began at the end of Tertiary Period at a hot spot on the sea bottom. The island was built up to the sea level as a result of volcanic activities that began approximately 1.2 million years ago. In the center of the island, Mt. Hallasan rises 1,950 meters above sea level.

Numerous parasitic cones (oreum; oreum is the Jeju dialect for a parasitic volcanic cone) are widely distributed throughout the island. On Jeju Island, which is comprised of basaltic lava and tuffs, diverse volcanic landscapes, resulting from volcanic activities, are still developing. Some of the landscapes include the shield volcano, exemplified by those forming around Mt. Hallasan, the small-scale parasitic volcanoes, represented by Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, and the lava tubes that are formed in the basaltic lava flows. Together, these volcanic features form a significant portion of the world’s natural reserve.

Other developments resulting from volcanic activities include the trachyte dome, numerous and spectacular columnar jointing during the solidification of the lava, basaltic tuff cliffs and composite volcanoes that rely on the ever-changing acts and forms of volcanic activities. Avian and hominid footprint fossils are also found on this island. Thus, it is a place where important cross-sections of landscape evolution arising from the effects of volcanic activity can be studied. These are an important part of the Earth’s topographic evolution. There are numerous lava tubes in Jeju Island. Some of these tubes contained artifacts used by prehistoric men, and have been used as a shelter or sacred place. In addition, organisms peculiar to cave habitats are found inside the lava tubes.

In addition, owing to the peculiarities of its volcanic topography and isolation after the last glaciation, there are many plant and animal species which are endemic to the island, most of which are distributed on Mt. Hallasan. Ecological characteristics of Mt. Hallasan includes the clear vertical distribution of its diverse flora, the formation of subalpine evergreen coniferous forest of Korean fir (Abies koreana) at the top of the mountain, and the presence of arctic or alpine plants which have migrated to the top due to climatic warming during Holocene Epoch.

Having been recognized as a representative ecosystem in the subtropical and temperate rainforest biogeographic province in East Asia, Mt. Hallasan, with its surrounding transition area and marine areas in the Seogwipo City Marine Park, was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2002 (Fig. Ap.1-5, Appendix 1).

Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve is the second Biosphere Reserve in the Republic of Korea. It has an area of 83,094 ha. The two parts of the World Heritage site are found within the present boundary of the Biosphere Reserve. These are the Hallasan Natural Reserve in the Biosphere Reserve core area and a part of the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System and its buffer zone, which are within the Biosphere Reserve transition area.

The Jeju Provincial Government, which administers management of the Biosphere Reserve as well as the inscribed property, is examining zonation modification as well as the boundary extension of the Biosphere Reserve in order to adapt more properly to the Island’s protected area system including the World Heritage nomination.

The government will manage the natural values of the island in an integrated manner so as to fulfill different but complementary goals of the World Heritage Site and the Biosphere Reserve. With many endemic plants and animals, as well as the spectacular landscapes provided by the inscribed properties, Jeju Island attracts not only experts in geology, biology and speleology, but also over five million tourists and visitors. Large proportion of the inscribed property is subject to strict conservation regimes, and only a few limited parts, in a manner which can accommodate many visitors without damaging the property such as wooden or paved trails, are open to the public due to the fragile nature of the volcanic landscape.

 Hallasan Natural Reserve

Mt. Hallasan is an aspite-type shield volcano, displaying diverse volcanic characteristics such as crater lakes, columnar joints, trachyte dome and lava plains. Throughout the region, numerous parasitic cones can be found that have contributed to the developmental history of a typical volcanic landscape. The pristine state of Mt. Hallasan, as a shield volcano, is preserved in Hallasan Natural Reserve.

Where weathering and erosion have contributed to the development of the landscape, they have produced additional landscape features or have provided opportunities to view the interior of the landscape.

Currently the area, covering approximately 15,338.6 ha, is designated as a National Park (since 1970), the center of which is designated as a Natural Monument (Natural Monument No. 182 since 1966) with an area of 9,093 ha. As such, a large part of the entire area is under careful management so as to prevent damage from human activities.

Moreover, it remains relatively free from serious natural disasters such as earthquakes. At the summit of Mt. Hallasan, a prominent trachyte dome was formed by intrusion and emplacement 25,000-30,000 years ago.

In addition, a crater, surrounded by trachytic basalt and the trachyte dome, can also be found at the summit. This crater (1.6 ha), which is 108 m deep and about 550 m in diameter, holds a lake. Around the periphery of the crater, the western half is composed of trachyte, while the eastern half is made up of trachytic basalt, which was formed by silent Hawaiian-type eruptions.

