14 Wonderful Heritage Sites To See In South Korea

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14 Wonderful Heritage Sites To See In South Korea

Date: Feb 1, 2023
Author: Collins.cidar 774 No Comments

The world is a place of style and beauty, emanating from different heritage and culture. Perhaps sometime we get weary of what we frequently see, it seem like we are stuck in a circle, seeing the same thing we are always used to. If you are that person, join us on a trip to South Korea, a place of a distinct long history of Asian Culture and sustainable heritage to give you a different sense of excitement and site-discovery. If we trace it down the south coast of the Republic of Korea, found the Getbol, which is one of the most productive and species-diverse ecosystems in the world, to the Geomunoreum, which is regarded as the finest lava tube system of caves anywhere and the Changdeokgung Palace Complex which is constructed 15 centuries ago. South Korea is an independent country and it practice system of government, which is far different from it neighbor North Korea. Any traveler who is drained of the western features and needs a different passion of excitement, takes his or her trip to South Korea, a place with difference and colorful excitement, Checkout our list of places you will love to visit, whenever you want to take your trip to South Korea.

Baekje Historic Areas

Baekje Historic Areas/photographer:Kyle Magnuson/Flickr

Located in the mountainous mid-western region of the Republic of Korea, the remains of three capital cities collectively represent the later period of the Baekje Kingdom as it reached its peak in terms of cultural development involving frequent communication with neighbouring regions. The Baekje lasted 700 years from 18 BCE to 660 CE and was one of the three earliest kingdoms on the Korean peninsula. The Baekje Historic Areas serial property comprises eight archaeological sites dating from 475-660 CE including the Gongsanseong fortress and royal tombs at Songsan-ri related to the Ungjin capital Gongju; the Archaeological Site in Gwanbuk-ri and Busosanseong Fortress, Jeongnimsa Temple Site, royal tombs in Neungsan-ri and Naseong city wall related to the Sabi capital Buyeo; the Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri and the Mireuksa Temple Site in Iksan related to the secondary Sabi capital. Together these sites testify to the adoption by the Baekje of Chinese principles of city planning, construction technology, arts and religion; their refinement by the Baekje and subsequent distribution to Japan and East Asia.

Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Changdeokgung Palace Complex/photographer: Koshy Koshy/Flickr

Constructed in the 15th century during the Joseon Dynasty, the Changdeokgung Palace Complex occupies a 57.9 ha site in Jongno-gu, in northern Seoul at the foot of Ungbong Peak of Mount Baegaksan, the main geomantic guardian mountain.

Changdeokgung is an exceptional example of official and residential buildings that were integrated into and harmonized with their natural setting. The complex was originally built as a secondary palace to the main palace of Gyeongbokgung, differentiated from it in its purpose and spatial layout within the capital. Situated at the foot of a mountain range, it was designed to embrace the topography in accordance with pungsu principles, by placing the palace structures to the south and incorporating an extensive rear garden to the north called Biwon, the Secret Garden. Adaptation to the natural terrain distinguished Changdeokgung from conventional palace architecture.

The official and residential buildings that make up the complex were designed in accordance with traditional palace layout principles. The buildings and structures include three gates and three courts (an administrative court, royal residential court and official audience court), with the residential area to rear of the administrative area reflecting the principles of ‘sammun samjo (三門三朝)’ and ‘jeonjo huchim (前朝後寢)’. The buildings are constructed of wood and set on stone platforms, and many feature tiled hipped roofs with a corbelled multi-bracket system and ornamental carvings.

The garden was landscaped with a series of terraces planted with lawns, flowering trees, flowers, a lotus pool and pavilions set against a wooded background. There are over 56,000 specimens of various species of trees and plants in the garden, including walnut, white oak, zelkova, plum, maple, chestnut, hornbeam, yew, gingko, and pine.

