Korea has had a long history dating back to 2,333 B.C. Follow the History of Korea from the prehistoric age to its current era.
The Prehistoric Age
Archaeological findings have indicated that the first settlements on the Korean Peninsula occurred 700,000 years ago.
Gojoseon (2333 - 108 B.C.)
According to legend, the mythical figure Dan-gun founded Gojoseon, the first Korean Kingdom, in 2333 B.C. Subsequently, several tribes moved from the southern part of Manchuria to the Korean Peninsula.
The Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. - A.D. 676)
The Three Kingdoms refers to a period of time (early 4th to mid-7th centuries A.D.) marked by the struggle of three rival kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla over the territory spanning the Korean peninsula and part of Northeastern Asia.
An ancient state of the Korean peninsula, Goguryeo occupied the largest territory among the Three Kingdoms. Founded in 37 B.C., Goguryeo prospered on a vast area encompassing the northern part of the Korean peninsula and south-central Manchuria. The kingdom expanded its territory in fierce battles against Chinese kingdoms, but fell to an alliance of Silla and Tang forces in 668 A.D.
One of the ancient states of the Three Kingdoms, Silla originated in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom lasted for 992 years, from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D. It conquered Baekje and Goguryeo, one after the other, by joining forces with the Tang Empire of China. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms, the Tang Empire was no longer an ally, but an invader. Hence, Silla joined forces with the people of Goguryeo and Baekje to drive out Tang forces, and founded the first unified state in the history of Korea in the territory south of the Daedonggang River and Wonsanman.
One of the three ancient kingdoms, Baekje (18 B.C. - 660 A.D.) was founded by King Onjo, the son of the king of Goguryeo, in the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula. The kingdom witnessed the florescence of the elegant and delicate Baekje culture, which in particular greatly affected Japanese culture. In 660 A.D., Baekje was defeated by the coalition troops of Silla and Tang of China.
The Unified Silla Kingdom and Balhae
The Unified Silla (676-935)
The Unified Silla Kingdom promoted the development of culture and arts, and the popularity of Buddhism reached its peak during this period. The Unified Silla Kingdom declined because of contention for supremacy among the noble classes, and was annexed by Goryeo in 935.
The Balhae Kingdom began to emerge just as the Goguryeo kingdom was on the verge of collapsing. Goguryeo General, Dae Joyeong founded Balhae along with his army of displaced peoples. At one point, Balhae became so powerful that it was able to acquire territories in northern and eastern parts of China. At those times, the Tang Dynasty of China referred to Balhae as 'the strong country by the sea in the east.' The significance of the Balhae Kingdom is greatly inherited from Goguryeo, including the land that it was able to retrieve.
The Goryeo Dynasty (918 - 1392)
The Goryeo Dynasty was established in 918. Buddhism became the state religion during this time and greatly influenced politics and culture. Famous items produced during this time include Goryeo celadon and the Tripitaka Koreana. Jikjisimgyeong, Buddhist scripture printed with the world's first movable metal type developed in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty, is at least 78 years older than the first Gutenberg Bible. The Goryeo Dynasty's strength decreased gradually in the latter half of the 14th century.
The Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910)
The Joseon Dynasty was formed at the end of the 14th century. Confucianism became the state ideology and exerted a massive influence over the whole of society. The Joseon Dynasty produced Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, which was invented in 1443, during the reign of King Sejong. The dynasty's power declined later because of foreign invasions, beginning with the Japanese invasion of 1592.
The Japanese Colonial Period (1910 - 1945)
In 1876, the Joseon Dynasty was forced to adopt an open-door policy regarding Japan. The Japanese annexation of Korea concluded in 1910, and Korean people had to suffer under Japanese colonial rule until the surrender of Japan in 1945, which ended World War II.
Establishment of the Korean Government (1945-1948)
Korea was liberated from Japanese oppression on August 15, 1945, but it soon faced the tragic division of North and South along the 38th parallel. Both regions were placed under temporary military rule by the U.S. and Soviet armies. In 1948 with the help of the United Nations, South Korea held an election on May 10th and elected Dr. Rhee Syngman president. On August 15th of that same year, an official declaration was made about the birth of the South Korean government. On the other hand, North Korea formed the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea, led by Kim Il-sung, in February 1946. On September 9, 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially founded.
