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Gyeongju

Gyeongju Historic Areas, comprising the former capital of the Shilla Kingdom, is a repository of ancient cultural treasures.

Dozens of National treasures and historical sites are carefully preserved here. In whatever direction you care to walk you will come across tombs, temples, shrines, the remains of palaces, pleasure gardens, castles, Buddhist statuary and even an observatory.

The strange structure of Cheomsongdae is an ancient astronomical observatory. It is probably the most well known of Korea's historic remains. The stone astronomical observatory was built during the reign of Queen Ssondeok in 634. The bottle-shaped tower was constructed on a square base. It is considered the oldest observatory in the world and one of the oldest man-made structures left in Korea. How it was operated is not known.

Map

Visit September 2001

To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed by Kyongju (now spelled "Gyeongju" by the way). The historical relics are scattered around town, but most of them are not major sights. The cute Cheomsongdae Observatory is the one thing that you really must see here. So old, so delicate, and in such a good condition.

Community Reviews


Ian Cade - December 2011

I found Gyongju to be a pleasant place to be based during my first few days in Korea. Some guidebooks seem to go over the top with their praise of the place which can leave people disappointed with the reality, however for me it was a great place to relax and see some of the most important sites in Korean history.

On the bus to the city I got a great introduction by listening to this episode, from the British Museum/ BBC A History of the World in 100 objects. On top of this I visited the free Gyonju museum which was very interesting although a touch over run with friendly school children practicing their English on me. These gave me a better understanding of what may otherwise just be a series of grassy hills. I have actually visited a fair few grass mounds in my pursuit of World Heritage Sites but these were the most enjoyable I have so far encountered. The central cluster are actually a very enjoyable piece of landscape design and are very well presented, also there is one tomb open for you to explore the interior, which is well worth a look.

There are two other WHS nearby and whilst the modern town is decidedly unremarkable, it has all the amenities you will need making this a great place to be based in the south of the country.

[Site 6: Experience 10*]

* A note to explain the top marks for the experience at this site, it isn't necessarily for the wondrous things you can do in Gyongju. It is actually for the astonishingly friendly welcome I was afforded everywhere I went in Korea, but especially in this city. If you have read reviews of the Korean world heritage sites on this site and thought that perhaps Korea isn't really the most interesting destination then I would implore you to not be put off a visit. Whilst its WHS are nice they are not perhaps in the highest order; however the people, food and atmosphere are magnificent. I have posted an example of the incredible hospitality I received here.


Thomas Sunam Johansen - June 2011

I have been doing an exchange program for one semester here as an archaeologist, and truly I can say: "Gyeongju is a treasure paradise to any archaeologist!"

As a student in Dongguk University's Archaeology Department, I have been able to get a good look at the current excavations being done, as well as seeing all the sites that are to be seen in and around Gyeongju. What history! There are so many stories yet to be told from this city as the excavations will be going on until 2025. We think we know it all, but no, no, there's so much yet to be learned about the lives lived in the historical era of Silla.

In my personal opinion, people who expect too much miss out the little things which truly makes Gyeongju the exciting historical site it is being advertised as. I can take a walk along the riverside, in the mountains or by the farm roads and find small pieces of artefacts all over. In walking at the edge of the wall of Banweolseong fortress I even stumbled across a near complete earthenware from around AD. 500!! (It has been, as required by law, given to the National Museum of Gyeongju.) When walking in Gyeongju, you are literally walking on historical grounds filled with artefacts from its days. It is such an amasing experience! ...well, at least for anyone with historical/archaeological interest who fare with an open mind.

It is absolutely a place worth while taking your time to look around and enjoy, feel the spirit of its great history and become a part of it :)


Kyle Magnuson - August 2010

The astounding number of Silla relics in Gyeongju is what makes this ancient city outstanding. Some of the sights are rather brief visits, such as the oldest Astronomy Tower in Asia and the largely re-constructed Anapji Pond. Yet the more time you spend in Gyeongju, you begin to recognize these incredibly diverse sites are all that remain of a powerful and advanced ancient civilization. If you have the great opportunity to visit Gyeongju make sure to visit the tombs and spend some time in and around Namsan mountain. Gyeongju being the ancient capital of Silla is a wonderful glimpse into a fascinating period of Korean history and is quite different from other regions of the country.

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.


