The Dolmens in Ganghwa Island

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Dolmens are megalithic structures that mark graves of ancient people, mostly from the Bronze age. While dolmens exist in many corners of the globe, The Korean peninsula is home to almost 40% of all the known dolmens! As a nod to this exceptional patrimony, three outstanding dolmen sites were given UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) statuses in 2000. In April 2019, I managed to check out the dolmen group in Ganghwa island, which is thought to house the earliest ones of the northern table-type form in Korea.

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The Ganghwa dolmens are scattered across the island, and are grouped into clusters. Originally, I wanted to combine Bugeun-ri cluster, the main one, with another; Osang-ri, the closest, was a good candidate but it still lies a few kilometers away. This was because I thought that seeing just the big dolmen, officially named Bugeulli jiseok dolmen, provides a rather thin  visitor experience for such a long day trip outside of Seoul. While many online sites detail how travelers can get there, I differ by sharing how I got the best out of Bugeun-ri seeing how many visitors do not venture out beyond the big dolmen.

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Studying the core zones of the dolmen clusters in Ganghwa island, the map indicates that there are 16 more dolmens that are part of Bugeun-ri. True enough, during the time of my visit, it seemed that the dolmen park is undergoing some further expansions at the back to include four more extant dolmens not so far away — one, which is half buried, seems to be even bigger than the capstone of Bugeulli jiseok.

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As the weather was very inviting —sunny but cool and breezy— I also decided to walk further into the adjacent hill forest after gathering leads that it contains the other lesser-known dolmens. My wanderings there did not only allow me to see all the World Heritage-inscribed dolmens in Bugeun-ri. Rather, it also afforded me very close encounters with two wild Korean water deer, cute black fur squirrels, and some birds! The pleasant walk took a little bit more than two hours, back and forth, and I did not encounter any other person at all. There is a certain joy and excitement in exploring remote places alone, and I achieved that here.

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One interesting dolmen there clearly shows carved holes, suggesting the method and outline that the Bronze age builders used in cutting these megaliths. Although most of the extant dolmens are the unsupported capstone type, there are a few table type ones that have collapsed. All are properly marked with their respective dolmen number and the WHS logo, and are fenced. Surprisingly, in the middle of the forest, there was even a very neat information board about this World Heritage Site — I wonder how many people really take the effort and time to get into that area, though. There is also one dolmen that seems not to be a part of the inscribed ones, but it is also protected on a local level as evidenced by a different marker used.

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While I enjoyed an exclusive 15 mins with the big dolmen very much (that’s a pretty long time, if you think about it, to appreciate a set of three big stones), I found the excursion I did in the outskirts to be more memorable and fulfilling. I have yet to see Gochang and Hwasun, the other two dolmen groups down south which are more praised, but, for now, I can say that I’ve been well contented with what I saw in Ganghwa.

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Arguing for Historic Elim, South Africa

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One of the most pleasant surprises that we experienced in South Africa was when we decided to make a stop at a historic town, declared as a national monument, on the way to the Boland region from The Republic of Swellendam.

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Elim, a Moravian mission station established by German missionaries in 1824, retains much of its original textures, scoring high both in authenticity and integrity. Backdropped by the Capefold mountains, this quaint town is one of the few remaining ones in South Africa still owned and managed by the church. Here are five things to definitely love about Elim:

ONE. Technological Advancement: The white churh’s 1757-built clock is regarded as one of the oldest working public clocks in the country. It is also ran by a long mechanism driving the two clockfaces mounted on both gables of the building, making it the only clock with an axle length of 26m there is to find.

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TWO. Town Planning and Vernacular Architecture: Its central axis leading directly to the church, which is flanked by two rows of nearly identical single-storey houses, is a delightfully neat sight. These houses differ a lot from the more ubiquitous Cape Dutch gabled houses. The carefully carried out town planning is not hard to notice.

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THREE. Memorial to a Historical Event: In front of the town’s library, which is housed at the former school building, is the only monument dedicated to freed African slaves in South Africa. It was ereceted in 1938, four years after the abolition of slavery in the Cape.

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FOUR. Engineering Feat and Water Control: Elim is home to the oldest functioning watermill in South Africa, which is also declared as a national monument on its own right in 1974.

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FIVE. Intangible Cultural Heritage: Renowned for its uniform thatched roofs, which are reminiscent to those found in Friesland in Germany, its residents are considered to be some of the best thatchers in the world. Utilitizing only restios locally found in the region, this aspect of Elim is clearly its most distinct living tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

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All these elements, together with the fact that there were no other tourists roaming around when we were there, made our three-hour stay in Elim very memorable and fulfilling. Also, while there is no German-built colonial space listed yet as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the potential of Elim to be one is quite promising and is something that South Africa should consider.