The Korean War (1950-1953)
In the early hours of June 25th, 1950, North Korea attempted a forcible unification of North and South Korea by invading South Korea over the 38th parallel. In response, military help from over 16 nations helped defend South Korea against the threat of communism under the leadership of UN General Douglas MacArthur. China and the Soviet Union lent their military might to North Korea. The war continued over the next 3 years until coming to an end on July 27th 1953, with a peace agreement signed at Panmunjeom, located in the DMZ. Not only did the war ravage the peninsula, it also heightened hostile sentiments between the North and South, making reunification a difficult task.
The Aftermath of War (1954-Current)
The Rhee Syngman government focused on an anti-communist approach to government beginning in 1954, but in 1960 the government's power collapsed with the student's anti-government movement, the 4.19 Revolution. In 1963, Park Chung-hee was elected president and ruled with a controversial iron fist for the next 17 years. President Park Chung-hee's 'Saemaeul Undong' (New Community Movement, an effort to modernize Korea that began in 1970) brought about much progress in South Korea, and the systematic approach to economic development also yielded increased exports and positive returns. But with the democratic movement in progress and the citizens becoming wary of such extended rule, Park Chung-hee's life ended in a 1979 assassination. Afterwards in 1980, Chun Doo-hwan came to power and continued to lead the nation with an authoritarian slant as had been the case with former rulers. His rule came to an end in 1987 after massive protests across the country demanded democracy. In 1988 the Roh Tae-woo government started off the year on a good note by successfully hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His government went on to join the UN in 1991. The Kim Young-sam government which began in 1993 implemented a new system in which people were required to use their real names when making financial transactions, a much needed revolution at the time. In 1998, Kim Dae-jung was elected president and threw his efforts into overcoming the IMF financial catastrophe that hit Asia in 1997, and also hosted the 17th FIFA World Cup in 2002. President Kim Dae-jung was also the winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy regarding North Korea. President Rho Moo-hyun's term began in 2003 aiming, to achieve economic growth, and develop Korea as the hub of Asia with a more democratic style of leadership.
On the other hand, North Korea has been ruled by Kim Jeong-il since the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Faced with dire economic situations, North Korea has begun to implement partial free trade in an effort to remedy the situation.
North and South Korea jointly signed an agreement on July 4th, 1972 concerning the reunification of the two Koreas, and in 2000 Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jeong-il took early steps to explore reunification, improve the economy, and solve the problem of separated families. The family reunification program, started in 1985, and continues to this day.
With the city of Seoul alone boasting 37 mountains, you can easily imagine what Korea's terrain is like. There are more than 800 mountains in Korea, with each one of them offering their own special highlights. One of the local favorites is the impressive Seoraksan Mountain during autumn. Countless numbers of people venture out to view the autumn foliage. If you aren't up for hiking, there is a cable car that will lift you up 670 meters to Gwongeumseong Fortress in about 5 minutes. The mountains within Seoul offer quite remarkable views of the city scape, and are easily accessible by bus and/or subway.
Venture out to one of Korea's spectacular forests. Phytoncide, the organic compound derived from plants is known to help in relieving stress and restoring energy. You are sure to feel better after a day in the forest, soaking up all the fresh air and phytoncide. Admission fees for the recreational forests are nominal, about 1000 won. If you wish stay overnight, many parks also have wooden cabins available for rental and campsites as well. They are in high demand, so be sure to reserve a month in advance. For an experience within the city of Seoul, try one of the many mountains located within the city such as Mt. Inwangsan or Mt. Dobongsan.
Korea's dedication to the study and protection of plant species can be witnessed at a number of botanical gardens and arboretums around the country. Hongneung Arboretum is located in the heart of Seoul and consists of 9 gardens including a broad-leaf tree garden, edible and medicinal plants and aquatic and wetland gardens. The Korea Botanical Garden in Gangwon Province covers 105 square-kilometers and is home to roughly 1,300 native Korean plants. You can enjoy a walk along the two kilometer long Singal Mountain Path, and stop to look at the azaleas and rhododendrons planted along the way.
As you might expect, the rugged mountainous landscape of Korea is chock full of streams and waterfalls. For some of them, like Byeonsan Peninsula National Marine Park's 30 meter high Jikso Falls require a bit of walking to get to. Others, like the 22 meter high Cheonjiyeon Falls in located Jeju are very easy to access. Many of these waterfalls have folk tales about their formation, making them a cultural learning experience as well.