Geomunoreum Lava Tube System

More than 120 lava tubes are scattered throughout Jeju Island. Geomunoreum Lava Tube System refers to a series of lava tubes formed in the large amounts of basaltic lava spewed out by the live Geomunoreum volcano. This volcano is located across two administrative areas (Deokcheon-ri, Gujwa-eup and Seonheul-ri, Jocheoneup) in Bukjeju-gun, Jeju-do. It is perched atop an elevation of 456.6 m.

The lava from the Geomunoreum volcano flowed down the slope of Mt. Hallasan in a north-northeast direction down to the coastline. Throughout the flow it has created numerous lava tubes, such as Manjanggul Lava Tube (Manjang), Bengdwigul Lava Tube (Bengdwi), Gimnyeonggul Lava Tube (Gimnyeong), Yongcheondonggul Lava Tube (Yongcheon) and Dangcheomuldonggul Lava Tube (Dangcheomul).

With the exception of Bengdwigul Lava Tube, the others (i.e. Manjang, Gimnyeong, Yongcheon and Dangcheomul) are distributed along the same extended lava flow line of tubes.

Bengdwi, Manjang, Gimnyeong, Yongcheon and Dangcheomul have been inscribed as World Heritage; each tube deserves its own unique attribution regarding form, size and content of the lava tubes and the diversity of speleothems.

From a global perspective, given its peculiar geological phenomena, the system of tubes deserves worldwide recognition as a heritage that should be shared and appreciated by all of humankind.

This is particularly true of Yongcheon and Dangcheomul which, together with less spectacular examples on the western end of Jeju Island, are unrivalled anywhere else around the world. Indeed the Jeju lava tubes with secondary carbonate mineralization may be said to be truly unique.

On the western area of the island, there is another group of lava tubes. Hyeopjae-Ssangnyonggul, Hwanggeumgul and Socheongul lava tubes, which have the same phenomenon of secondary carbonate mineralization producing limestone-cave type speleothems.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone

Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone is located in Seongsan-ri, Seongsaneup, Namjeju-gun, Jeju-do. The summit of the Ilchulbong crater lies at an altitude of 179 m; that of the lowest point in the crater is 89 m. The major axis of the bowl-shaped crater measures 570 m in diameter; assuming a total area of approximately 2.6 ha.

In the late Pleistocene Epoch (approximately 40,000 – 120,000 years ago), a Surtseyan-type underwater eruption from a shallow seabed resulted in a tuff cone. With the exception of the northwestern portion, three sides of the crater have been eroded by wave action, creating exposed cliffs which reveal the structure of the tuff cone in cross section.

On the northeastern side, the cliff has been eroded to almost the summit of the crater. Since volcanic activities halted or contemporaneously, the incessant erosion of the waves continued to eat away the outer rim of the crater. As a result, today, the Ilchulbong is not a perfect tuff cone.

Nevertheless, where the slopes meet with the sea, the rare internal stratifications, unique to Surtseyan-type phreatomagmatic volcanic activities, can be clearly seen. On the crater’s northwestern slope, which remains unaffected by wave cut erosion, the eruption-induced tuff slopes remain intact, serving as a precious archive for geological studies regarding ancient volcanic activities. The rocks that makes up the tuff cone is a composite mix of breccia, massive lapilli tuff, stratified lapilli tuff, bedded tuff, muddy tuffite and tuffite, creating nine layers of sedimentary facies. Depending on the slope gradient from the crater and its proximity, there are four facies associations – steep rim beds, flank deposits, marginal beds and volcaniclastic aprons.

Through repeated processes of eruption and deposition, the slopes of the crater have developed into a virtual museum of highly valuable structures, resulting from phreatomagmatic eruptions; it displays base surge bedding, internal cross laminations, graded bedding, pyroclastic flow lamination, slumping, ripple mark, bedding sag, ballistic blocks, channel system and local unconformities. It is a text-book resource for the study of volcanoclastic sedimentology.

In Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, 220 species of land animals, belonging to 179 genera and 73 families, have been identified. Among the flora, yago is a significant species in the distribution of plants. Belonging to the broomrape (Orobancaceae) family, the yago (Aeginetia indica) is parasitic to eulalia (Miscanthus sinensis). In Korea, it is found only on Jeju Island and then only in very limited areas.

