According to legend, Korea was founded by Tangun who ruled for more than a 1,000 years, between 2,333 and 1,122 BC. It is more likely that present day Koreans orginate from migrants who came down from Manchuria and further northwards. The Kingdom of Koguryo was founded in 37 BC by these early Koreans. This was one of three kingdoms to evolve in the peninsula, occupying its northern regions. To its south, the kingsom of Paekche emerged, with its capital near the site of present day Seoul. The third kingdom, Shilla, developed in the south east, with its capital at Kyongju. In 668, Korea was unified under Shilla, ruled by a Confucian-style court which encouraged scholarship and the arts.
The Shilla dynasty was overthrown in 935 by what became known as the Koryo dynasty. This, in turn, was replaced by Asia's longest-lasting dynasty, Choson, in 1392, which moved its capital to what is now Seoul.
Koreas's independence was shattered in 1910, when Japan turned it into a colony, which it remained until the Second World War. After liberation by Allied forces in 1945, the country was divided and became a focus of the Cold War between the West, the Soviet Union and China. The Korean war ended in 1953 but peace has still to be declared.
GEOGRAPHY:Land mass: 219,530 square kilometres, roughly the size of Britain.