After a brief period of glory in the late 4th century, the tables turned within decades: Goguryeo under King Gwanggaeto had steadily advanced towards the Han river from 395, and by 475, the capital at Wiryeseong had fallen to Goguryeo's King Jangsu, thanks to King Gaero's complacent rule of Baekje. His successor, King Munju, led a desperate evacuation southwards, and settled the Ungjin on the Geumgang river as his new capital, in what is now Gongju city. According to recent evidence, it appears that this was motivated by Ungjin having been the base of a noble house that was particularly supportive of the royal family of Baekje. Within a few decades, Baekje regrouped and enriched itself under the new generation of kings -- especially King Muryeong, Ungjin's more famous king -- and migrated to a more permanent capital at Sabi (now Buyeo).
I took a bus northeast to Gongju early in the morning, passing lovely scenery of lush hills and calm rivers. Gongju, like Buyeo, also displays a lot of Baekje pride, even though Ungjin was the Baekje capital for just over 60 years. Baekje diadem ornament replicas and other motifs from the ancient kingdom adorn gates, lamp posts and other public facilities.
My first stop was the mountain fort Gongsanseong, which served as Ungjin's guardian fortification. The walls, topped with battlements, extend quite a way around the top of the mountain, and there are clean, broad pathways around the fort. You can choose to walk the wall itself, but parts of it are quite steep. The entrance is lined with stelae, and top affords one a good view of Gongju city and the Geumgang river.
Gongsanseong contains a large number of Baekje-era and later-dated shrines, temples and pavilions. These include the royal banquet pavilion (top left), the shrine to the three Ming Chinese warriors who stayed behind to help the Joseon Koreans fight off the Japanese during the Imjin War (top right), and a lovely artificial pond and pavilion overlooking the river (bottom left). On my way out, I stopped for a little archery practice at the concession area (bottom right).
Gongju National Museum was closed, and expectedly so; I would have loved to go there, but I had to make a choice between spending national museum closure day in Buyeo or Gongju, and I chose Gongju. Thankfully, though, the local Songsanri tombs museum was open, and I could peek at some information about the Ungjin kings (top left), models of the interiors of mound tombs (top right), Ungjin-era royal ornaments and artifacts (bottom left), and reconstructed Baekje attire (bottom right).
Outside, the mild, sunny weather was perfect for a walk around the Songsanri tomb park, which included a large number of mound tombs, and the tomb of King Muryeong himself.
I then went to the Hannok Village near the national museum. It's a reconstructed village of houses and other structures built using traditional wooden hannok construction. Only later did I find out that you could actually stay here as a guest.
My final stop was the Seokjangni Museum and Prehistoric Site. The museum and site display many prehistoric artifacts, and also feature reconstructed lifelike scenes of prehistoric Korean people going about their lives. It's also right at the riverside, which makes it a nice place to relax and enjoy the view, which I did before busing my way to Daejon and catching my rail sequence to Gyeongju.
More interesting observations:
(clockwise from top left)
- I love how the taxis in even small cities are decked out with nav systems and card readers.
- I actually stayed on one of these Rennaissance-style castle hotels later in the trip.
- Water is free, and is often served in similar-looking plastic flasks in most regular restaurants.
- Hyun Bin's endorsement of cold coffee
- This is literally a room for resting.
I had enough time to have some actual meals in Gonjgu, and tried my best to find local specialties.
(clockwise from top left)
- Kalguksu: a soup of thick noodles and assorted seafood that you cook at your table stove. A Gongju specialty.
- Eomuk: sheets of fish cake on a stick, simmered in fish broth
- Gimbap: like sushi, but with light, cooked fillings
- Squid ink cheese bread from a cafe
- Can't remember what this spicy stew is called, but it is also a Gongju specialty