Pre-modern Korea

Korea is one of the great civilizations of Asia, shaped by its position between mainland and sea, as well as the Chinese Empire, pre-modern Japan and Mongolia.


The historical extent of the Korean Goguryeo kingdom reaches far into present day China and Russia

The Korean peninsular consisted of many competing Korean kingdoms since ancient times. The unification of the nation is considered to have begun roughly around 1 AD when power was consolidated in the the 'Three Kingdoms' period of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Eventually, the nation was unified in the 7th century when the Silla kingdom defeated the other two with the help of Tang China. However, remnants of the Goguryeo kingdom were to later establish a kingdom to the north of Silla in what is now northeast China known as Balhae. The Silla Dynasty was subsequently replaced by the Goryeo Dynasty, from which the English name "Korea" was derived.

The Kingdom of Joseon was founded in 1392 after a coup by one of Goryeo's generals and controlled the entire Korean peninsular for the next 5 centuries. It achieved most of the cultural achievements and language seen in both Korean nations today, although the end also saw an isolationist policy that led to it being called the "Hermit Kingdom".

The pre-modern period ended when Korea was occupied by Japan in 1910. At the end of World War II it was divided between north and south. The Korean War consolidated and perpetuated the division until this day.


You may be told that Korea's great historical tradition and buildings were demolished firstly by the Japanese during their occupation, and secondly by devastation of the Korean War. Walking through a South Korean city you may think that there is nothing but concrete blocks over the entire country. Nevertheless there is actually a good deal of history to be found throughout the country of South Korea, either as ruins or reconstructions.


Some parts of North Eastern China were once Korean territory, and historical ruins can still be found there today. They can be visited freely.

North Korea

North Korea does not have as much in terms of historical sites to visit, as a result of lack of funds for this kind of investment and general official disdain for the pre-Communist era. Nevertheless there are destinations of historical importance. Almost all visits to North Korea require a guided tour, with an itinerary set before your travel, so check around to see if your tour group includes the historical sites available.

South Korea

South Korea has the greatest range of historical sites that are also well maintained and easy to visit. Bear in mind that for the most part much of what you see has a good chance of having been reconstructed in the past 50 years.

See also

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