When you walk on the beach in Bonggil-li you will see a small islet just off the shore. This is the underwater tomb of King Munmu (A.D. 661-681), who unified the three kingdoms and became the 30th ruler of Shilla. Before his death, the king asked to be buried in the East Sea so that he could become a dragon and protect the peninsula from Japanese invaders. There is a piece of granite at the center of the islet, where a pool of water forms. Historians still debate whether King Munmu's cremated remains are buried beneath it or if his ashes were scattered into the sea. You can't actually set foot on the islet, since it's so small and rocky, but you can see it from the beach.
The Three Kingdoms -- Although much of Korea's ancient history is shrouded in myth (legend has it that the leaders of Korea's first three kingdoms emerged out of eggs), it is known that the Goguryeo, Baekje, and Shilla kingdoms were viable entities by the early A.D. 200s. Each had a monarchy and distinct borders; each gradually shrugged off China's influence; and each developed a system of law and had its own military. Through the late 500s, these three kingdoms ruled the Korean Peninsula, with the Gorguyeo on the east coast and in Buyeo; the Baekje in the southeast; and the Shilla, which developed slightly later, controlling Gyeongju and the southwest. By the 600s, the Shilla were rapidly taking over land from both of its neighbors, and in 676 they established the first unified Korean kingdom, stretching from Pyeongyang in the north to the Wonsan Bay in the south.
- © Frommer's 2013
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