Tara - July 2008

It is now our school's vacation time, and I am looking foward to doing some traveling. As a gyopo(sp.?) who has unfortunatley been unable to experience life in Korea until now, Gyeongju seems like the perfct place to really take in what historical Korea has to offer. I am reading both positive and negative things about this area, and after going there I will have formed my own opinion about its value to me. I am married and do not frequent clubs, nor do I drink. I especially don't have the desire to travel to a beach every weekend, so I can come back to work with a repetitive re-telling of how drunk and stupid I was on my escapades Saturday night. Sadly, I think tourists in general have gradually moved away from site seeing that has no commercial appeal. It is easy to vsit a palace, temple or cultural relic if there is an amusement park, mega-mall/underground arcade, or overcrowded beach just a taxi ride away. If you are interested in pottery and art, you can visit pottery villages. If you want to see yourself in a more eastern light you can go and stay at a temple. What a great bunch of things to do and tell stories about, right? Even a temple stay has a sort of "this is the thing to do" feel about it. I don't speak for everyone when I say that I would prefer to forego places where I can build up my shopping bag collection, or eat at a Bennigan's to be reminded of how western I am, etc. One poster commented on having an open mind when you visit these types of places, and I have to agree. Travel "hot spots", or "not-so-much travel hot spots anymore" like this have merits that encompass not only its rich history, but a sort of bare-boned simpleness. Something that brings with it a deeper appreciation that cannot be bought, sold, or sun-tanned.


Frederik Dawson - May 2008

The legendary capital city of the sophisticated kingdom of Silla, the first great capital of unified ancient Korea, the forth largest cultural, economical, and political center of known ancient world, one of the oldest human living cities in the world, an open air museum are all the superlative definitions of Gyeongju stipulating all tourists to visit making this city one of the MUST destination in Korea.

For sure all clarification above make you expected something great from Gyeongju with many ruins like ancient Greek or Roman cities. But Gyeongju turn out to be quite disappointing with nothing much to see, most of historical sites are burial mounds in the park, with few outstanding buildings. Cheonseomdae, the tiny ancient planetarium, and beautiful Anapji pond are two major sights but are not so outstanding in my opinion. To flavor many bored tourists the city of Gyeongju tries their best to turn historical park into flower fields to make the park more attractive especially in the evening with the really nice set of light decoration. Another area that worth mentioned is Mount Namsan with lots of Buddhist artifacts scattered around the mountain but considering the quality of art, Seokguram Grotto is much superior.

Many tourists and reviewer praised Gyeongju by admiring Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, but we should separate these two places from Gyeongju as they are different site in term of World Heritage. So if we cut Bulguksa out from Gyeongju, I rarely heard people mentioned the beauty of historic sites in city center or mount Namsan.

All in all, Gyeongju is a victim of overrate tourist advertisement by using too much historical fact. Gyeongju is easily compared with Nara in Japan, however the feeling after visit of these two cities are totally different, for Nara you don't expected much from this short lived capital resulting lovely surprise and enjoy the trip, but with load of expectations for Gyeongju the outcome is upside down. I agreed that to enjoy Gyeongju may need time to appreciate its secret, but with the Korean governmental fact that the amount of tourist visit Gyeongju is decreasing compared to other regions of Korea may provide some answer to all of us.


Joseph Yim - September 2005

Some twenty years ago I lived in the city known as Taegu, better known today as "Daegu",city only about fourty minutes away from Gyeongju,city of ancient Shilla Kingdom. The Gyeongju city has more than thousand years of history,which by the way makes one of the oldest human living city in the world, and certainly makes older than any other western european cities except Athens and Rome as exception,and certaintly makes order than London city. Though today city is modern and only hold only some 350,000 thousand people,please do understand at one time in it's prime days,Gyeongju city was world's forth largest cultural,economical,and political center of known ancient world followed by Constantinople,Baghdad and Changan of China with population close to a million people,so you do a math. To those who did not enjoyed city of Gyeongju I feel sorry to heard that,but like anywhere else not every can have pleasent experince where ever you go,but word of advice,when you do travel to different cities of any nationalists,do little bit of research before you travel,and travel with open mind without any prejudices, than you will truly able to understand and appreciate more where ever you visits! Enjoy your travel!


Michelle Arathimos

I am dissappointed with the negative responses seen here! As an English teacher travelling and living in Korea, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to see the amazing historical treasure that is Gyeongju. Gyeongju has the amazing atmosphere of a lost Asian empire, and all the history you need to make the pieces fit can be found in the great museum. The burial mounds are fantastic and the town itself is a melting pot of different times.


Marsha Lee

I had the pleasure of visiting Korea in 2003. I was not impressed with Seoul but when we went to Gyeongju, it was overwhelming. The temples are beautiful. The monks are very friendly and hospitable. You could feel the sacredness of Bulguska temple and the Seokguram Grotto.It seemed like time was at a stand still. It was a very healing experience for me and my family. We are planning on returning in 2005.


John Thomson

Kyongju is very very overrated, I moved to the city almost 6-months ago, choosing a job there over one in Seoul because I had read about how beautiful it was meant to be. Quite frankly I am very disappointed.

The city of Kyongju is a hotchpotch of modern 1980's building which have been erected with absolutely no regulation or proper planning. In amongst this high rise hell are to be found a scattering of very unimpressive historical artifacts many of which would not be given a second glance were they to be found in Europe. OK the burial mounds are impressive, but they are not captivating in the way an old medieval town is.