If you are looking for a cool summer get-away, be sure to check out some of Korea's splendid valleys. The fresh, leafy groves and icy streams rushing down from the mountains will surely help you beat the heat. There are a great deal of things to do, such as camping, fishing, and even extreme sports such as wake-boarding. History buffs can satisfy their curiosity by learning about events in the valley in times long ago. One of the most eminent Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, Lee Hwang, spent 9 months in the Seonyudong Valley and gave names to all his favorite places. If you venture to Mureung Valley, you can visit the famous 5,000-meter sq. Mureung Rock, which bears the inscribed names and works of the 'Arcadia' scholars and poets. If you enjoy trekking, check out Deokyusan National Park. The trail goes from Baekryeonsa Temple and is a 3-hour round-trip hike for the 6 km trail. Although it's a mountain trail, it's not that steep, making it ideal for trekking.
Rivers & Lakes
A visit to one of Korea's more than 750 rivers and lakes will offer you a refreshing breeze coupled with any number of various experiences. You may choose to visit the Donggang River's chiseled cliffs to see rare animals such as otters, Mandarin ducks, and Chinese scops owls. Or perhaps you seek a white-water rafting adventure. You might check out the marvelous neon skyline of Seoul on a Han River cruise. If you are a fan of the famous drama, Winter Sonata, ride a bike on Namiseom Island with your lover just like in the movie. Located on the Bukhangang River, Namiseom has a variety of attractions and resort villas and bungalows.
Ecological Tourist Sites
There are many ecologically sound sightseeing opportunities for you to take part in during your stay in Korea. Enjoy the incredible biodiversity of plants and animals in Suncheon's tidal flats and reed fields, which were chosen to represent Korea on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Korea was recently the host of the Ramsar Conference, aimed at preserving wetlands worldwide. Uponeup, 210 times the size of a football field, is the largest natural wetland in Korea and there are traces of 140 million year old dinosaur fossils preserved underneath!
The majority of caves in Korea are located in Jeju-do or Gangwon-do Provinces. Each one has a unique appeal for example; the Daegeumgul Cave was only just discovered in 2003. The Hwanseongul Cave, at 6.5 km, is the biggest lime stone cave in Korea and has incredible stalagmites, stalactites and about 10 lakes and waterfalls!
Gossi Cave is named after the Go family, who took refuge there during the Japanese invasion of Korea. Hwaam Cave used to be a gold mine that was commercially operated from 1922 to 1945. The nation’s 5th largest goldmine was, however, found to have natural stalactites, and later the cave was developed into a theme-based cave that combined gold and nature. The island of Jeju is home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites including Manjanggul Cave, one of the longest lava tunnels in the world.
The Korean Peninsula is located in North-East Asia. It is bordered by the Amnok River (Yalu River) to the northwest, separating Korea from China, and the Duman River (Tumen River) to the northeast which separates Korea from both China and Russia. The country itself is flanked by the Yellow Sea to its west and the East Sea to the east. There are several notable islands that surround the peninsula including Jeju-do, Ulleung-do and Dok-do (Liancourt Rocks).
The Korean peninsula is roughly 1,030 km (612 miles) long and 175 km (105 miles) wide at its narrowest point. Korea's total land area is 100,140 sq. km, and it has a population of 48.7 million people (2009).
Because of its unique geographical location, Korea is a very valuable piece of land and an international hub of Asia.
Mountains cover 70% of Korea's land mass, making it one of the most mountainous regions in the world. The lifting and folding of Korea’s granite and limestone base create a breathtaking landscape of scenic hills and valleys. The mountain range that stretches along the length of the east coast falls steeply into the East Sea, while along the southern and western coasts, the mountains descend gradually to the coastal plains that produce the bulk of Korea’s agricultural crops, especially rice.
The Korean peninsula is divided just slightly north of the 38th parallel. The Democratic Republic of Korea in the south and the communist government of North Korea are separated by a demilitarized zone.
Geographic position - Between 33° and 43° north latitude, and 124° and 131° east longitude (including North Korea)
Highest mountains in S. Korea - Hallasan on Jeju Island, 1,950 meters (6,400 ft); Jirisan, 1,915 meters (6,283 ft.); and Seoraksan, 1,708 meters (5,604 ft.)
Rivers - Nakdonggang, 522 km (324 miles); Hangang, 494 km (307 miles); Geumgang, 396 km (246 miles)