Changdeokgung was used as the secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung for 200 years, but after the palaces were burnt down during the Japanese invasion in the late 16th century, it was the first to be reconstructed and since then served as the main seat of the dynasty for 250 years. The property had a great influence on the development of Korean architecture, garden and landscape planning, and related arts, for many centuries. It reflects sophisticated architectural values, harmonized with beautiful surroundings.

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites/Photographer:Kyle Magnuson/Flickr

The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen sites contain the highest density and greatest variety of dolmens in Korea, and indeed of any country. Dolmens are megalithic funerary monuments, which figured prominently in Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures across the world during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. Usually consisting of two or more undressed stone slabs supporting a huge capstone, it is generally accepted that they were simply burial chambers, erected over the bodies or bones of deceased worthies. They are usually found in cemeteries on elevated sites and are of great archaeological value for the information that they provide about the prehistoric people who built them and their social and political systems, beliefs and rituals, and arts and ceremonies.

Gyeongju Historic Areas

Gyeongju Historic Areas/photographer:Manfred Sommer/Flickr

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 culture of Silla dynasty, in particular between the 7th and 10th century. The Korean peninsula was ruled for almost 1,000 years (57 BCE – 935 CE) by the Silla dynasty, and the sites and monuments in and around Gyeongju bear outstanding testimony to its cultural achievements. These monuments are of exceptional significance in the development of Buddhist and secular architecture in Korea.

The property comprises five distinct areas situated in the centre of Gyeongju and in its suburbs.

The Mount Namsan Belt lies to the north of the city and covers 2,650 ha. The Buddhist monuments that have been excavated at the time of inscription include the ruins of 122 temples, 53 stone statues, 64 pagodas and 16 stone lanterns. Excavations have also revealed the remains of the pre-Buddhist natural and animistic cults of the region. 36 individual monuments, including rock-cut reliefs or engravings, stone images and heads, pagodas, royal tombs and tomb groups, wells, a group of stone banner poles, the Namsan Mountain Fortress, the Poseokjeong Pavilion site and the Seochulji Pond, exist within this area.

The Wolseong Belt includes the ruined palace site of Wolseong, the Gyerim woodland which legend identifies as the birthplace of the founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan, Anapji Pond, on the site of the ruined Imhaejeon Palace, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory.

The Tumuli Park Belt consists of three groups of Royal Tombs. Most of the mounds are domed, but some take the form of a half-moon or a gourd. They contain double wood coffins covered with gravel, and excavations have revealed rich grave goods of gold, glass, and fine ceramics. One of the earlier tombs yielded a mural painting of a winged horse on birch bark.

Hwangnyongsa Belt consists of two Buddhist temples, Bunhwangsa Temple and the ruins of Hwangnyongsa Temple. Hwangnyongsa, built to the order of King Jinheung (540 – 576 CE) was the largest temple ever built in Korea, covering some 72,500 m2. An 80 m high, nine-storey pagoda was added in 645 CE.  The pagoda in Bunhwangsa was built in 634 CE, using dressed block stones.

The Sanseong Fortress Belt consists of defensive facilities along the east coast and at other strategic points and includes the Myeonghwal Mountain Fortress.

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks/Geoff Steven
Copyright: © OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection

The Janggyeong Panjeon in the Temple of Haeinsa, on the slopes of Mount Gayasan, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The Haeinsa Tripitaka woodblocks were carved in an appeal to the authority of the Buddha in the defense of Korea against the Mongol invasions. They are recognized by Buddhist scholars around the world for their outstanding accuracy and superior quality. The woodblocks are also valuable for the delicate carvings of the Chinese characters, so regular as to suggest that they are the work of a single hand.

The Janggyeong Panjeon depositories comprise two long and two smaller buildings, which are arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard. As the most important buildings in the Haeinsa Temple complex, they are located at a higher level than the hall housing the main Buddha of the complex. Constructed in the 15th century in the traditional style of the early Joseon period, their design is characterized by its simplicity of detailing and harmony of layout, size, balance and rhythm.

