World Heritage Sites
Remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom
Okinawa is the proud owner of nine buildings and other sites registered as world heritage in the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. The word gusuku refers to the castle sites of the nobility during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Visiting these buildings and sites is a chance to come into contact with Okinawa’s unique history and culture.
The main attraction is without a doubt Shuri Castle, a symbol of Ryukyu history and culture. This castle was the centre of all politics, foreign affairs and culture during the reign of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Its unique architectural design incorporates elements from both Japan and China. At its heart is the main temple – the largest wooden building in all Okinawa, whose colourful decorations are a testament to the kingdom’s prosperity.
Near the Shuri Castle site are the Tamaudun Mausoleum and the Sonohyan Utaki Stone Gate. Tamaudun is the stone mausoleum where the royal family that reigned over the Ryukyu Kingdom for 400 years is now interred. It has three main chambers that are surrounded with stone walls and carved into the natural rock surroundings in a spectacular facade.
The Sonohyan Utaki Stone Gate was used as a site to pray for safe travel on leaving the Ryukyu Kingdom. The gate is entirely made from stone with the exception of its great wooden doors. The fine detail of the carvings hints at the high level of skill of the artisans at that time.
To the south of Shuri Castle are the Shikinaen Gardens, also known as Nanen, a leisure house of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Here, visitors can follow a winding path and enjoy the many changes in scenery amongst these stately surrounds. These gardens are said to have been used for recreation by the royal family and for entertaining guests from overseas.
Four other locations for Gusuku ruins are the Zakimi Castle Ruins, Nakijin Castle Ruins, Katsuren Castle Ruins and Nakagusuku Castle Ruins, each of which was built from the middle of the 14th century.
Only the walls and gates of these sites now remain, but the multi-faceted corallimestone used in their construction clearly displays architectural characteristics unique to the Ryukyu Kingdom.
The final ruin on the island is Sefa-Utaki, one of the Ryukyu’s most well-known and sacred spots, said to have been created by the godness Amamikiyo, the source of world creation myths for the Ryukyu.
Six homes of the gods are situated here, the oldest of which are Ufugui where the coronation of the highest ranked princess Kikoeokimi is said to have been held, and Sangui in which two large rocks come together to form a triangular cavern.