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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Bold and Beautiful Baekje, Part V: Garim-Seongheung Sanseong, Buyeo, Southern Chungcheong


Seongheung Sanseong (Hanja: 聖興山城) or also known as Garimseong (加林城) in Gunsa-ri, Imcheon-myeon, Buyeo County, Southern Chungcheong Province, was built 37 years earlier to 538 when the Baekje Kingdom moved its capital from Ungjin (current Gongju) to Sabi (current Buyeo). This means the fortress was constructed to function as a background defense line to fight against the enemies attacking toward Ungjin. Since the fortress was completed, Seongheung Sanseong functioned as a central fortress to defend and restore the territory of the Baekje Kingdom. Because the fortress was so strongly and desperately protected by the brave Baekje soldiers, General Yu In-goe of Chinese Tang Dynasty confessed that the fortress was very difficult to attack as it was built on a rough mountain with solid and impenetrable walls. 

Overlooking the lower stretch of the Geum River, this stone fortress measures 800m in circumference and the height of the wall ranges from three to four meters. Also known as Garimseong in historical records, the mountain fortress was built in 501 CE by a great Baekje (18 BCE - 660 CE) nobleman, Baek Ga, to protect the Baekje capital of Ungjin which is now Gongju. Upon its completion, Baek Ga became the fortress commander, rebelled against the Baekje king, Dongseong (Reigned: 479-501), and slew him. 

The rebellion did not last long, however, for as soon as he succeeded to the throne, King Muryeong (Reigned: 501-523) promptly quelled the rebellion and revenged his father by killing the rebel leader Baek Ga. Story has it that when Silla invaded Baekje to unify the Korean peninsula in 660 CE, Seongheung Sanseong was not attacked because of its rugged topography. The fort's garrison, however, on hearing of the fall of the Baekje capital, took their own lives.

Presently, remains of three well sites and army warehouses can be found in the Seongheung Sanseong. The scale of the fortress is not so grand. The length of the fortress has been confirmed so far to be 1,500 meters around its circumference with its height of three to four meters and it takes about half an hour to walk around the fortress. The major reason to visit Seongheung Sanseong to enjoy the grand view from the fortress. Mount Seongheung on which Seongheung Sanseong is placed is no more than 268 meters high above sea level. But as there are no higher mountains or hills around Mount Seongheung, visitors can observe the wide open landscape from the fortress and even the fields of Ganggyeong can be seen far off in the distance. 

The entrance to the fortress on the mountain is Nammunji (South gate site). Though there are no walls or gate, the foundation stones are left at the width of four meters. Near Nammunji stands a special saw-leaf zelkova tree that presents a meaningful scene. This tree is assumed to be 400 years old and has a nickname of “Sarang-namu” (love tree). Since TV drama “Seodongyo” was broadcast, this tree has become a symbol of the love between Jang-i and Prince Seon-hwa of the ancient Silla Kingdom. In addition to this drama, “Daewang Sejong” (The Great King Sejong), “Baramui-hwawon” (Garden of Wind) and “Cheonchu-taehu” (The Iron Empress) were filmed here. 

If you cross the wide green field from Nammunji and hike along the trail on your left you will find General Yu Geum-pil Shrine, Seongheungnu Pavilion and a signal fire place. General Yu Geum-pil contributed greatly to the foundation of the Goryeo Kingdom by achieving outstanding victories to unify the Late Three Kingdoms and as he helped poor people in this area, the local villagers have built a shrine to him and have performed annual rituals ever since. Seongheungnu Pavilion is located above General Yu Geum-pil Shrine. It is an octagonal two storied pavilion but as it is surrounded by tall trees and forest views from the pavilion are not so wonderful.

Below Sengheung Sanseong is an ancient historic temple, Daejosa, that was founded in 527 (the fifth year of King Seong of the Baekje Kingdom). It is said that this temple was built to know that King Seong will move the capital from Ungjin (Gongju) to Sabi (Buyeo). Legend says that an old monk was praying under a rock and fell asleep after seeing a large mysterious bird on the rock. When he awoke from this sleep he found the rock changed to a great Buddha statue. So, the temple built there was called “Daejosa” (great bird temple). 

The master of Daejosa Temple is the giant standing stone Buddha statue that was nominated as Treasure No. 217. It is a 10 meter-high standing stone Buddha statue looking toward the east behind Wontongbojeon Hall. This stone Buddha statue has a square hat on its head with unique features of a broad square face and relatively small ears, eyes and nose. This giant standing stone Buddha statue has similar features to the huge stone Buddha statues of Yongmiriseokbul at Paju and Gwanchoksaseokbul at Nonsan and all these giant standing stone Buddha statues were built during the early years of the Goryeo Kingdom to reinforce the Buddhist spirit and the national power of the newly founded kingdom. 

In addition, Daejosa Temple has a three storied stone pagoda that is assumed to have been built in the early days of the Goryeo Kingdom. This stone pagoda was nominated as Provincial Cultural Material No. 90 of Southern Chungcheong. In the old days, the stone pagoda used to have only the cover stones but as the pagoda body stones were found, the pagoda structure was restored in 1975. One interesting subject at Daejosa Temple is a deer named “Haetal” that the master monk of the temple brings up at the temple. This cute deer does not fear at the visitors but approaches them like a pet, which is quite different from ordinary wild deer.