The four buildings are considered to be unique both in terms of their antiquity with respect to this specialized type of structure, and for the remarkably effective conservation solutions that were employed in their design to protect the woodblocks from deterioration, while providing for easy access and storage. They were specially designed to provide natural ventilation and to modulate temperature and humidity, adapted to climatic conditions, thus preserving the woodblocks for some 500 years from rodent and insect infestation. The Haeinsa Temple complex is a famous destination for pilgrimages, not only among Korean Buddhists, but Buddhists and scholars from all over the world.

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong/Phtographer:~Mers/Flickr

The two villages of Hahoe and Yangdong are located in the south-eastern region of the Korean peninsula, the heartland of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), that ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than five hundred years. There is a distance of 90km between them.

Sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto rivers and open agricultural fields, Hahoe and Yangdong in their landscape settings are seen as the two most representative historic, clan villages in Korea. They were founded in the 14th-15th century and subsequently expanded to their present size and composition in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Their layout and siting, reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty.

The villages were located to provide both physical and spiritual nourishment from their surrounding landscapes. They include the residences of the head families, together with substantial timber framed houses of other clan members, also pavilions, study halls, Confucian academies for learning, and clusters of one storey mud-walled, thatched-roofed houses, formerly for commoners. The landscapes of mountains, trees and water around the villages, framed in views from pavilions and retreats, were celebrated for their beauty by 17th and 18th century poets.

Within the two villages, the outstanding ensembles of buildings, their siting, planning and building traditions, are exceptional reflections of the social and cultural systems of the Joseon Dynasty, of the particularly distinctive system of clan villages that is specific to this area, and of the way these evolved over five centuries.

Hwaseong Fortress

Hwaseong Fortress/photographer:Domenico Convertini/Flickr

Hwaseong is a piled-stone and brick fortress of the Joseon Dynasty that surrounds the centre of Suwon City, of Gyeonggi-do Province. It was built in the late 18th century by King Jeongjo for defensive purposes, to form a new political basis and to house the remains of his father, Crown Prince Jangheon. The massive walls of the fortress, which are 5.74 km in length, enclose an area of 130 ha and follow the topography of the land. The Suwoncheon, the main stream in Suwon, flows through the centre of the fortress.

The walls incorporate a number of defensive features, most of which are intact. These include floodgates, observation towers, command posts, multiple arrow launcher towers, firearm bastions, angle towers, secret gates, beacon towers, bastions and bunkers. There are four main gates at the cardinal points. The Paldalmun Gate in the south and the Janganmun Gate in the north are impressive two-storey wooden structures on stone bases, flanked by gated platforms and shielded by half-moon ravelins built of fired brick. They are linked to the main road running through the complex. The west (Hwaseomun) and east (Changnyongmun) gates are single-storey structures, also protected by ravelins.

The Hwaseong Fortress has had a great influence on the development of Korean architecture, urban planning, and landscaping and related arts. It differed from the fortresses in China and Japan in that it combined military, political and commercial functions. Its design by Jeong Yakyong, a leading scholar of the School of Practical Learning, was characterized by careful planning, the combination of residential and defensive features, and the application of the latest scientific knowledge. It represents the pinnacle of 18th century military architecture, incorporating ideas from some of the best examples in Europe and East Asia. Hwaseong is also unique in that it covers both flat and hilly land, making use of the terrain for maximum defensive efficacy.

A completion report for the building of Hwaseong Fortress, Hwaseong seongyeok uigwe, was published in 1801, which provides the details and particulars about its design and construction process.

Jongmyo Shrine

Jongmyo Shrine/photographer:scottgunn/Flickr

Jongmyo is a shrine housing the spirit tablets of the former kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. The shrine is a symbolic structure that conveys the legitimacy of the royal family, where the king visited regularly to participate in the ancestral rites to wish for the safety and security of the people and state. Jongmyo is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal ancestral shrines, with a unique spatial layout that has been preserved in its entirety. It was originally built in the late 14th century, but was destroyed during the Japanese invasion during the 16th century, and was rebuilt in the early 17th century with a few expansions made to the buildings thereafter.

