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Korea Revisited: World Heritage in Korea ② Jeju Island selected for the New 7 Wonders of Nature

Hallasan in spring (Provenance: Cultural Heritage Administration; Photos: courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation)

The New7Wonders Foundation in Switzerland released its list of the New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 12 at around 4 a.m. Seoul time. After a competitive campaign, Jeju Island made the list, winning out over other applicants from around the world. The other six winners are Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Amazon Rainforest and River in Brazil, Komodo Island National Park in Indonesia, Iguazu Falls in Argentina, the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Philippines, and Table Mountain in South Africa.

Jeju Island is one of the few shield volcanoes in the world and it has an interesting geological evolution. While most other volcanic islands are formed on the Earth’s crust or the boundaries between tectonic plates, Jeju Island was an exceptional case in that the volcanic eruption took place beneath the middle of the tectonic plate. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in appreciation of this mysterious feature. The three particular regions designated as Natural World Heritage Sites are Hallasan Natural Reserve, Geomunoreum Lava Tube, and Seongsan Ilchulbong. The three spots only make up 10% of the area of Jeju Island but they played a key role in the genesis of the island.

Hallasan is the central volcanic mountain peak of Jeju island which was designated as Natural World Heritage Site in 2007 (Provenance: Cultural Heritage Administration; Photos: courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Rising 1,950 meters above sea level, Halla-san is the central volcanic mountain peak of Jeju Island. About 360 parasitic volcanoes surround Halla-san's base, the largest number of such volcanoes that has been found around any single mountain peak. Halla-san is famous not only for the uniqueness of its geographical formation but also for its ecological diversity. The combination of high mountain peaks, oreums (parasitic volcanoes), caves, and beaches make for numerous and various environmental habitats. A variety of plants and animals can be found on Halla-san, where climates range from the subtropical to the temperate and, even in some areas, polar.

The Geomunoreum Lava Tube system was instrumental to Jeju's selection as a World Heritage site. The Geomunoreum caves were formed by lava pouring down the island's coastline from Halla-san, and both its length and scale make it one of the largest and most distinctive of any such cave systems in the world.

The peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong is an ideal spot for enjoying the sunrise. As it rose from the sea, the geological history of the formation attracts visitors.

In addition to being designated as Natural World Heritage Site in 2007, Jeju Island has also been appointed to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2002 and the Global Geoparks Network in 2010. Jeju Island is the first spot in the world to receive this UNESCO Triple Crown designation. Highlighting these aspects, Korea put a huge effort in the vote for the New 7 Wonders. The island contains all seven themes: a great landscape, island, volcanoes, coast, cave, falls, and forest which were the main required elements for the vote. Unlike other proposed sites, Jeju Island maintains a close connection with the lives of people, offering space for culture and history to co-exist.

(Left) Seongsan Ilchulbong is a volcanic mountain risen from the sea; (Right) the Geomunoreum caves were formed by lava pouring down from Hallasan (Provenance: Cultural Heritage Administration; Photos: courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Jeju Special Governing Province decided to open 25 public tourist attractions free of charge from November 12 to the end of the year in celebration of the vote. The 25 tourist destinations include the Jeju Folklore & Natural History Museum, Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeongbang Waterfall, and the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. An official from the Jeju Culture and Tourism Committee said, “This is how we express gratitude for Korean and non-Korean voters who supported increasing awareness of the island.”

The results are expected to revitalize the local tourism industry. The Jeju Development Institute predicted that the number of foreign tourists will increase by 73.6% (571,000 people) and the number of Korean citizens will increase by 8.5% (578,000). The data can be translated to read that it will bring 630 billion to 1.2 trillion won worth of ripple effect to the region and 355 billion to 731 billion won worth of additional implications.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced new plans to focus on overseas promotional activities, enhancing networks through the Korean Cultural Centers and overseas offices of the Korea Tourism Organization. The Ministry also plans to boost cultural infrastructure in accommodation, food, and tourism systems to help the increased number of tourists get easier access to tourist spots.

For more information, visit the official website of the New 7 Wonders at, (Korean, English, Chinese, Spanish, Arab, German, French, Polish, Portuguese, Italian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese).

By Lee Seung-ah Staff Writer 

The “Korea Revisited: World Heritage in Korea” series is designed in cooperation with the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation to shed new light on the UNESCO Treasures in Korea and highlight the foundation’s 2011 World Heritage Visiting Program.


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