In addition, over 300 marine plants have been identified in the coastal area surrounding the tuff cone. Among them, several have been identified as new and endemic to this region; one such plant is Dasysiphonia chejuensis, a red alga with the type locality of this genus being the coast of Ilchulbong.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

40 Royal Tombs Inscribed on the World Heritage List

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) 119 tombs were constructed within the Republic of Korea. Each tomb is designated neungwon or myo depending on the royal status. Of these, 40 were royal tombs for Joseon Dynasty kings and their consorts (and there are a further 2 located in DPR Korea).

The tombs were built to honour the memory of ancestors, to show respect for their achievements, to assert royal authority, to protect ancestral spirits from evil and to provide protection from vandalism. A royal tomb was a sacred place where the deceased could “live” in the afterlife amidst dynasty-protecting ancestral spirits.
There are three keys to understanding the royal tombs: the topography of the site and the layout of the tomb; the types of burial mounds, the sites’ associated structures and the nature and aesthetic qualities of site-specific stone objects; and the rites associated with the burials as well as extant documents that verify the construction process.

During the Joseon Dynasty, sites were chosen according to pungsu (fengshui in Chinese) principles. Accordingly, outstanding natural sites were chosen, which were mainly along two mountain chains stretching to the north and south of the Han River that flows through present-day Seoul. The burial mounds, the “heart” of a royal burial ground, were usually placed in the middle of a hillside. Protected from the back, they face outward (to the south) toward water and, ideally, toward layers of mountain ridges in the far distance.

Royal Graveyard Divided into Three Areas: Burial, Ceremonial, and Entrance Areas

The burial chamber was located at the point where propitious energies are said to be concentrated and it was fortified with a dirt covering, creating the mound. With a low, curving wall and knoll at the back, energy is further directed toward the burial chamber.

In addition to the burial area, royal tombs consist of a ceremonial area and an entrance area, and each area has a different function and symbolic meaning. The burial area is the sacred place of the dead and it contains an open, grassy area, the burial mound and a spirit road that descends to a T-shaped shrine. The shrine is the centre of the ceremonial area and it is here that ancestral rites are conducted to symbolise the meeting of the living and the dead. The shrine is linked by a worship road to a red-spiked gate, the main entrance to the royal graveyard.

The entrance area, itself, lies beyond the gate and it contains the forbidden stream with a stone bridge, the house of the tomb keeper and additional buildings used for ceremonial preparations. The separation of the living and the dead is further symbolised by the nature of the roads: the chamdo, the worship road, links the main gate to the shrine and is shared by the living and the dead, while the sindo, the spirit road, links the shrine to the burial mound and is used solely by the dead.

Architectural Values Blended with Tangible and Documentary Heritage

The layout described above generally follows the layout prescribed as part of the Confucian ritual system. However, variation is found in the number and placement of burial mounds within a site, and this is categorised as follows:

□ Tombs with a single mound
□ Tombs with twin mounds
□ Tombs with three parallel mounds
□ Tombs with a joint burial mound for the king and queen
□ Tombs with double mounds on separate hills
□ Tombs with vertically placed double mounds

In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings are an integral part of the royal tombs: the T-shaped wooden shrine (jeongjagak), where ancestral tablets are kept and royal ancestral rites performed; the stele shed, which protects the tomb stele; the royal kitchen, where food for the royal ancestral rites is prepared; the guards’ house, located southeast of the T-shaped shrine and facing the kitchen; the red-spiked gate (hongsalmun), which marks the beginning of the worship road at the southern end of the tomb area, signifying entry to the sacred realm; and the tomb keeper’s house (jaesil), where ritual equipment is kept and overall preparations are made for royal ancestral rites.

Royal tombs are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects, including ceremonial artifacts and figures of people and animals that are placed around, and in front of, the grave mound. All serve the purpose of wishing the interred a peaceful afterlife.

Around the burial mound, on the upper platform (sanggye), a 12-angled retaining stone protects and decorates the mound. A stone fence, slightly further out, encircles the mound, and outside of this fence pairs of stone sheep and tigers face outward, their backs to the mound. Further out, a low wall shelters the components on three sides. At the open side, and in front of the mound, there is a stone table on which spirits can play. And to the right and the left of the table are stone watch pillars.

In the middle platform (junggye), a four- or eight-sided stone lantern is found in the middle with two civil servants and their horses, both in stone, nearby. In the lower platform (hagye), two military officials and their horses, in stone, are found.

