UNESCO world heritages of Korea

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Unesco World Heritages of Korea

UNESCO World Heritage refers to sites registered on the World Heritage List. In November 1972, UNESCO adopted the "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" in the General Conference during its seventeenth session. Under the Convention, the World Heritage committee established a World Heritage List that includes cultural and natural heritages with outstanding value whose conservation is recognized to be in the interest of all humanity.

As of January 2021, Korea has thirteen cultural heritage sites and two natural heritage site.

Cultural Heritage Sites

Janggyeongpanjeon Depositories of Haeinsa Temple (Designated 1995)

【 Photo: Inside view of Haeinsa Temple Janggyeongpanjeon Depositories 】

Haeinsa Temple's Janggyeongpanjeon Depositories is an official archive built to safely store the 13th-century Printing Woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and Miscellaneous Buddhist Scriptures, a UNESCO Memory of the World Register item. The hall is believed to have been built in the 15th century, which makes it all the more amazing for its scientifically advanced construction. The hall was built in such a way as to perfectly preserve and protect the fragile woodblocks from changes in the temperature and humidity levels.

Jongmyo Shrine (Designated 1995)

【 Photo: Jeongjeon Hall in Jongmyo Shrine 】

Jongmyo Shrine in Jongno-gu, Seoul is the royal shrine interred with the ancestral tablets of Joseon dynasty’s royal family. Memorial services for the kings and queens were held here to pray for the safety of the country and its people; the rites also served to enforce the legitimacy of the royal family. The building itself has the greatest religious implications from a Confucian perspective, showing reverence and respect in every aspect of its construction.

First built around the end of the 14th century, the current Jongmyo Shrine is a reconstruction built in the 17th century after the Imjin War (1592-1598). The main building is Jeongjeon Hall, an impressively long, wooden structure that stands in good harmony with the courtyard and auxiliary buildings. The unique atmosphere is one-of-a-kind, found nowhere else in Asia, let alone Western nations.

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple (Designated 1995)

【 Photo: Bulguksa Temple 】
【 Photo: Seokguram Grotto 】

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple are ancient Buddhist temples of Korea, which were established in the mid-8th century during the golden era of the Unified Silla dynasty. These two heritages represent the highly developed architectural skills and creative craftsmanship of the Silla people. In particular, the magnificent and sublime beauty of Seokguram’s carvings and Bulguksa Temple’s stylobate and its two stone pagodas are considered masterpieces of Buddhist architecture, unparalleled in all of Northeast Asia.

Seokguram Grotto is an artificial cave made of granite. Inside the round-shaped main hall is the statue of Bonjon Buddha, surrounded by disciples on the walls. The majority of the stone statues, including the Bonjon Buddha statue, have high value in cultural heritage for having survived the passage of time with the original structure still intact since the 8th century.

Bulguksa Temple, literally translating to “Temple of the Land of Buddha,” was built with the aspiration for Buddha’s utopia. The temple was damaged in 1592 during the Imjin War, when all the wooden structures of the temple completely burned down. The stone altars, bridges, pagodas, lanterns and bronze statues of Buddha escaped the fire, and have been well preserved. A partial restoration was conducted from 1969 to 1973, which resulted in the current temple state.

Changdeokgung Palace Complex (Designated 1997)

【 Photo: Injeongjeon Hall of Changdeokgung Palace 】

Changdeokgung Palace is from the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), built in harmony with the natural environment around it. The palace is famous for its rear garden, also called Huwon. The vast garden was a resting place for the royal family and is beautifully landscaped in a way that held on to the original nature of the space. Of all the royal palaces, Changdeokgung Palace is the most well-preserved to this day, showcasing the creativity of Korean palace construction through the combination of buildings and nature.

Hwaseong Fortress (Designated 1997)

【 Photo: Hwaseong Fortress 】

Hwaseong Fortress, located in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do, is a living remnant of the nation’s proud history, representing the Joseon dynasty of the 18th century. The fortress was built by King Jeongjo, Joseon’s 22nd king, whose aim was to create a new city honoring his father, Crown Prince Jangheon, after relocating his father’s tomb to the area.

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was built with an entirely new method, making it unlike any other fortress in Korea. The construction methods encompassed the strong points of both Asian and Western elements together. In addition, the fortress was built in good harmony with the surrounding nature, implementing its geological advantage wisely for strategic defense rather than destroying it. The fortress is a symbol of both the ingenuity and technological advancements of the period. Thanks to this, in addition to the beautiful layout and dynamic defense facilities, UNESCO enlisted Hwaseong Fortress on the World’s Cultural Heritage List in 1997.

