Walking from the railway station into the city in the late evening, I suddenly noticed the contours of low, evenly shaped hills on the other side of the road. I realized they were the famous tumuli; royal tombs dating back to the era of the Silla, the most prosperous period of the city. The next days, I further explored the city and its surroundings, and I was amazed by the variation of historical sights in the city. Once the proud capital of the Silla kingdom, which was famous in far away places at the time, Gyeongju had more than a million inhabitants in its heyday, making it one of the major cities of the time. One of the sights is Bunhwangsa pagoda, one of the few Buddhist pagodas constructed from brick and stone, and, dating back tot the 7th century, probably the oldest pagoda of Korea. Lying within walking distance from Gyeongju, the courtyard of Bunhwangsa makes for a friendly setting. The pagoda itself is a gem, with lions made of stone guarding the corners, and finely carved figures next to the entrances further embellishing the temple.
As a sign of the advanced development of the city, Gyeongju houses the oldest astrological observatory of the Far East. An elegant, bottle-shaped stone tower full of symbolism in the number of stones used and the the amount of layers, Cheomseongdae is very appealing; so much so, in fact, that I visited again when darkness had already fallen. Well-lit, the observatory takes on a completely different appearance. It is just unfortunate that it is not possible to enter the 7th century structure. Another sight in Gyeongju is Anapji Pond, not far from the observatory. Once part of the palace complex of the Silla royal family, it is a man-made pond allowing birds to come and rest in the water. Many ancient relics were discovered when the pond was drained some 1000 years after a fire destroyed much of the buildings surrounding the pond. I stayed until after sunset, when the pond took on a completely new atmosphere, with the silhouettes of the buildings reflected in it.
Probably the most notable sight of Gyeongju is, however, the Tumuli Park. In this extensive area of the city, you can wander around the burial mounds of the Silla royals. Reminding of the Egyptian pyramids, these artificial hills were constructed with the same purpose: to provide a resting place for the kings after they died. One of the tumuli, Cheonmachong, dating back to the 6th century, is actually opened for visitors, to give a better idea of how these tumuli look like from the inside, and the treasures that can be found in the tumuli. The 23 man-made hillocks make for an esthetically attractive park. As a humble visitor, the question remains what, if anything can still be found inside the tombs.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Gyeongju (South Korea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Gyeongju. Read more about this site.