Precious World Heritage Sites in South Korea

By Rūta Balžekaitė

In every country there is something special that comes from its history or exceptional geographical features. Impressive cultural monuments and unique nature are bringing many tourists and locals to explore the country on a deeper level. Because of that it is certainly beneficial for the economy, but what ultimately makes a place special?

UNESCO is the abbreviation for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and it is responsible for choosing the most remarkable sites all over the world that have any historical, cultural, scientific or other form of significance, thus raising the importance of their protection and preservation. As of 2018, South Korea officially has thirteen World Heritage Sites, twelve of them as cultural and one as a natural site, while there are fifteen more sites nominated to be on the tentative list. Let’s look at some of the official sites deemed as important features of South Korea.

Haeinsa Temple

Situated in Gayasan National Park, the storage halls of the Haeinsa Temple, known as Janggyeong Panjeon complex are the depositories for the Tripiṭaka Koreana woodblocks, which survived many years and even a few fires that once had burned most of the temple complex down. Tripiṭaka Koreana are scriptures carved onto wooden printing blocks since the very end of the 14th century, proving their historic and cultural significance.

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple

Seokguram Grotto is a religious retreat and a part of the Bulguksa Temple complex, nestled on the Tohamsan Mountain in Gyeongju, overlooking the East Sea. The construction of the grotto started in the 8th century and inside the complex there are some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.

Baekje Historic Areas

In three South Korean cities—Gongju, Buyeo and Iksan, there are a group of monuments, called Baekje Historic Areas. It has been approved for their exceptional architecture, culture, religion, and artistry of the Baekje Kingdom, which was located in southwestern Korea. Buddhist shrines, stone pagodas can be found in the cities as well.

Sansa

The Sansa are Buddhist mountain monasteries located in the southern provinces of the Korean peninsula. It includes seven remote temples from the 7th to 9th century, filled with remarkable structures, objects, documents and shrines important for the historic, cultural and religious value of the heritage.

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong

Hahoe is a traditional folk village located in Andong, built in the Joseon Dynasty, which can be seen in the Joseon period-style architecture, books and folk traditions. Because of pungsu (Korean feng shui) the village is the shape of a lotus flower.

Yangdong is another traditional folk village from the Joseon Dynasty, located in Gangdong-myeon. There are many important folk materials at the village as well as the natural setting, size and a good example of the Korean aristocracy lifestyle (양반) and traditions.

Changdeokgung Palace

Located in a large park in Seoul, Changdeokgung is one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. What is so special about this palace is that instead of imposing, the buildings blend in with the nature of the site, built between Peak Maebong of the Bugaksan Mountain in the back and Geumcheon River flowing in the front, following the principle of baesanimsu, which is prominent in traditional Korean architecture. Some parts of the palace were also used in the filming of a popular Korean historical drama in 2003, called Dae Jang Geum (“Jewel in the Palace”).

Jeju Volcanic Island

This impressive natural site is the volcanic island Jeju that is filled with beautiful landscapes and unique ecology. In Jeju, you can find Geomunoreum, which is considered as the finest lava tube system of caves anywhere, the Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, rising out of the ocean with a preserved bowl-like crater and Hallasan—a shield volcano and the highest mountain in Korea, standing out with its waterfalls, a crater lake called Baengnokdam and multi-shaped rock formations. The site is undoubtedly beautiful, being proof of the history of the planet and its processes.

There are many sites that have yet to be approved by UNESCO, but are still well known and visited by people everyday. The ones who are interested in history, geography or just would like to explore South Korea as a tourist tend to travel to these places, because being selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site brings out more interest in the cultural, historic and natural features of the country.

Ultimately, South Korea has many monuments, places, works of art and architecture from old kingdoms to modern times that Koreans can be proud of and travelers eager to explore. Which World Heritage Site do you think would be the most interesting to visit? Share with us in the comments below!

Written by Ruta Balzekaite

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