The mountain you should climb to know real Gyeongju
Towering in the south of Gyeongju, Namsan Mountain was the object of worship to Silla people. It is divided as West Namsan, a sacred place where Silla emerged, and East Namsan, where numerous statutes of Buddha are carved on rocks, including Tapgol and Bucheogol. Namsan boasts many important heritage, such as Seokbul Jwasang, seated stone Buddha statue in Mireukgol, and Maaebulsanggun, rock-carved Buddha statues in Chilburam hermitage. Not only that, but it has also excellent natural scenery with rocks of fantastic shape and kaleidoscopic valley. For this reason, many people say, "You shouldn’t say you have been to Gyeongju until you climb the Namsan Mountain." That is to say, Namsan Mountain is where natural beauty integrated with the long history of the Silla Dynasty and the aesthetic sense and religious consciousness of Silla people was sublimated as art.
Underwater Tomb of King Munmu
the underwater royal tomb with his will to guard the country
Munmu Daewangreung is an underwater royal tomb of King Munmu of the Silla Dynasty, who finally unified The Three Kingdoms. It is known that after the King passesd away, he was cremated by Buddhist ritual and the ashes were spread there in accordance with his wish to guard his country as a dragon. The tomb is about 200 meters away from the shore. Daewangam is a rocky island where the center is pitted like a small water hole and surrounded by pillar-like large rocks. It is near to Gameunsa Temple Site and Igyondae Pavilion.
The Spirit of Art of Silla People
The people of the Silla Kingdom who unified the Three Kingdoms wished to establish the “Land of Buddha” in Silla, and they built this temple out of such desire. It is now gone, but a pond once flowed underneath the stone staircase leading up to the temple. When you open the Jahamun Gate (Mauve Mist Gate) through Cheongungyo Bridge (Blue Cloud Brige) and Baekungyo Bridge (White Cloud Bridge) over this bridge, the world of Buddha will unfold. In other words, if the Daeungjeon Hall (the Hall of Great Enlightenment), Geuknakjeon Hall (Paradise Hall), and Birojeon Hall (Vairocana Buddha Hall) built on the stone staircase are the worlds of Buddha, the lower part of the stairs is a world where humans live. Cheongungyo Bridge, Baekungyo Bridge, Chilbogyo Bridge (Seven Treasures Bridge), and Yeonhwagyo (Lotus Flower Bridge) are the bridge connecting the human world and the paradise of the Buddha.
Magnificent Beauty of Buddhist Land
Seokguram Grotto is an artificial stone temple, which is divided into Jusil (主室) main chamber that enshrines a statute of Buddha, and the Jeonsil (前室) antechamber where Buddhist services were held. The Jeonsil antechamber is square-shaped, representing the earth, while Jusil main chamber is a rotunda, representing the heavenly world. In this main chamber, the Buddha statute is seated with a generous smile and legs crossed. The Buddha is surrounded by panels of bodhisattavs, who are doing good work today to become Buddha, and the statutes of ten disciples who were taught by Buddha when he was alive, engraved along the rotunda wall. Right behind the Buddha statute stands the graceful Eleven-faced Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Kim Al-ji’s birth place who was the progenitor of a Kim clan
Gyerim Forest is a pristine place where a legend has it that the progenitor of Gyeongju Kim clan, Kim Al-ji was born. The forest is located halfway between Cheomseongdae and Banwolseong in Gyeongju, and a brook murmurs through the forest. It is surrounded by wetlands, and because trees were not recklessly cut down, the lush forest looks just as it did in the old days. The Name of Gyerim was given as a cock allegedly crowed in the forest.
It is Historic Site No. 19, and maple, zelkova and other trees have been standing there since the founding of Silla.
The Oldest Existing Astronomical Observatory in Asia
Constructed during the reign of Silla Queen Seon-deok (632-647), Cheomseongdae Observatory, designated as a national treasure no. 31, allows us to appreciate the level of science during the Silla Kingdom. At the top of the observatory, there is a two-tiered gidan, or a stone platform in the shape of the Chinese letter “井”(jeong, meaning a water well). It is presumed that they placed astronomical instruments on it and became the standard of deciding directions, the north, south, east and west. In the agricultural society, astronomy was not only responsible for informing the timing for farming, but also was greatly related to the astrology to tell the fortunes of the state. So it could be assumed that Cheomseongdae must have occupied an important position in the state affairs, and was managed accordingly. Today, it is also recognized as an outstanding structure with aesthetic value. Slightly tilted to the northeast, however, its original form has been well maintained.