Jongmyo and its grounds occupy a 19.4 ha oval site. The buildings are set in valleys and surrounded by low hills, with artificial additions built to reinforce the site’s balance of natural elements, in accordance with traditional pungsu principles. The main features of Jongmyo are Jeongjeon (the main shrine), and Yeongnyeongjeon (the Hall of Eternal Peace, an auxiliary shrine). Other features include Mangmyoru, a wooden structure where the king thought about the ancestral kings in memory; Gongmingdang, the shrine to the Goryeo King Gongmin, built by the Joseon King Taejo; Hyangdaecheong, the storage building for ritual utensils; and Jaegung, a main hall with two wings, where the King and participants waited for the rites to take place. Jongmyo was built faithfully abiding by the Confucian ideology of ancestral worship and its ritual formalities under strict royal supervision, and still maintains its original form dating from the Joseon Dynasty.

Traditions of ancestral worship rites – Jongmyo Jerye, are still carried out, together with the accompanying ritual music and dance performance. Construction and management of Jongmyo, and the operations of Jongmyo Jerye rituals, are all meticulously recorded in the royal protocols of the Joseon Dynasty.


Namhansanseong/photographer:Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army/Flickr

Namhansanseong was designed as an emergency capital for the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), in a mountainous site 25 km south-east of Seoul. Its earliest remains date from the 7th century, but it was rebuilt several times, notably in anticipation of an attack by the Sino-Manchu Qing dynasty, in the early 17th century. Built and defended by Buddhist soldier-monks, it embodies a synthesis of the defensive military engineering concepts of the period, drawing on Chinese and Japanese influences, and changes in the art of fortification following the introduction of firearms from the West. A permanently inhabited city that was the provincial capital over a long period, it includes inside its fortified walls evidence of various types of military, civil and religious buildings. It has become a symbol of Korean sovereignty. 

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty/photographer:Nomad Shinnie/Flickr

The natural surroundings of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, shaped by the principles of pungsu, create a delicate setting for the living tradition of ancestral worship and its associated rites. The royal tombs, with their hierarchical ordering of areas from the profane to the sacred, and their distinctive structures and objects, are an ensemble that resonates with the historic past of the Joseon Dynasty.

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea/photographer:Jordi Sanchez/Flickr

Sansa consists of seven Buddhist mountain monasteries—Tongdosa, Buseoksa, Bongjeongsa, Beopjusa, Magoksa, Seonamsa and Daeheungsa—located throughout the southern provinces of the Korean Peninsula. The seven monasteries established from the 7th to the 9th centuries have functioned as centres of religious belief, spiritual practice, and daily living of monastic communities, reflecting the historical development of Korean Buddhism. Sansa has accommodated diverse Buddhist schools and popular beliefs within its precinct, and many of its notable historic structures, halls, objects and documents reflect such assimilating features of Korean Buddhism. The distinctive intangible and historical aspects of Korean Buddhism can be recognized in the continuous traditions of self-sufficient temple management, education of monks, and coexistence of meditative practice and doctrinal studies of Korean Seon Buddhism. These mountain monasteries are sacred places, which have survived to the present as living centres of faith and religious practices despite suppression during the Joseon Dynasty and damages caused by wars and conflicts over the years.

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple/photographer: GS CHUN/Flickr

Established in the 8th century under the Silla Dynasty, on the slopes of Mount Tohamsan, Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple form a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance. Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong initiated and supervised the construction of the temple and the grotto, the former built in memory of his parents in his present life and the latter in memory of his parents from a previous life.

Seokguram is an artificial grotto constructed of granite that comprises an antechamber, a corridor and a main rotunda. It enshrines a monumental statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha looking out to sea with his left hand in dhyana mudra, the mudra of concentration, and his right hand in bhumisparsa mudra, the earth-touching mudra position. Together with the portrayals of devas, bodhisattvas and disciples, sculpted in high and low relief on the surrounding walls, the statues are considered to be a masterpiece of East Asian Buddhist art. The domed ceiling of the rotunda and the entrance corridor employed an innovative construction technique that involved the use of more than 360 stone slabs.