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (Designated 2000)

【 Photo: Dolmen in Bugeun-ri, Ganghwa 】
【 Photo: Gochang Dolmen Site 】
【 Photo: Hwasun Dolmen Site 】

Dolmens, stone graves that were built in the prehistoric era, dot the areas of Gochang Dolmen Site, Hwasun Dolmen Site and Ganghwa Dolmen Site. These three regions are unparalleled in the world, given the degree of concentration and diversity in the forms and scales of dolmens discovered here. Most of the dolmens were built in 1000 BC, providing modern people with a glimpse into the society and technological advancement of the period.

Recognized by UNESCO in 2000, dolmens in Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa are considered the finest artifacts for studying the social structure of Korea in the Bronze Age and cultural exchanges with people in Northeastern Asia during the Prehistoric Era. In particular, the remaining quarries are considered valuable materials for understanding the construction process as well as history and transformation of dolmens.

Gyeongju Historic Areas (Designated 2000)

【 Photo: Aerial of Daereungwon Tomb Complex 】

Gyeongju Historic Area is a historical attraction where the achievements and culture of the Silla dynasty (57 BC – AD 935) have remained well-preserved through pagodas, tombs, fortresses, and more. Serving as the capital city of Silla for nearly 1,000 years, Gyeongju perfectly showcases Korean architecture and Buddhist culture. The area is divided into 5 zones based on their characteristics: the Namsan Mountain area, a center of Buddhist culture; the Wolseong Fortress area, the royal grounds of the Silla dynasty; the Daereungwon Ancient Tomb area, the tombs of high-ranking officials including the kings of the Silla dynasty; the Hwangnyongsa Temple area, showing the essence of Silla Buddhism; and the Sanseong Fortress area, focusing on the defense system of the royal capital.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty (Designated 2009)

【 Photo: Yeoju Yeongneung Royal Tomb 】

Royal tombs of the Joseon dynasty are heritage sites from the fifth century that are invaluable to Korea’s history. Because Korea is a nation founded on the traditional values of Confucianism and harmony with nature, the royal tombs have been well preserved. UNESCO has appointed the areas and ancestral rites held on the sites as World Cultural Heritages so they can be remembered and cherished for their unique beauty and cultural importance.

Because of a law stating that royal tombs could not be located far from Seoul, called Hanyang at the time, most of the royal tombs from the Joseon dynasty are located around the city.

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong (Designated 2010)

Andong Hahoe Village and Gyeongju Yangdong Village are historical villages that were developed during the 14th to 15th century in Gyeongsangbuk-do. These two villages are well-preserved examples of typical Korean clan villages based on descents whose members carry the same family name derived from common ancestors. Even today, these families live in the village and continue their meaningful legacy, making the whole village a living and active cultural heritage.

The villages clearly exhibit the typical Confucian culture of the Joseon period, where there was a distinct line between the aristocratic yangban class and commoners. The arrangement of the dwellings shows how village life was regulated and strictly enforced. The head of the clan in addition to the yangban class resided in wooden housing with their own pavilions, lecture halls and shrines while the commoners lived in houses made of soil with straw roofs.

Namhansanseong Fortress (Designated 2014)

Namhansanseong Provincial Park was originally a unique fortress city of the Joseon period which functioned as an emergency capital. Built in the early 7th century, the well-preserved castellation techniques, which were influenced by the styles of China and Japan, greatly raise the historical and cultural value of the fortress.

Baekje Historic Areas (Designated 2015)

【 Photo: Five-story Stone Pagoda at Jeongnimsa Temple Site 】

Tracing the relics of Baekje from Iksan in Jeollabuk-do, and Buyeo and Gongju in Chungcheongnam-do, one can catch a glimpse of the ancient kingdom. The palaces and temple sites of Baekje Historic Areas bring to life the most flourishing times of Baekje.

Baekje Historic Areas have garnered international recognition for their value in showing the trade and cultural exchange with other countries such as China and Japan. The area constitutes eight important cultural heritage sites that spread across the cities of Gongju, Buyeo and Iksan. Gongsanseong Fortress and Ancient Tombs in Songsan-ri are located in Gongju, while the four sites of Archaeological Site in Gwanbuk-ri and Busosanseong Fortress, Ancient Tombs in Neungsan-ri, Jeongnimsa Temple Site, and Buyeo Outer City Wall are found in Buyeo.  Archaeological Site in Wanggung-ri and Mireuksa Temple Site are located in Iksan.