The ancestral rites associated with the royal tombs are considered sacrosanct. They were practiced until the late Joseon period and into the short period of the Daehan Empire (late 19th-early 20th century). Under Japanese colonial rule and during the Korean War, they were stopped, but revived afterwards (1966) as a means to preserve the ritual practices associated with the Joseon Dynasty. Sites were chosen for their proximity to the capital, Seoul, which reflects the need for kings to have close access to their fathers’ graves in order to pay due respect and honour.

In the Joseon Dynasty there were two categories of rites: funeral rites (hyungnye) and auspicious rites (gillye). The royal tomb was constructed during the process of hyungnye. The rules for performing these ceremonies are called The Five Rites, which are detailed in two books: the “Five Rites” chapter of Sejong Sillok (Annals of King Sejong) and Gukjo Oryeui (Five Rites of the State, which was published during the reign of King Seongjong). When conducting the funeral of his father, the new king followed the procedures specified in the books.

In addition to the two books, palace scholars produced three different kinds of documents to mark the sacredness of the royal ancestry and magnify the departed king’s legacy: sillok (annals); uigwe (records of state events); and neungji (tomb records).

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong

The two villages of Hahoe and Yangdong are both located in the south-eastern region of the Korean peninsula, the heartland of a distinct Confucian aristocratic culture during the Joseon Dynasty that ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than five hundred years. There is a distance of 90km between them.

Hahoe Village

The Pungsan Ryu clan who formed the village was one of the five powerful local families of the Andong region. The family produced many notable politicians and scholars, and from the 16th century was recognized as a prominent aristocratic clan in the south-east of Korea.

The village is sited on the upper reaches of the Nakdonggang River where it loops around Mount Hwasan. The name Hahoe means the river meanders. The Nakdonggang River flows south into the Korean Strait and drains most of north and south Gyeongsang provinces. The river water allowed the region to prosper from rice production from the early Joseon period The nominated area consists of the village, some of the cultivated fields, the lower slopes of the mountain behind, and the edges of the river on the opposite banks of the river, on which is the Hwacheonseowon Academy. Also in the nominated area is the Byeongsansseowon Confucian Academy, a discrete site approximately 3km east of the village joined to the main site by the buffer zone.

Yangjindang House

Dating from the mid 16th century, this house, the largest in the village, has served as the head family house for the Ryu clan, since it was built by Ryu Jong-hye, the clan’s founder. It faces south overlooking Maneulbong Peak, its ansan or front guardian mountain. Unusually the house has two ancestral shrines and its basic frame is elaborately decorated.

Chunghyodang House

The current buildings date from the 17th century and were built for the head of a sub-family line of the Ryu clan. Only the ancestral shrine faces south towards Maneulbong Peak, while the other buildings face Mt Wonjisan to the west. Like the Yangjindang House, its timber frame carries decoration. A distinctive feature is the large wood-floored hall with two stories of rooms to either side.

Hwacheonseowon Confucian Academy

Originally built in 1786 and enlarged in the early 19th century, the Academy was destroyed in 1868 on the orders of Regent Heungseon, the father of King Gojong, to shut down all private Confucian Academies nationwide. It was restored in 1994.

Yangdong Village

The village lies at the mouth of a narrow valley between the many folded ridges of Mt Seolchangsan to the northwest and Seongjubong Peak to the south-east, through which flows the Yangdongcheon stream, a tributary of the Allakcheon stream which flows into the larger Hyeongsangang River. With the guardian mountain at its back, the village faces out across the Allakcheon stream to a wide plain within which is the Angang Field – the main agricultural fields of the village, and now in the buffer zone. The Seongjubong Peak functions as its front guardian mountain.

Along with Hahoe village, Yangdong was commended as one of the four most auspicious sites in southern Korea in the Pungsu of Joseon. The village became the place where gentry studied while enjoying the beauties of the landscape. The small pavilion of Dongnakdang House was a place of retreat, where for instance Yi Eon-jeok in the 16th century devoted himself with spiritual and physical discipline to the study of Neo-Confucianism and to writing poems such as ’15 Songs composed in a Forest’.

Yangdong is larger than most traditional clan villages with 149 households and proportionately larger houses. The dwellings lie in five ‘dales’ within the fold of the densely forested hills, on plots carved out of the surrounding woodland, with the yangban houses halfway up the slope and the commoners’ houses clustered around and below them. There were two main clans, Son and Yi, competitively building their houses on prominent sites.

As with Hahoe village, ICOMOS notes that the descriptive text mainly concentrates on the houses of the nobility and gives little information on the commoners’ houses, or the surrounding landscape.

