North Gyeongsang Province
North Gyeongsang Province (경상북도; map; Gyeongsangbuk-do) sits in the country’s southeast. It shares the southeast corner of the peninsula with South Gyeongsang Province. From 1314 to 1896 CE, Koreans referred to them as Gyeongsang Province (경상도).
Though the country split Gyeongsang in half, North Gyeongsang Province is the second largest province, accounting for 18.95% of South Korea. But, when Daegu attained self-governing metropolitan city status in 1981, North Gyeongsang became the nation’s second least populated.
The Province holds 10 cities and 13 counties. Andong City is its capital. Pohang City on the east coast is the province’s most populous district.
Mountains and the sea encompass North Gyeongsang Province.
- To the North: Gangwon Province and the Sobaek Mountain Range
- To the south: South Gyeongsang Province
- To the east: East Sea and the Taebaek Mountain Range
- To the west: North Chungcheong Province and the Nakdong River
Two of Korea’s most prominent mountain ranges dominate North Gyeongsang’s landscape.
Taebaek Mountain Range
The Taebaek Mountain Range is Korea’s backbone. It marches south from North Korea and blankets Gangwon Province with snow-capped peaks.
The Taebaek Mountain Range softens as it enters North Gyeongsang Province. Near Pohang’s Hyeongsan River (형산강; map), it devolves into patches of hills and short peaks.
Sobaek Mountain Range
The Sobaek Mountain Range branches off from Taebaek mountains on North Gyeongsang Province’s northern border. It then cuts west, then south to the Korea Strait.
The Sobaek Mountains are Korea’s tallest. Composed of rock pressurized in the earth’s crust, their rugged peaks are resistant to erosion, giving them a bare, rock-faced appearance.
Before modern transportation, both the Taebaek and Sobaek ranges separated North Gyeongsang Province from the other parts of the peninsula and even itself.
- The Taebaek Mountain Range isolated the province’s east coast settlements from the inland regions.
- The Sobaek Mountain Range separated the province from the Seoul and Gyeonggi Province area, which held Korea’s capital from the Joseon Dynasty (1392 ~ 1897) until today.
A river and sea help to define the province’s geography.
The Nakdong River (낙동강; map) is South Korea’s longest. Its 510-kilometer run (317 mi) begins in the Taebaek Mountain Range in the northern Gangwon Province. The river then flows like an accented “Ć” through the North and South Gyeongsang Provinces before spilling into the Korea Strait in Busan City.
Almost every river and stream in North and South Gyeongsang Provinces flow into the Nakdong River. Before roads and rail, the Nakdong provided a vital transportation network for the region. It continues to support North Gyeongsang by providing irrigation and fresh fish.
The East Sea (Donghae; 동해; map), also known as the Sea of Japan, forms the eastern boundary of both North Gyeongsang Province and the Korean Peninsula.
The East Sea has a handful of unique characteristics:
- It’s the deepest of the three bodies of water that surround the peninsula.
- Narrow straits effectively separate it from other bodies of water, including the Pacific.
- A relatively higher oxygen level produces abundant marine life.
The residents of North Gyeongsang Province’s coast depend on the East Sea’s bountiful fish and crustaceans for food and commerce.
North Gyeongsang Province’s enormous area creates two distinct climate zones.
- North Gyeongsang’s inland regions don’t lie near major bodies of water. It receives some of the hottest temps in the nation. Daegu, once a part of the province, sits in a still-air basin. Averages reach 31°C (88°F) in the summer.
- East of the Taebaek Mountains, the East Sea moderates temperatures on the coast. Summer’s reach 29°C (84°F).
Like the rest of Korea, rain falls most in the summer months. Uljin and Yeongdeok Counties receive much more snow than other parts of the province.
North Gyeongsang Province’s history stretches back thousands of years. It was once the epicenter of culture and power in Korea. Let’s briefly peruse its archives.
Throughout the Goryeo Dynasty (918 ~ 1392 CE) and Joseon Dynasty (1392 ~ 1897 CE), North Gyeongsang Province and South Gyeongsang Gyeongsang were one.
Government officials created the name “Gyeongsang” (경상) by combining the first names of the province’s major cities: Gyeongju (경주) and Sangju (상주).
Historically, the province is a part of the Yeongnam Region. “Yeongnam,” coined during the Goryeo Dynasty, means “the region south of the Joryeong Mountain (조령산; map).”