Daereungwon Tomb Complex
A Hill with the Spirit of Heavenly Horse
Covered with green grass, the 23 tombs are located in a curved shape. It is not too big or too small to look like a tomb. You would rather feel like you are strolling a back hill in your neighborhood. The tombs built throughout 1,000-year-old Silla’s history are another work of art. The tombs are as beautiful in the nighttime under the mysterious illumination, but it is even more refreshing to stroll around the spacious compound in the morning time through the forest trails of pine trees. The largest of all is Hwagnamdaechong (Great Tomb of Hwangnam) whose double-edged ridge looks like the back of a camel, and Michuwangneung (the Royal Tomb of King Michu), which is recorded as the name “Daereungwon (Hill of a Big Tomb)” in Samguk Sagi, the historical records of the Three Kingdoms, are also good spots to walk around. Yet, the highlight of all is Cheonmachong Tomb (Heavenly Horse Tomb) which is the only place in this complex that allows visitors inside. When the excavation was conducted to study Hwangnamdaechong, a huge amount of historical relics was discovered, stunning the world.
Donggung and Wolji Pond
The height of landscape architecture in the Silla Dynasty
Donggung and Wolji in Gyeongju, which are commonly known as Anapji Pond, is a site of detached royal palace of the Silla Dynasty. As it was used as Donggung for residence of prince with other buildings, banquets were held there on national events to celebrate or to receive important guests. Anapji is not in a big scale, but its indented edge would not allow you to capture the whole view of the pond at a glance no matter where you look, and it gives you a glimpse of sophisticated creativity of Silla people, who designed a small pond to look like an open sea. Artifacts excavated from here amounts to a whopping 30,000 pieces, and 700 masterpieces among them are exhibited in Anapji Hall at the Gyeongju National Museum.
Hahoe Folk Village
Travelling across Time
‘Hahoe’ is a Korean expression, meaning ‘water is flowing around’. It is a name based on the geographical characteristics of this village where the stem of the Nakdongang River flows in an ‘S’ shape. High and green mountains surround the village just like a folding screen. If you go to Andong Hahoe Village, you will feel like you are travelling back to the Joseon Dynasty. Hanok, a Korean traditional house, with an elegant pagoda roof, and Chogajip, a straw-roof cottage, and Todamgil trails, made of earth, are just beautiful.
Dosanseowon Confucian Academy, Andong
Experience the Dignity of Seonbi
Seowon was a private educational institution of the Joseon Dynasty where they performed ancestral rites for admired ancestors and studied Confucianism. Dosanseowon Confucian Academy is also a place where Toegye Yi Hwang, a prominent Korean Confucian scholar, retired to the country and worked for academic researches and trained young scholars. The buildings of Dosanseowon are simple and humbly decorated, rightly reflecting the dignity of Toegye and the attitude of Seonbi (the intellectuals who studied the works of Confucius and Mencius). Even though the Japanese soldiers invaded Dosanseowon during Imjin War, or the 16th Century Japanese Invasions of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, they did not destroy this Confucius Academy where the mortuary of Yi was enshrined because Toegye’s philosophy was also introduced to Japan and greatly admired. Along with Sosuseowon Confucian Academy which enshrines local Confucian scholar An Hyang, Dosanseowon was one of academies that escaped the destruction of such schools during the rule of Heungseon Daewongun, the father of Emperor Gojong.
The Site Chosen by Bonghwang (Phoenix)
The founding story of Bongjeongsa Temple is as beautiful as a poem. It is a temple built in the seat where a paper phoenix folded and blown by Monk Ui-Sang in the Unified Silla Kingdom finally landed. This paper phoenix containing the Buddhist spirit of the Monk nestled itself on a cozy foot of mountain. This temple is filled with antiquity rather glamor, and is as elegant as the graceful figure of phoenix. The compound of the temple that starts from Deokhwiru Pavilion, which replaces the main gate of the temple, can be reached following steep staircases, as if you strive to find the words of Buddha. Consisting of Daeungjeon Hall (Main Dharma Hall), Geuknakjeon Hall (Paradise Hall) and several buildings of Yosachae (Monk’s residence), the temple harbors several treasures that are easy to pass by. Geungnakjeon Hall is the oldest wooden building that survives today in Korea, featuring rough wall spaces and garble roofs.