Out with the city of Kyongju itself (it should be remembered that despite Kyongju being marketed as an open air museum some attractions are 20km away) things are much better. For example the temple at Bulguksa is absolutely fabulous as is Seokguram Grotto a short walk away.


Jocelyne bouilliot

My father lived in Corea in 1985, for he was bilding a nuclear power plant in Uljin, and i spent 2,5 monthes there. We were living in the contry-side, in Buku, and i had time to integrate a bit of corean culture before going to Kyongju. I think it's necessary to understand what might be invisible to occidental eyes.

Being archeologist, i found great interrest in the site. The people who worked there did a real good job (excavation, and conservation)


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Site Info

Full name: Gyeongju Historic Areas

Site History

Locations

The site has 9 locations.

  • Hwangnyongsa Belt
  • Hwangnyongsa Belt
  • Mt. Namsan Belt
  • Sansong (Fortress) Belt
  • Sansong (Fortress) Belt
  • Tumuli Park Belt
  • Tumuli Park Belt
  • Wolsong Belt
  • Wolsong Belt

Connections

The site has 40 connections.

Architecture

  • Brick architecture Bunhwangsa Temple was built in honor of Queen Seondeok (27th ruler of Silla, 632-647), who was the first female ruler of the Silla kingdom. Here you will find Mojeonseoktap, the oldest surviving stone pagoda from the Silla kingdom. A structure unlike any other, Mojeonseoktap is made of roughly-hewn stone bricks.
  • Mud / Earth Architecture Wolseong Fortress "The fortress was built in 101 AD. The east, west, and north walls were built on stone/earth foundation covered with clay. -Kyongju by Kim, Yong-nam (published by Woojin Press, Seoul, Korea) 2008
  • Rock Cut Architecture Mount Namsan "The rock-cut reliefs and engravings and the stone images are fine examples of Shilla Kingdom Buddhist art from the 7th to the 14th century. They are artistic masterpieces which trace the evolution of this especially refined school of Buddhist art throughout its most prolific and innovatory period, in particular from the 7th to the 10th century. They depict for the most part Buddha, and also the saints and bodhisattvas associated with him. Skilful use is made of the landscape in siting many of the sculptural groups. The most impressive is probably the Buddha Rock, a massive natural formation in the Tapkol Valley. It is located close to a three storey pagoda, and its three walls are decorated with vivid depictions in bas-relief of Buddha in different incarnations, surrounded by his acolytes and disciples." - Advisory Body Evaluation (2000)

Constructions

  • Bixi Many Bixi statues from various Silla Tombs, now mainly kept at Gyeongju National Museum
  • Crown Jewels  "The Silla crowns are some of the most spectacular treasures uncovered in the tumuli of Gyeongju. The best of the crowns are made of pure gold and were probably reserved for kings. The use of many tiny gold mirrors dangling from the crown has led some to hypothesize that the crown, worn in sunlight, would be a dazzling spectacle reinforcing the tradition role of the Silla king as the symbolic representation of the sun on earth." - wiki
  • Dynastic Burial Places Tombs of ancient Silla dynasty
  • Famous Bells Emille Bell, one of largest bell made in Asia and it's said that its ringing can be heard over 3 Km radius when struck only lightly with the fist
  • Stelae Gyerim Woods Stele memorializing the founding myth of Silla. "This legend is inscribed on a memorial stele erected in 1803, the 3rd year of King Sunjo of Chosun dynasty." - Nomination File
  • Tumuli 

Damaged

  • Destroyed during invasion "Hwangnyongsa - This group consists of two ruined temples, Hwangnyongsa and Punhwangsa. Hwangnyongsa, built to the order of King Chinhung (540-76) was the largest temple ever built in Korea, covering some 72,500m2. An 80m high nine-storey pagoda was added in 645. The entire complex was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1238." - AB Document

History

  • Buried treasures Silla Treasures excavated in the "Gold Crown Tomb" (Geumgwanchong), in 1921. The tomb was the first to bear one of the sumptuous gold crowns of the Silla royalty. 40,000 artifacts were recovered from the tomb, including gold, silver, and bronze vessels. Also included were gold and silver weapons. Now primarily in the Gyeongju National Museum. - wiki
  • Famous suicides "When Gyeon Hwon's army sacked Gyeongju in 927, they found Gyeongae partying at the Poseokjeong pavilion. The king killed himself rather than surrender. Gyeon Hwon set Gyeongsun on the throne in his stead, and returned to the west." - wiki
  • Historical Food Remains Excert from National Geographic Magazine (August 1988) Kyongju, Where Korea Began by Cathy Newman (Concerning the Heavenly Horse Tomb) "We also found eggs in the coffin." "Eggs?" "Seven Eggs. One or two actually intact. To nourish the dead."
  • Silk Road The Silk Road contributed to the Golden Age of Silla. Silla Kings allied with the Tang dynasty to defeat rival Korean kingdoms. The flowering of Buddhism in Gyeongju in the 7th and 8th centuries began with the Silk Road extending to the Korean peninsula.
  • Slavery "Records from the Kingdom of Silla, show some cases of large slaveholding and even the custom of burying slaves alive for the king's funeral." - The Historical encyclopedia of world slavery, Volume 1; Volume 7 By Junius P. Rodriguez
  • Three Kingdoms of Korea 