Before cars, trains, and airplanes, the Sobaek Mountain Range geographically cut off the Yeongnam region from the rest of Korea. The only way south was through a few cobbled together roads and hiking trails.
The Great Yeongam Road held the most fame. It crossed the mighty Sobaek Mountains at the Mungyeong Saejae Pass below Joryeong Mountain.
Kingdom of Silla
During the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BCE ~ 668 CE), Gyeongsang Region birthed the Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 CE), one of three powers on the Korean peninsula.
- Kingdom of Goguryeo (고구려; 37 BCE ~ 668 CE) ruled the north with a mighty army.
- Kingdom of Baekje (백제; 18 BCE ~ 660 CE) controlled the southwest with a capable navy.
- Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 CE) took Korea’s southeast.
Silla was the weakest kingdom. However, they were skilled diplomats and made a handful of strategic moves to gain power.
- Goguryeo invaded Baekje in the 5th century. So Silla allied with Baekje and helped them beat back Goguryeo.
- A few years later, Silla allied with China’s Tang Dynasty and conquered the weakened Baekje and Goguryeo.
Silla was the first kingdom to unite the Korean peninsula. Their ancient capital was North Gyeongsang Province’s Gyeongju City (경주시; map). This shifted Korea’s center of power to North Gyeongsang Province for over four hundred years.
Goryeo and Joseon Kingdoms
The succeeding kingdoms — Goryeo (918 ~ 1392 CE) and Joseon (1392 ~ 1897 CE) — moved Korea’s capital back north. However, the Gyeongsang region kept its influence.
During their reign, Silla built the leading Confucian academies and Buddhist temples in Andong and Gyeongju. During the Joseon Dynasty, these institutions trained Korea’s most important ancient scholars: Yi Hwang (이황; ₩1,000 bill) and Yi I (이이; ₩5,000 bill).
North Gyeongsang Province also had some of the most productive farms on the peninsula, making it the most populous province in Korea by the end of the 19th century.
Korea was split in half after WWII and the Japanese Occupation (1910~1945). Communists took the north half of the peninsula. Capitalists claimed the lower half.
June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, sparking the Korean War (1950~1953). North Korea’s larger and better equipped army (KPA) swept south into Seoul in less than three days. They forced the South Korean Army (ROK) and UN Forces (USA) to retreat south.
South Korea moved their capital to Daegu in the Gyeongsang Region. However, the KPA quickly surrounded the city and forced the ROK to move their capital again to Busan.
August 5th, 1950, the Battle of Taegu (Daegu) began. The fifteen day skirmish halted the KPA’s unchecked advance and establishment the Pusan (Busan) Perimeter (부산 교두보 전투).
The Pusan Perimeter redrew South Korea’s shrunken borders around the Gyeongsang Province region, between the Nakdong River and East Sea on the southeast tip of the peninsula.
September 1950, UN and ROK forces swung around the peninsula and retook Seoul via Incheon (인천시; map). This led to a “pinball phase” of the Korean War.
- October 1950, the UN and ROK beat back North Korea’s forces to China’s border.
- November 1950, China joined the war and drove the UN and ROK back to Seoul.
- January 1951, China and North Korea recaptured Seoul.
- March 1951, the UN and ROK recaptured Seoul.
The war stagnated for two more years around today’s DMZ. China, the US, and North Korea signed the Korean Armistice in 1953.
The Pusan Perimeter in North and South Gyeongsang Province marked the ROK and UN’s furthest retreat. It was the only territory not seized by the North Korean Army.
After the Korean War, South Korea was in tatters. The conflict consumed the whole peninsula and leveled most cities.
After a series of false starts and reforms, General Park Chung-hee (박정희) overthrew the military dictatorship led by Chang Myon (장면) in 1962.
Through heavy-handed and often authoritarian means, Park enacted a series of Five-Year Plans that constructed basic infrastructure, improved agriculture, and built increasingly complex industrial sectors.
Born in North Gyeongsang Province’s Gumi City (구미시; map), Park Chung-hee directed a large portion of domestic and international stimulus to the Gyeongsang Region.
- The South Korean government built the Gyeongbu Expressway and upgraded the Gyeongbu Railroad during Park’s reign. These transportation networks connected Seoul with Busan and supercharged the Gyeongsang Region’s economic development.
- Park selected his hometown, Gumi City, for special industrial development. Today the city is one of the most economically powerful in North Gyeongsang Province, holding many high-tech manufacturing and research facilities.