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea (Designated 2018)

【 Photo: Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do 】

Sansa are Buddhist mountain monasteries located throughout Korea. Seven temples – Tongdosa Temple, Buseoksa Temple, Bongjeonsa Temple, Beopjusa Temple, Magoksa Temple, Seonamsa Temple and Daeheungsa Temple - were recognized by UNESCO.

In the past, Korean temples consisted of both flatland temple sites and mountain temple sites. However, during the Joseon dynasty, most of the flatland temples were removed, leaving only the mountain monasteries remaining today. UNESCO rated the temples as having outstanding universal value thanks to their preservation of the traditional aspects of Korean Buddhist temples, serving as living centers of faith and daily practice. These seven temples include many individual characteristics as well as notable features that can only be seen in Korea's monasteries. The temples are praised for their authentic value in aspects of durability, historical significance, location and setting, and purpose.

Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies (Designated 2019)

【 Photo: Dosanseowon Confucian Academy 】

Korea's Confucian Academies, called seowon in Korean, were built throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. They served as schools for scholars to study and improve by following Confucian principles. There are many of these centers of education throughout Korea, with UNESCO recognizing Sosuseowon Confucian Academy, Namgyeseowon Confucian Academy, Oksanseowon Confucian Academy, Dosanseowon Confucian Academy, Piramseowon Confucian Academy, Dodongseowon Confucian Academy, Byeongsanseowon Confucian Academy, Museongseowon Confucian Academy, and Donamseowon Confucian Academy in 2019. These nine sites are exemplary in their universal value, promoting and continuing traditional culture.

Natural Heritage Site

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (Designated 2007)

【 Photo: Baengnokdam Crater Lake on Hallasan Mountain 】

Location: Jeju Island

Jeju Island was formed through volcanic activity over 1.8 million years ago. As such, the island is a valuable asset in research of geological features and topography of volcanic landforms such as volcanic cones and lava tubes. Jeju’s lava tubes are some of the most beautiful in the world, featuring dark walls and various colors of carbonation on the ceilings and ground. Among the many natural formations, Hallasan National Park, Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, and the Geomunoreum Volcanic Cone lava tube system have jointly been designated as a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO.

【 Photo: Hallasan Mountain 】

Reaching to a height of 1,950 meters, Hallasan Mountain is the tallest mountain in Korea with gentle slopes formed by eons of volcanic activity. There are around 40 parasitic volcanoes which formed in the surrounding area. A variety of animals and plants inhabit the slopes, including the largest forest of Korean fir trees (Abies Koreana) in the world.

In addition, the top of Hallasan Mountain offers a view of the magnificent vista over the entire Jeju Island. The peak also holds Baengnokdam, a vast crater lake that is both beautiful and highly valued in academic research.

【 Photo: Baengnokdam Crater Lake 】
【 Photo: Manjanggul Lava Tube 】
【 Photo: Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone 】

In the Geomunoreum Volcanic Cone region, there are about 20 lava tubes formed some 100,000 to 300,000 years ago by huge amounts of basalt lava that spewed from Hallasan volcano. The most famous of these lava tubes are Gimnyeonggul Lava Tube, Dangcheomuldonggul Lava Tube, Manjanggul Lava Tube, Bengdwigul Lava Tube, and Yongcheondonggul Lava Tube.

Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats (Designated 2021)

【 Photo: Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve 】

Korean tidal flats, called getbol (gaetbeol), are home to more than 2,000 living organisms including 27 types of migratory birds. The tidal flats are an important stopover point for migratory birds from South Asia and Oceania. Four tidals flats - Seocheon, Gochang, Shinan, and Boseong-Suncheon - spread across five city jurisdictons and were designated as a Wetlands Protection Area for showing high levels of biodiversity. These tidal flats were also designated as World Natural Heritage in 2021.

【 Photo: Shinan Tidal Flat 】

One of the five largest tidals flats in the world, Shinan Tidal Flat takes up 15% of Korea's tidal flats. Shinan Tidal Flat was formed due to cosistent low and high tides among various nearby islands. The mudflats are especially deep with layers of sand above, making the tidal flat unique from other tidal flats around the world. Shinan Getbol Center, the largest tidal flat education center in Korea, provides detailed information about various living organisms that live in Korea's tidal flats.

Source: Official Korea Tourism Website