Gyeongju…The One Thousand Year Capital

A Gyeongju Weekend.  The One Thousand Year Capital of Korea

Door Handle in Bulguksa Temple

We are travel junkies.  We often get the travel bug, and need a fix.  One of the great parts about living in Korea is the relative ease in which one can get around.  Public transportation is affordable and convenient.  There is so much to see and do in Korea, but after asking some Korean co-workers what they thought we MUST visit while here, the city of Gyeongju consistently topped the list.  After doing a bit of research, it was easy to see why they recommended this destination.

“Known as ‘the museum without walls’, Gyeongju holds more tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and the ruins of palaces, pleasure gardens and castles than any other place in South Korea. Tumuli (grass-covered burial mounds) are only the most conspicuous and accessible of the sights.

In 57 BC, around when Julius Caesar was subduing Gaul, Gyeongju became the capital of the Shilla dynasty, and it remained so for nearly 1000 years. In the 7th century AD, under King Munmu, Shilla conquered the neighbouring kingdoms of Goguryeo and Baekje, and Gyeongju became capital of the whole peninsula. The city’s population eventually peaked at around one million, but as empires do, Shilla eventually fell victim to division from within and invasion from without.” – Lonely Planet

We looked at our calendars, picked a weekend, booked a hostel, reserved some tickets on the KTX (Korea’s bullet train), and waited for the fateful day.  On an early Saturday morning, we boarded our train to Gyeongju, which is about an hour north of Busan on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.

Typically, in my mind, going south means warmer temperatures, but it wasn’t the case for our weekend of overcast skies, and jacket weather.  Fortunately it didn’t rain too much, and we got to see a lot of great historical sites.  It is like Lonely Planet says: “a museum without walls.”  Most streets seemed to lead to an artifact, tomb or temple of the once great Silla kingdom.  In our short trip, we crammed in as much as we could handle.  Here are some of the pictures I took in no particular order:

Burial Mound

You don’t have to walk very far in Gyeongju before you see these massive burial mounds throughout the city.  There are hundreds of them, yet only a few are the inhabitants known.

Burial Mounds in Tumuli Park

Tumuli Park Burial Mounds

Daereungwon Royal Tombs. Behind us you can see double mounds. This means a man and wife are buried next to each other.

Cheonmachong. "Heavenly Horse Tomb" The only tomb in Korea that you can enter.

“Inside Cheonmachong, one can see that the tomb is made with a base of gravel and stone.  The deceased is placed inside a wooden coffin, then large round stones are stacked on top (which would eventually crush the coffin).  Over the large stones clay and dirt is shoveled on and grass is sown.” – Rough Guide to Korea.

Lunch! Some Delicious Bulgogi (Korean style marinated beef)

Seeing all the deceased made us hungry (morbid, I know).  If you’re not sure what to get when going to a Korean restaurant, and you have a weak stomach for spicy food, then bulgogi is always a safe and delicious bet.  There are many different ways to prepare it, but I can’t quite remember the kind I ordered in this photo.  Often I’ll read the Korean on the menu, tell our server what we want, then the server will repeat it back to us, but pronounce it differently enough to where I’m not sure either of us understand each other, and I just say “ok.” Hoping I ordered something good.  Turns out our meal hit the spot after a long morning of walking.

Bunhwangsa Temple was constructed in 634, the third year of Queen Seondeok’s reign.  And it LOOKS that old too.

Bunhwangsa Pagoda

The oldest pagoda from the Silla kingdom, it now only stands at three tiers, yet ancient records state that it once stood nine stories in height.  You can find this and more information here.

Bunhwangsa Pagoda. National Treasure No. 30

Lotus lanterns surrounding the pagoda.

Bulguksa Temple, currently the head temple of the 11th district of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

Clouds rolling down the mountain side near Bulguksa Temple.

Originally built in 528, nearly destroyed in 1593 during the Japanese invasions, and reconstructed in the 1970s.  A UNESCO World Heritage site.

Seokguram Grotto. UNESCO World Heritage Site

At Bulguksa Temple you can take a mountain trail to see what many experts believe to be the finest example of Buddhist art in the country…the Seokguram grotto.  We should have read our guide book a little more closely because we weren’t planning on a four kilometer hike up Mt. Tohamsan when we began the trail.  But once we got so far, it seemed foolish to turn back around.  An hour and a half later and wet with sweat, we made it to the top for some awesome views out towards the East Sea.

View from Seokguram Grotto.

You can’t actually take pictures inside the grotto because of it’s sacred nature to Buddhist, but inside under a dome mound of earth (kinda like the burial tombs), sits the Sakyamuni Buddha, an almost five meter high stone carving, surrounded by ten sculptures of disciples, two Hindu gods, and many other artworks.  Here’s a picture I found online:

Seokguram Grotto

With a couple hours to kill before we caught our train back to Cheonan, we headed over to Anapji Pond where kings would hold banquets for special occasions and honored guests.

Anapji Pond. Due to the dull colors of the day, I decided I liked how this looked in black & white much more.

I’ll leave you with one of the most famous symbols of Taoist philosophy as I discovered it on the door leading to a burial ground.

Yin Yang

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