- To boost the domestic steel industry, Park’s government directed money towards the Pohang Iron & Steel Company (POSCO). Now the world’s sixth largest steel producer, POSCO transformed Pohang City into North Gyeongsang Province’s largest city.
Park Chung-hee was assassinated in 1979. But succeeding presidents from the Gyeongsang Region kept the investment flowing. Today, it holds some of the nation’s largest cities.
- Busan, a part of South Gyeongsang Province until 1963, is the second biggest city in Korea. It holds Korea’s second largest port.
- Daegu, a part of North Gyeongsang Province until 1981, is the fourth biggest city in the nation. It once was a textile powerhouse. Now it’s one of Korea’s tech leaders.
- Ulsan, a part of South Gyeongsang Province until 1997, is the country’s seventh biggest city. It holds one of the world’s largest car manufacturing plants and shipbuilding yards.
- Changwon in South Gyeongsang, is the ninth largest city. It holds the Changwon Industrial Complex, an economic free zone filled with advanced manufacturing and research.
Southwest vs. Southeast
America has red states and blue states. What about Korea?
Korea has the southeast Gyeongsang (Yeongnam) region and the southwest Jeolla (Honam) region. They share counter political ideologies and economic destinies.
- The Gyeongsang Region:
- Conservative & capitalist leaning.
- More people (12,651,623) and richer on average ($40,152 per capita).
- Supported Park Chung-hee and other conservative governments.
- Received more investment in infrastructure and industry.
- Holds three metropolitan cities — Busan, Daegu Ulsan.
- The Jeolla Region:
- Liberal & socialist leaning.
- Fewer people (5,010,309) and poorer on average ($,36,667 per capita).
- A hotbed of revolution, including:
- Gwangju Student Independence Movement (1929) against Japanese Occupation.
- Gwangju Uprising (1980) against martial law imposed by the South Korean’s heavy-handed policies
- Holds one metropolitan city — Gwangju.
North Gyeongsang Province’s cultural heritage started during the Three Kingdoms Period. The Kingdom of Silla (57 BCE ~ 935 CE), which united the peninsula, located its capital in Gyeongju City and sprinkled cultural landmarks throughout the province.
- Bulguksa Temple (불국사; 751 CE; map) — headquarters of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order. It holds six national treasures.
- Cheomseongdae (첨성대; 600s CE; map) — the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia.
- Seokguram Grotto (석굴암; 774 CE; map) — hermitage with stone Buddha in a cave.
- Donggung Palace (안압지; 674 CE; map) — the part of an ancient palace complex.
- Five Royal Tombs (경주 오릉; map) — tombs of Silla kings and a queen.
The Kingdom of Silla built many Seowons (서원; Confucian academies) in North Gyeongsang Province, especially in Andong City. They birthed the birthed the Hwarang (화랑), a group of elite warriors.
Later, the Joseon Dynasty used these Seowons and provincial schools (향교; Hyanggyos) to train famous thinkers (Yi Hwang & Yi I).
Historically separated by the Taebaek Mountain Range, the cuisines of North Gyeongsang Province’s inland and coastal regions differ.
The coastal district’s foods feature salty and bitter tastes. While inland districts employ more savory flavors.
North Gyeongsang Province’s coastal districts, such as Pohang, Gyeongju, Uljin, and Yeongdeok, are famous for seafood, often dried and salted.
- Gwamegi (과메기) — half-dried Pacific herring. A specialty of Pohang’s Guryongpo Town, diners dip it in red pepper paste and fold it in a ssam (쌈; leafy green wrap).
- Mulhoe (물회) — raw seafood soup.
- Dombaegi (돔배기) — salted and aged shark meat.
Uljin and Yeongdeok Counties attract tourists with their prized snow crabs. Both counties hold competing annual festivals.
North Gyeongsang Province’s inner districts offer a different menu. While they serve some seafood, districts like Andong, Mungyeong, and Sangju use more beans, grains, and wild vegetables.
- Andong Jjimdak (찜닭) — steamed chicken marinated in soy sauce.
- Salted mackerel (간 고등어) — During the Joseon Dynasty, Andong City was the furthest up the Nakdong River where sea-caught mackerel could travel. So foodies from Seoul flocked to Andong to taste this delicacy.
- Heotjesabap (헛제삿밥) — mixed vegetables and rice. It’s like bibimbap (비빔밥), but uses soy sauce instead of red pepper paste.
- Cabbage jeon (배추전) — savory Korean pancake.