Seobaekdang House
This is the oldest house in the village built by the founder of the Son clan, Son So, when he settled in the village in the mid 15th century. It is also one of the earliest houses in Korea and preserves the layout of the early Joseon period with a ceremonial hall having a central location and the men’s quarters being part of the main compound, in contrast to the segregation that emerged later. From the large, wooden floored main hall there are views of Seobaekdang Peak. As well as the main compound, there is a gate compound and an ancestral shrine.

Jeong Sun-i House

Around the aristocratic clan houses are clusters of simple thatched houses of commoners with walls of mud over timber frames, usually three rooms laid out in a single row and sometimes with small outbuildings.

Study Halls, Pavilions and Confucian Academies

Simsujeong Pavilion

Simsujeong Pavilion, was originally built around 1560 for Yi Eon-gwal, younger brother of Yi Eon-jeok. It was destroyed in a fire and the present building was reconstructed in 1917.

Suunjeong Pavilion

The pavilion sits on high ground at the west of the village and overlooks the Allakcheon Stream and Angang Field. It provides one of the best vistas in Yangdong village. It was built around 1582 by Son Yeop, great grandson of Son Jung-don. The pavilion has a heated floor room and an open hall with a veranda and decorative balustrades.

Oksanseowon Confucian Academy

Oksanseowon Confucian Academy is located some 8 kilometres to the west of Yangdong Village (just south of Dongnakdang House). The compound is divided into four areas for entrance, study, rites, and auxiliary facilities. The Academy boasts the ownership of the greatest number of documents and books amongst national Confucian academies (of which 48 survive). It was built in 1572 by Yi Je-min, a magistrate of Gyeongju, in response to the desires of the local literati. There is no visual link to the village.

Donggangseowon Confucian Academy

Sited some 4 kilometres to the east of the village, this Academy was founded in 1695 in memory of Son Jungdon, a prominent local scholar. Most buildings were destroyed in 1868 at a time when many academies were forcibly closed. In 1918, local literati resumed observing rites. Similarly there is no visual link to the village.

Landscape Setting

Yangdong Village has been shaped in the typical ‘Mountain on back, river on front’ pungsu topography. The village sits on a side of a mountain, and all the houses sit in dales between ridges keeping the image of the ‘勿’ character, which means ‘clean’. Only the close surroundings of the houses are included in the nominated area, not the Allakcheon stream or the fields beyond it.

History and development

Clan villages developed and flourished in the Joseon dynasty which consolidated its absolute rule over Korea, encouraged the adoption of Confucian ideals in Korean society, (which had been introduced to Korean Peninsula in the first century), absorbed Chinese culture, and, through prosperity founded on trade, fostered classical Korean culture, science, literature, and technology.

Although the concept of villages planned to harmonise with the local topography, through the implementation of pungsu principles, had appeared in the preceding Goryeo period, it was during the Joseon Dynasty that those who had become small and medium sized land owners and local government officers rose into yangban or nobility clans, and then played a central role in the founding or enlargement of new settlements, based on Confucian principles. These clan villages for the nobility usually housed members of one or two clans and existed alongside fortified, walled towns where government and county officers lived who were of lower status and from diverse backgrounds. The clan villages also produced civil and military officials for the government.

Hahoe village is an example of a new yangban settlement being formed at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty by three clans, Heo, An and Ryu.

In the 16th century the Ryu clan produced distinguished politicians and scholars and this is reflected in the architecture of the village, particularly the study halls.

The new village flourished but by the mid 17th century the Heo and An clans left and Hahoe village became the clan village of the single Ryu clan. The village continued to expand in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 1980s, in line with the majority of Korean villages, young people migrated to the towns and cities and in 1991 the elementary school was closed. However there are some signs of a reversal of this trend with two newly built traditional houses in the 1990s.

Yangdong village is an example of a settlement that grew into a village of the nobility through the marriage of one of its daughters to the son of the Son clan. In turn his daughter married into the Yi clan. These two clans produced several distinguished figures in the 16th century.

The village expanded around the clan branches.

In the early 20th century a railway line was built to the village and a school constructed. In the 1940s a Buddhist Temple was constructed, and a decade later a Church. In the 1970s a bridge was erected over the Allakcheon Stream and in 1971 the pattern of arable land on the Angang Field was restructured and a community warehouse built.

In the 1980s, the village did not suffer such a severe decline in population as some other villages.

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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Korean Wold Heritage, UNESCO World Heritage