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  • Awakening Baekje: 500 Years of the Pungnaptoseong Fortress

  • SMG 2364
    • The discovery of Pungnaptoseong Fortress led to the unveiling of an unknown Baekje palace site.
    • Pungnaptoseong and Mongchontoseong fortresses are believed to have once been the northern and southern fortresses, respectively, of Baekje’s capital city.
    • Pungnaptoseong Fortress was designed to maximize the use of materials (calculation of fortress’ weight, soil analysis, etc.).

    The secret of Hanam Wiryeseong, the forgotten royal city of the Baekje Dynasty, lies in the Pungnaptoseong Fortress. Hanam (“south of the river”) Wiryeseong, was the capital of the Baekje Dynasty from the reign of King Onjo all the way up until the year 475 AD (with the exception of a few years in between) when the city fell to an attack led by King Jangsu of the Goguryeo Dynasty. Come with us as we take a closer look at what makes the Pungnaptoseong Fortress so important in understanding the history of Hanam Wiryeseong.

    Rediscovering the Pungnaptoseong Fortress

    In January 1997, construction began on a new apartment complex to be built on the site of the former Pungnaptoseong Fortress. Knowing that security would be lax due to the New Year’s holidays, Professor Lee Hyung-goo of Sun Moon University slipped into the construction site to have a look around. While looking at a pit that had been dug out to prepare the grounds, Professor Lee experienced the shock of his life. Scattered across a section of the pit were shards of Baekje pottery! Lee immediately called the Cultural Heritage Administration to report a case of the destruction of a cultural heritage and construction on the apartment buildings came to a halt.

    Shortly afterward, an emergency excavation was conducted at the site, resulting in the unearthing of many artifacts and relics from the third century, when the city of Hanseong was the capital of Baekje. What made the find even more exciting was that the relics dated all the way back to the earliest period of the Hanseong era. It was a chance discovery fueled by Professor Lee’s curiosity that led to the excavation of the first Baekje capital, and it was from this moment on that the secrets of Hanam Wiryeseong began to be revealed.

    Mystery of the first royal city

    According to historical records, including the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), the Baekje kingdom was an ancient kingdom founded in 18 BC that ruled the southwestern part of Korea for 678 years before its collapse in 660 AD. Ever since the Goryeo Dynasty, the whereabouts of Hanseong, the city that housed the royal palace for 493 years has been the subject of much controversy. With only opinions and hearsay to fall back on, there was no concrete evidence that pinpointed the location of the first royal city of Baekje prior to Professor Lee’s important discovery.

    This lack of historical records was mainly due to the nature of the attack that felled the city of Hanseong. The circumstances surrounding the attack by Goguryeo forces in 475 that put an end to the city and the Baekje Dynasty are recorded in the Baekje volume of the Samguk sagi. According to this historical text, the Goguryeo army attacked the city via Bukseong (the part of the city north of the river) of the course of seven days and nights. In this period in history, Goguryeo forces were known for attacking with fire, and it is more than likely that Bukseong was burned to the ground. With the felling of one of its strongholds, the royal city was reduced to a pile ruins almost overnight, and the Baekje king was murdered, ushering in the end of the dynasty.

    The search for the capital

    During its use as the kingdom’s capital, Hanseong was divided into northern and southern sections. Based on the Mongchontoseong Fortress excavation survey (1983-1989) and the Pungnaptoseong Fortress excavation survey (1997-2011), experts in the academic community generally agree that Pungnaptoseong and Mongchontoseong fortresses were part of the northern and southern parts of Hanseong, respectively.

    When Gyeongdang Jigu of Pungnaptoseong Fortress was excavated, it became the center of attention for quite some time due to the discovery of a storage area for state ancestral rites, special building sites, and a well that convinced many it was the site of the former Baekje palace. These relics and many others were found along with over 200 traces of buildings. In December 2014, 160 unreported relics from the Gyeongdang Jigu site were transferred to the Seoul Baekje Museum; the museum has been heavily involved in renovations and excavations of Baekje sites ever since.

    In 2011, a joint study of the site was conducted by experts from various fields — archaeology, imaging engineering, geophysics, geography, measurement science, civil engineering, pedology, nuclear physics, and more. Results found that the Pungnaptoseong Fortress was meticulously designed and had a strong, sturdy foundation. Evidence also showed that the fortress was originally built using exact calculations of the weight of the architectural structure and a soil analysis to maximize the durability of the fortress walls. It is due to this careful planning and construction that the fortress was able to stand firm despite being located on the banks of the Hangang River.

    The average height of the renovated fortress walls is approximately eight meters in height — five meters aboveground and three meters below ground. The height of the walls when they were originally constructed was approximately 10.8 meters, and once reached a height of over 13.3 meters following two rounds of extension work. The construction of Pungnaptoseong Fortress is believed to have required over 1.38 million laborers.

    A story still in the making

    The Songpa-gu district of Seoul, which was where Baekje relic excavations took place in the 1970s, has since undergone drastic changes. The current of the Hangang River has changed, and the quiet farming villages have been replaced with clusters of apartment complexes and multiplex houses.

    During Seoul’s rapid period of growth that came in the 1980s, the lives of the Baekje people became gradually overshadowed by the construction of roads and apartment complexes places that were once revered as excavation sites are now part of a large residential area that houses over 40,000 people. Parts of Pungnaptoseong and Mongchontoseong fortresses were covered up by the Olympic Park, built to host the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Most Koreans are blissfully unaware that the forest paths of this beloved park crisscross overtop of the remnants of Baekje history.

    Though a magnificent kingdom in its day, Baekje fell into ruin almost overnight and has long since been forgotten by the majority of Koreans today. Although the legacy of Hanseong ended in tragedy, the land of Hanseong still holds the spirits of the Baekje people and lays waiting, carefully guarding a treasure trove of artifacts waiting to be uncovered. In order to uncover more of these lost secrets of Baekje, the Seoul Baekje Museum has been conducting an excavation survey of Naeseong Farm, a farm located near the north gate of Mongchontoseong Fortress, since November 2013. In its quest to remember and honor the past, the museum will continue to make plans for systematic excavations of the Baekje royal relics in Seoul as well as relics of other ancient cultures. The Seoul Baekje Museum ultimately hopes to do everything in its power to systematically bring to life the proud, ancient history of Seoul.