- Magoksa Temple (마곡사)
- Ancient Tombs in Songsan-ri – Royal Tomb of King Muryeong (무령왕릉)
- Gongju National Museum (국립공주박물관)
- Gongsanseong Fortress (공산성)
After enjoying the splendors of Seoul, we joined the next tour that explored the western part of Korea, starting in Gongju (공주시) city located in the eastern part of Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong) Province. Gongju (previously named Ungjin) was the ancient capital of the Baekje kingdom during 475-538 A.D. The city lies on the banks of the Geumgang River and is surrounded by two beautiful mountain ranges: Charyeongsan Mountain Range in the north and Gyeryongsan Mountain in the southeast.
Huddled in the mountains are various historical sites related to the Baekje kingdom. Our first stop was Magoksa Temple (마곡사), the main temple of the 6th diocese of the Jogye order of Buddhism in Korea. Founded in 643 by Precepts Master Jajang under the patronage of Queen Seondeok, the temple is a charming sight, especially in the spring and autumn.
The Taehwacheon Stream flows in front of the temple, giving the temple grounds a peaceful atmosphere. It is speculated that the name of this temple was dedicated to the preceptor monk, Magok Bocheol, who had attracted crowds of visitors to this temple in ancient times.
Following in the footsteps of the many visitors, our tour group attended a tea ceremony performed by a Buddhist nun. Sitting cross-legged on the cushions, we learned how to savor the tea through our five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. As we meditated, the nun shared a story about her daily life and how she came to study at the temple and then proceeded to show us how to make our own prayer bead bracelet.
This temple was also known as the Nambanghwaso, or the Southern Painting Center, because in the past, many painter monks studied here under the master painters at the time.
For lunch, we had a bulgogi hotpot stew with several side dishes.
“Korean cuisine usually consists of a main meat dish in a stone pot, a bowl of steamed sticky rice, and side dishes. Side dishes are primarily vegetarian and help stimulate one’s appetite. Some examples are pickled radishes, kimchi, tofu, and a light salad. Bon appetite!”
After a hearty lunch, we headed to the vibrant southern hills of the Geumgang River to pay respects at the Ancient Tombs in Songsan-ri (무령왕릉).
These were the tombs of the royal family of the Baekje kingdom. The one available to view is that of the tomb of the 25th King Muryeong and his queen, who lived during the Three Kingdoms period. One can visit the exhibition hall that displays detailed replicas of the original brick chamber that was excavated in 1971.
A stone guardian guards the entrance of the chamber. Behind the guardian lay the two wooden coffins of the king and queen.
At the nearby Gongju National Museum (국립공주박물관), one can examine the beautiful golden and silver ornaments and jewelry recovered from the royal tomb. The craftsmanship of the treasures and the structure of the tombs show the depth of the influence that China and Japan had on the Baekje kingdom.
Travelling from the tombs, our last destination was Gongsanseong Fortress (공산성), the site of the ancient Baekje city that overlooked the Geumgang River. The fortress wall spans 2,660 meters in length and has four gate pavilions in all four directions.
Within the fortress walls was the site of the royal palace of the Baekje kingdom and the Yeongeunsa Temple. One can also see the changing of the gate guards ceremony.
After exploring the fortress, we enjoyed a scenic view from one of the nearby pavilions. Our tour guide took us to a restaurant to try delicious Korean barbecue for dinner in the nearby city of Daejeon (대전).
After a long day and full stomachs, we stayed at Daejeon Inter Citi Hotel for a night.
Gongju City Travel Information. Official website. https://www.gongju.go.kr/en/index.do
Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Information about Magoksa Temple. http://koreansansa.net/eng/sansa/sansa_020401.do
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