Bulguksa is a Buddhist temple complex that comprises a series of wooden buildings on raised stone terraces. The grounds of Bulguksa are divided into three areas – Birojeon (the Vairocana Buddha Hall), Daeungjeon (the Hall of Great Enlightenment) and Geungnakjeon (the Hall of Supreme Bliss). These areas and the stone terraces were designed to represent the land of Buddha. The stone terraces, bridges and the two pagodas – Seokgatap (Pagoda of Sakyamuni) and Dabotap (Pagoda of Bountiful Treasures) – facing the Daeungjeon attest to the fine masonry work of the Silla.

Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies

Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies/Photographer:Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army/Flickr

The Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies is a serial property which comprises nine seowon representing a type of Neo-Confucian academy of the Joseon Dynasty (from the mid-16th to mid-17th centuries CE). It is an exceptional testimony to cultural traditions associated with Neo-Confucianism in Korea.

The components are Sosu-seowon, Namgye-seowon, Oksan-seowon, Dosan-seowon, Piram-seowon, Dodong-seowon, Byeongsan-seowon, Museong-seowon and Donam-seowon, and these are located across the central and southern parts of the Republic of Korea.

The property exhibits an outstanding testimony to thriving Neo-Confucian academies that promoted learning of Neo-Confucianism, which was introduced from China and became fundamental to every aspect of Korea.

The local literati at seowon created educational system and tangible structures conducive to fully commit themselves to learning. Learning, veneration and interaction were the essential functions of the seowon which are closely reflected in their design. The seowon were led by sarim or the class of local intellectuals. The seowon developed and flourished as centres for the interests of the sarim.

The primary factor in siting the seowon was the association with venerated scholars. The second factor was the landscape, and seowon are located near mountains and water as part of appreciating nature and cultivating the mind and body. Pavilion style buildings in the seowon facilitated connections to the landscape.

The scholars studied Neo-Confucian classics and literary works and endeavoured in understanding the universe and becoming ideal person. They venerated late contemporary Neo-Confucian figures, and formed strong academic lineage spearheaded by venerated scholars. Furthermore, local literati made significant contribution to disseminating principles of Neo-Confucianism through various social and political activities based on the property.

Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats

Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats/photographer:GRID-Arendal/Flickr

Situated in the eastern Yellow Sea on the southwestern and southern coast of the Republic of Korea, the site comprises four component parts: Seocheon Getbol, Gochang Getbol, Shinan Getbol and Boseong-Suncheon Getbol. The site exhibits a complex combination of geological, oceanographic and climatologic conditions that have led to the development of coastal diverse sedimentary systems. Each component represents one of four tidal flat subtypes (estuarine type, open embayed type, archipelago type and semi-enclosed type). The site hosts high levels of biodiversity, with reports of 2,150 species of flora and fauna, including 22 globally threatened or near-threatened species. It is home to 47 endemic and five endangered marine invertebrate species besides a total of 118 migratory bird species for which the site provides critical habitats. Endemic fauna includes Mud Octopuses (Octopus minor), and deposit feeders like Japanese Mud Crabs (Macrophthalmus japonica), Fiddler Crabs (Uca lactea), and Polychaetes (bristle worms), Stimpson’s Ghost Crabs (Ocypode stimpsoni), Yellow Sea Sand Snails (Umbonium thomasi), , as well as various suspension feeders like clams. The site demonstrates the link between geodiversity and biodiversity, and demonstrates the dependence of cultural diversity and human activity on the natural environment.

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes/photographer:Jennifer Muliadi/flickr

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes is a coherent serial property comprising three components. The unequalled quality of the Geomunoreum lava tube system and the exhibition of diverse and accessible volcanic features in the other two components demonstrate a distinctive and important contribution to the understanding of global volcanism.

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