Thursday, October 17, 2013

KR&JP 2013 Travelogue Day 7: Ironclad Gaya in Gimhae

My final Three Kingdoms destination was the runt of the lot. Not even a kingdom, really, Gaya was a confederacy of city-states wedged between Baekje and Silla on the southern coast. The confederacy's capital for most of its existence was the state of Geumgwan Gaya, now the small city of Gimhae, located within the greater Busan conurbation. Although Gaya remained a small player in regional geopolitics of the time, and effectively disappeared well before the Three Kingdoms period ended, it is known for its technological and cultural contributions, for its role in early foreign relations, and for occasionally going to war despite its small size.

The city is very accessible from Busan, and in fact shares the same mass rapid transit system (top left) that connects both cities to Gimhae International Airport. A stream (top right) runs through the city, with the transit line running overhead, making access within and from the city easy. Most of the important historical sites are located within easy walking distance of each other.

Like the Baekje and Silla capitals, icons of Gimhae can be see in public works (bottom near and far left). There are a couple of nice statues around too, such as a knight from the iron cavalry (bottom near right) for which Gaya was famous. I also found a statue of Queen Heo Hwang-Ok, the founding queen of Geumgwan Gaya; she and King Suro are together honored as the ancestors of the Gimhae Kims, the most numerous of all Kim clans. Kim Yushin, who brought down Baekje and Goguryeo on behalf of Silla, was incidentally a Gimhae Kim; he and his fellow clansmen were integrated into Silla nobility after the fall of Gaya to Silla.

I started at the Bonghwangdong relic site, a large "shell mound" that dates to the Bronze Age. This is the oldest excavated archaeological site in Korea, with excavation starting in 1920. A few reconstructed artifacts of prehistoric life can be seen in this park.

Like Gongju, Gimhae has a traditional Hannok village/accommodation. And as with Gongju, I had plans to leave for my next destination in the evening, much as I would have liked to stay here overnight.

Gimhae's tourist services are very informative, suggesting optimal routes and helping me discover new places. One such place was the folk arts museum, which exhibited many examples of traditional craftsmanship. 

The Daesongdong Ancient Tombs were next. A large number of royal Gaya tumulus tombs (left) had been excavated here, and one was encased in an open viewing structure, letting me see the contents (right). This site had been in use since the Gaya predecessors' time -- the Byeonhan period, that is -- and showed evidence of tombs being built over earlier tombs.

(clockwise from top left) Exterior of Daesongdong Tombs Museum; swords and horse ornaments; human and horse armor, shield bosses, iron cavalryman reconstruction, arrowheads

The nearby Daesongdong Tombs Museum (top left) had on display a fairly large number of artifacts from Gaya, many of which attested to the distinctive and quality metalworking for which Gaya was well known in East Asia.

A few other public monuments dot the stream shore, including a small company of Gaya warriors (left), a long relief carving depicting Queen Heo's arrival in Geumgwan Gaya (middle), and the Gimhae Citizens' Bell (right).

(clockwise from top left) Museum front, golden Gaya crown, iron finial, tree-type crown, Gaya iron armor, distinctive bird pottery

The Gimhae National Museum was undergoing some reorganization, but the artifacts were, fortunately, available for viewing at the top level. The exhibit covered the history of Gimhae from prehistoric times to Byeonhan to Gaya, including artifacts such as the famous Gaya iron armor pieces, distinctive pottery, and assorted gold work.

I took a little break to enjoy the scenery at the Lotus Pond Park across the stream.

On my way east, I climbed Gujibong peak, on which Geumgwan Gaya's founding king Suro was both "born" and buried. I used quotation marks there because, like Bak Hyeokgeose, Seok Talhae and Kim Alji of Silla (and for that matter, Geumwa of Buyeo and Jumong of Goguryeo), Suro was also "hatched" from a supernaturally-delivered egg/box, along with the founding kings of the other Gaya states. There is also a large dolmen (left) at the top, which dates to long before Gaya was founded. In the distance, the walls of the old fort (right) snake along the mountain top.

At the foothills is the tomb complex of Queen Heo. She is said to have come from Ayodhya, which is in India, although given the circumstances of Suro's claimed origins, one might have to take that with a grain of salt. In any case, the tomb complex is large and open, including Heo's mound tomb (bottom right), and a stone pagoda Heo is said to have brought with her (bottom left).

Up one of the hills is a small collection of tumulus tombs called Baegundae, which appear to date from the very twilight of Gaya. It's quite a climb, but the reward is a broad vista of the city.

As I made my way down and south, I passed a couple of other interesting sights along the smaller streets of the city, such as the old North Gate (left) and a large Confucian academy (right)

Near the western entrance of King Suro's tomb park, on the inside, is a small museum, in which are exhibited further examples of Gaya artifacts, rituals and iron work.

The tomb park itself is very large, and contains numerous stelae (top right) shrines and ceremonial structures (middle left and right), a garden pond (bottom left) and Suro's large mound tomb (bottom right), which is flanked by stone warriors and animals (given the resemblance to Ming Chinese style, likely a much later addition).

It was time to head out, so I grabbed a quick bite while browsing the Gimhae street market (top left), and took the metro to the airport (bottom left and right). Sipping from a can of rice wine (top right), I waited to catch my plane to Jeju Island and bid the mainland farewell.

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