When I pop into the small visitor information booth near the Tomb of King Suro, the woman behind the counter looks shocked.
She doesn’t see many foreign tourists here, she tells me.
It’s perhaps no surprise that visiting the Gaya Tumuli in Gimhae is not at the top of the list for things to do in South Korea. I mean, a collection of ancient mounds that have tombs hidden inside them?
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t for my quest to visit World Heritage Sites. Yet I will turn out to be pleasantly surprised by my time here – in more ways than one.
One pleasant surprise is when the woman from the visitor information booth appears by my side about ten minutes later while I’m looking at the Tomb of King Suro (the most elaborate of the Gaya Tumuli here).
She’s brought a few extra English-language brochures over. And she’s offering to walk with me to the next sight, to show me the easiest way to get there. How’s that for customer service!
I think she’s probably just enjoying having an international visitor and a chance to use her English skills.
But as we walk and talk, I appreciate her kindness and the added insight I’m getting from being able to ask a few questions about the tumuli in Gimhae and the story of the Gaya Kingdom – which I knew nothing about but is actually quite fascinating.
What are tumuli?
Tumuli is the plural of tumulus, which is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave. These burial mounds were popular with ancient cultures, including in Korea where there are hundreds of thousands of them.
What are the Gaya Tumuli?
The Gaya Tumuli are burial mounds that were built by the Gaya Kingdom, which existed for about 500 hundred years from the 1st to 6th centuries. A World Heritage Site called the Gaya Tumuli consists of seven of these burial grounds (out of more than 700 that have been uncovered).
What is significant about Gimhae?
Gimhae is a city near Busan in South Korea that was once the centre of the most powerful country in the Gaya Kingdom, founded in 42 AD by King Suro (who is buried in Gimhae).
Gimhae today is a city of about 500,000 people, just 20 kilometres from Busan. It’s close enough, and interconnected enough, that Busan’s main airport is technically in Gimhae. Yet the city doesn’t get too much attention in comparison.
But go back many hundreds of years, and Gimhae was at the heart of Gaya Kingdom, a powerful federation of countries that controlled a large…