Travel Destination: Gyeongju, South Korea
With a population of 266,000, Gyeongju is known as ‘the museum without walls’ as it holds more Buddhist statues, palace ruins, temples, rock carvings, pleasure gardens, tombs and castles than any other city in South Korea.
Gyeongju became the capital of the Shilla dynasty around the same time Julius Caesar was taking Gaul. It stayed the capital for nearly 1,000 years and in the seventh century CE, under the reign of King Munmu, conquered the neighbouring kingdoms of Goguryeo and Baekje. Once conquered, Gyeongju became the capital of the entire peninsular. However, as with all great civilizations, Gyeongju eventually fell.
It began to see life again in the early 20th century and thanks to the dictator Park Chung-hee in the 1970s, the city underwent much preservation and restoration work.
Tumuli Park is a huge walled area in the very heart of the town. Inside its walls are 23 tombs of Shilla monarchs and their family members. To the onlooker, they look like grassy hillocks but they are similar to that of the pyramids of ancient Egypt – tombs holding bodies. Excavations have yielded some fabulous artefacts that are on display.
There is one tomb that is open to visitors. Cheonmachong (Heavenly Horse Tomb) is 13m high, 47 m in diameter and was constructed sometime at the end of the fifth century.
The Noseo-dong tombs are located in the Noseo-dong district where more tombs can be found. The Seobongchong and Geumgwanchong tombs were build adjunct to each other and between around the fourth to fifth centuries. Between 1921 and 1946, the tombs were excavated, revealing two gold crowns.
Wolseong Park is located southeast of Tumuli Park, and the next stop on the traveller’s list. Built between 632 and 646, the simply designed building known as Cheomseongdae, is the Orient’s oldest astrological observatory. At the base of the building are 12 stones which represent the 12 months of the year. 366 stones in 30 layers (one for each day of the month) correspond to the days of the year (time was calculated differently then to today).
If one strolls a few minutes south from Cheomseongdae is a once-fabled fortress. Today there are still some ruins and walls and is beautiful parkland. There is only one intact building – Seokbinggo or the ‘Stone Ice House’.
Across the main road from Wolseongno is Anapji Pond. This was commissioned by King Munmu in 674 to celebrate the unification of the Korean peninsular. The buildings burnt to the ground in 935. In 1975, the pond was drained, revealing many artefacts that were once thrown in the waters. Today the pond has been refilled and is a popular place for couples to take their pre-wedding photos.
Gyeongju is a fantastic city to visit when travelling to South Korea. It is filled with many glorious buildings from the past, beautiful scenery and home to wonderfully friendly people.