Human Activity

  • Astronomy and Astrology Cheomseongdae observatory
  • Festivals Silla Cultural Festival - Events: National Classical Music concert at the Anapji Pond. The serene Kyerim Glade is the setting for a poem composition contest."Every year since 1962 a Silla Cultural Festival has been held in October to celebrate and honour the dynasty's history and culture. It is one of the major festivals of Korea. It features athletic events, folk games, music, dance, literary contests and Buddhist religious ceremonies." - wiki & eng.buddhapia.com
  • Human Sacrifice The Great Tomb of Hwangnam, "Excavations have found that a man was interred in the northern mound and a woman in the southern mound. The man's burial chamber contained remains of a yound woman believed to have been buried for her master. Hence the tomb is assumed to have been made before King Jijeong (reign 500-515) banned sacrificial burials." Unesco World Heritage of South Korea (2011, pg 88)
  • Ongoing/Recent Archaeological digs 10-year time frame for archeological digs/exploration
  • Piracy "Wokou (Korean pronunciation: waegu), which literally translates as "Japanese pirates" in English, were pirates of varying origins who raided the coastlines of China and Korea from the 13th century onwards. The term Wokou was used by both Chinese and Korean troops in reference to the invasion force of Toyotomi Hideyoshi." - wiki The Imjin War was an Invasion force meant to conquer Korea, China, and India. This could hardly be classified as "piracy". However, Wokou did make up a large portion of the Japanese navy. Furthermore, there is one infamous example of piracy on the Japanese retreat back to the sea which sole purpose was revenge and plunder. "With Kato Kiyomasa's last withdrawal vengeance was wreaked, and the entire city (Gyeonju) was put to the torch, including the wonderful Bulguksa temple. Loaded with plunder, Kato reached the sea coast of Ulsan."
  • Rock Cut Art "The cultural properties of the area date mainly from the 6th to the 10th centuries, and demonstrate the quintessence of the Shilla art in the statues and reliefs of Buddha, the temple sites, and the royal and other tumuli." - AB Document

Individual People

  • Homer B. Hulbert "Near this ancient town we find a numerous cluster of huge mounds, each the maosoleum of King of Silla. Another relic of that civilization is an ancient stone tower some twenty feet high, shaped like a monster bottle. This was the astronomical observatory of ancient Silla." - The Passing of Korea (1905) pg 290-291
  • Queens and Empresses Queen Seondeok (606 - 647) built the Star-Gazing Tower or Cheomseongdae
  • Travels of Hyecho "Hyecho was born in Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla Dynasty, in 704. At age 15, he went to China to study esoteric Buddhism in 719 and after turning 19, he set out for India for further study of Buddhism in 723." - english.donga.com

Religion and Belief

  • Buddhist Pure Land "With the spread of Buddhism Mt. Namsan became the earthly representation of Sumeru, the heavenly mountain of the Buddhist lands." - AB Document
  • Legends and Folk Myths The legend of Silla's founding. "According to the Samguk Sagi, a 12th-century Korean history, Sirim was the site where the child Kim Alji, founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan, was discovered. Found in a golden box accompanied by a rooster, he was adopted by the royal family. His descendants became the later kings of Silla and the forest where he was found was renamed Gyerim, "rooster forest." - wiki
  • Pagoda Bunhwangsa Pagoda (stone-brick)
  • Sacred Mountains "Mount Namsan, which had been venerated by the existing cults of Korea, became a Buddhist sacred mountain and attracted its adherents, who employed the most outstanding architects and craftsmen of the day to create temples, shrines, and monasteries." - AB Document
  • Taoism Anapji Pond - "The name Anapji appears in the 16th century Joseon era document Augmented Survey of the Geography of Korea with the explanation that King Munmu made the pond with Taoist aesthetics." - wiki

Timeline

  • Built in the 7th century The Gyeongju Historic Areas contain a remarkable concentration of outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, in the form of sculptures, reliefs, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces from the flowering, in particular between the 7th and 10th centuries, of this form of unique artistic expression. (There are sites in Gyeongju that are signifigantly older than the 7th century, however the vast majority of inscibed properties are during or after the 7th century, corresponding to the introduction of Buddhism)

Trivia

WHS Hotspots