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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Bold and Beautiful Baekje, Part I: Pungnap Toseong, Pungnap-dong, Seoul Songpa-gu

Pungnap-toseong (Hanja: 風納土城) are earthen ramparts from the Baekje era (18 BCE-660 CE). The ramparts were originally very large scale, measuring 3.5 kilometers in circumference, but now only 2.7 kilometers remain, since some of the sections were swept away by a heavy flood in 1925. After valuable artifacts were unearthed during the redevelopment of the area in 1997, the ramparts were recognized as a site of historic value for the further study of ancient history, and research began once again into Pungnap-toseong. The ramparts’ official name is the “Earthen Fortification in Pungnap-ri, Gwangju”, and they are designated as Historic Site No. 11 (present location: Baramdeuri 15-gil, Pungnap-dong 72-1 beonji, Seoul Songpa-gu).

Baekje was one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla. It was founded around Wiryeseong (the capital during the early Baekje period, now present-day Hanam, Gyeonggi Province) on the Lower Han River. Although the exact borders of Baekje remain unknown, a number of historic sites show traces of the Baekje era. These include Pungnap-toseong, Mongchon-toseong (a site of earthen fortification from the Baekje era situated in Olympic Park), Tumuli from the Baekje era in Bangi-dong (tombs from the early Baekje period) and Early Baekje Stone Mound Tomb in Seokchon-dong (a form of ancient tombs made by heaping up stones). Pungnap-toseong faces the Hangang in the west and leads the way to Mongchon-toseong in the south.

Pungnap-toseong was built by banking up earth, and was called the “Earthen Fortification in Pungnap-ri, Gwangju” as it was situated in Gwangju City, Gyeonggi Province; however it has been commonly known as Pungnap-toseong since it was incorporated into Seoul. Pungnap-toseong was excavated in earnest from 1997 when a great volume of remains and artifacts from the Baekje era were unearthed during the reconstruction of apartments. The construction work was temporarily suspended and excavations at the site were conducted, resulting in what stands here today.

This occasion was not the first time Pungnap-toseong had been discovered. In 1925, during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), a heavy flood caused the west side of the wall to collapse, unearthing a number of artifacts and exposing the interior. After Korea regained independence from Japanese occupation, the ramparts were designated as Historic Site No. 11. In 1966, the Department of Archeology at Seoul National University conducted excavation and research and confirmed that the ramparts date back to an era between prehistoric times and the Three Kingdoms period (the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria from the fourth century to the mid-seventh century).

Taking into account the likely time of its construction, its geographical situation along the river and the ancient tombs and mountain fortress located nearby, Pungnap-toseong bears comparison with other ancient fortresses around the same period, such as Nangnangtoseong (낙랑토성 or 락랑토성 in North Korean Dialect/earthen ramparts situated in Daedong County, Southern Pyeongan Province, DPRK) and Gungnae-seong of Goguryeo (37 BCE-668 CE). Considering the size of the population, the social and power structures in those times, and the fact that the large-scale ramparts were built around the third century, all this enhances still further the possibility that Pungnap-toseong was a fortress for the capital in the early period of the Baekje Kingdom.

In actual fact, for the casual visitor Pungnap-toseong simply appears to be a long embankment that forms a broad sweep around an apartment village and shopping district. For those who are unaware of the existence of the ramparts, it can look like a broad field of grass at first, until they have been pointed out and identified. The circumference of the ramparts reaches around 3.5 kilometers, forming an oval about two kilometers from north to south and one kilometer from east to west. Since a considerable portion of the west-side wall was swept away by a heavy flood in 1925, sections of about 2.7 kilometers of the ramparts remain today.

Investigation into a cross section of the east side indicates that the ramparts were constructed by banking up thin sand without stones. A large number of both earthenware and ironware from the Baekje era have been excavated from the ramparts. In addition, giwa (roof tiles), wadang (giwa with rounded edges), earthenware inscribed with scripts, and items of Chinese pottery have also been excavated, showing the important status of this great fortress. Pungnap-toseong was a fortress of Baekje’s capital from its construction around the third century until its fall to King Jangsu in 475 (the 20th king of Goguryeo, who reigned from 413 to 491). The remains and artifacts excavated provide clues to Baekje as a fully-fledged kingdom, the lifestyle of the time and the level of technical expertise.

Nearby Mongchon-toseong provides important insights into the traces of earthen fortifications in the early Baekje era, and is considered significant Baekje remains, along with Pungnap-toseong. In 1984, with the foundation of the Olympic Park ahead, Mongchon-toseong was restored after conducting six excavations. It is now situated within the Olympic Park, providing the public with a place to relax and walking trails.