(clockwise from top left) Buyeo in the morning, the stylized bird that's been sort of adopted as the emblem of Baekje, an "American" eatery, chile peppers drying in the sun on the footpath
High speed rail in Korea is punctual and (naturally) fast, so I was at Daejeon within no time. A little too fast, actually, as I barely had time for a nap. Anyway, I took a cab to the intercity bus station and headed to Buyeo, a small, idyllic city very different from where I had just been. It's a heavily agricultural area, and farmers were at work everywhere; on the pavements, strips of fabric were lain, chile peppers or various cereals drying in the sun upon them. I did not have time (or energy) to eat any proper meals here; just some quick snacks and some convenience store nosh in the night. I slept like a log after I found and checked into a motel, having had only the little nap on the train to go on for the day.
Not to be confused with the Buyeo kingdom in what is now northeastern China, Buyeo is the modern name for Sabi, the third and last capital of Baekje. King Seong, whose statue (top left) sits in a central part of the city, was the one who led the migration of the capital to this area in the mid 6th century, after the rulers of Baekje had spent years at the temporary capital of Ungjin (now Gongju, which I will visit next), rebuilding their strength after the disastrous loss of earlier golden age capital at Wiryeseong to the armies of Goguryeo's King Jangsu. Seong's troubles were not over, though. After the migration, he led Baekje to fight a furious war against Goguryeo. His troops finally retook Wiryeseong and their old territories around the Han river, only to have the same territories be taken over by their supposed ally, Silla, while they were exhausted from war. Angered at the betrayal, Seong now directed his armies at Silla, but died in battle, along with much of his army. Baekje never quite recovered, and, despite support from Japan and even Goguryeo, and despite having loyal and valiant warriors like General Gyebaek (top right), fell to an alliance of Silla and Tang dynasty China about a century later. Modern Buyeo is proud of its Baekje heritage, naming streets after its heroes, and including its artwork -- such as the famous gilt bronze incense burner (bottom) -- as monuments and motifs in public works.
I visited the royal tomb complex south of the city centre first. It is a beautiful park that contains numerous typical mound tombs. Forom the outside, they look a bit like the tholoi of Mycenae. Inside, they have walled chambers with tomb art depicting legendary animals, such as the four direction guardian beasts, and other symbols. There's a small museum at the site as well.
I then went to the Buyeo National Museum, which has a lot of fascinating ancient artifacts from the region, and especially Sabi Baekje, on display.
I was pleased to finally have a chance to see the most celebrated and unique pieces at the museum. One of these is the original gilt bronze incense burner of Baekje (top left), considered a masterpiece of Korean metalworking. Then there were the royal diadem ornaments (top right, on a bust of King Seong) and some intricate ancient crowns and coronets (bottom right). Finally, there was a seven-branches sword, one of which was given to Yamato Japan by a Baekje king as a symbol of the close relationship between the two kingdoms.
I discovered Seodong Park and Gungnamji Pond from the tourism literature I found at the train station, and decided to include it in my itinerary when I read about how important it is to the local identity. The park is famous for the lotus colonies and sculptures within, and has beautiful Korean-style garden landscaping. The pond was commissioned by the penultimate king of Buyeo, King Mu. Mu's birth name was Seodong, and there is a local legend about how he cunningly won the hand of a Silla princess with whom he had fallen in love.
The Jeongnimsa Temple and Museum were not a very long walk away, although finding the entrance to the compound was a little difficult. The foundations of this Buddhist temple's grounds can still be seen, and part of it has been reconstructed. The Baekje-era Buddha statue and five-level pagoda, though worn by the elements, still stand there.
There are Baekje cultural villages in both Buyeo and Gongju, but I was only able to visit the Buyeo one. Thanks to the timing of my holiday, I missed the Baekje cultural festival by jut a few days. Even so, there was plenty to see at the Baekje Historical Museum, including many amazingly detailed reconstructions of ancient life, structures and monuments.
Outside, there were reconstructions of places from pretty much every part of Baekje history, including the capital with its palaces, pavilions, temples and a huge pagoda.
While there are quite a few ancient amusements available at Korean historical attractions (such as archery), one thing I did not find here was the dress-up booths, where you could put on a back-tied ancient costume and hat, and have your picture taken. I did this at many places in China, but I could find no such thing in Korea.
There were also reconstructions of the royal tombs (top left), Wiryeseong (top right) and a Baekje town (bottom left, with famous people's houses labeled and appropriately stocked). It appears some historical TV show had also been shot here (bottom right) -- I will need to look into that.
Finally, a common feature of capital cities: the mountain fortification. In the case of Sabi, the Buso mountain fort, or Busosanseong, kept watch over the city below. A trek up will let you see many reconstructions of royal pavilions, shrines, and such, all done in fine detail and vivid colors, and afford you a great view of the city.
I was completely out of steam by the end of the night. I found a motel and crashed, waking up for a couple of hours of TV and convenience store food before crashing again. Korean TV is quite interesting. They have a lot of variety shows, and talk shows with a strange, good-natured-but-adversarial format. Special effects are often inserted into live shows; for example, a guest appearing happy will have rays of light as an animated overlay (like in the picture above), and a person appearing nervous will have over-sized drops of cartoon sweat appear next to her head. In addition, there is a lot of Chinese programming -- mainly period dramas.