Ancient Royal Tombs, an old astronomical observatory, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, in Gyeongju, South Korea
The city of Gyeongju is the heart of the ancient Silla culture of Korea.
The Silla Dynasty era stretched from 57 BC– 935 AD. (The name is pronounced Shilla, and it is also spelled Shilla sometimes).
Archeological excavations have found artifacts in this area dating much earlier than the Silla dynasty, to 8000 years BC.
We saw some artifacts from the bronze age and even from the stone age.
The royal tombs are an astonishing site.
They are so numerous that they seem to be a normal, almost an unnoticed part of the contemporary city.
The royal tombs look from the outside like large mounds or perfectly rounded hills.
Some of the mounds measure as much as 50 meters in diameter and are 12 meters tall.
There are around 200 tombs in this area.
Many of the tombs have not been excavated, and what treasure might be inside is still a mystery today.
While we walked around the numerous tombs, I felt so curious about what untold treasures and stories those unopened tombs might contain….
These tombs reminded me of the royal burial tombs that we saw along the Silk road in China.
We were only able to enter one tomb, called the “Tomb Of The Heavenly Horse.”
It got its name after a mudflap adorned with a painting of a celestial horse or a unicorn motif was found in it.
These tombs were constructed in an elaborate way to ensure that no grave robbers would loot them.
The chamber of the tombs were covered with large stones that would collapse on themselves if a robber tried to dig in.
The exterior of the stones was sealed with mud and covered with soil.
The inner chamber contained a lacquered wooden coffin in which was placed the body, and a large amount of the royal’s personal belongings, as well as other precious items that were believed to be able to secure the departed a better place in the after life, were placed around the body.
A total of 11,500 artifacts were recovered from the Heavenly Horse tomb.
We saw gold ornaments, personal daggers, beautiful pottery, personal articles, jewelry, royal crowns, gold belts and much more.
Most of them are now on display in the local museum, which we visited with great interest on a rainy day.
Around the historic park of Gyeongju, we saw the Silla observatory, which is a stone tower built from 365 stones, one for each day of the year.
There is a small window through which the person observing the stars entered.
The window was built at the 12th level, one for each month of the year.
The Silla dynasty people had set their eyes on the stars to try and predict the future, to find answers to the mysteries in life, as other people throughout history have done all over the world.
In one of the many bakeries in the little city, we bought the local “bread” which is made from barley, and looks and tastes more like two small pancakes stacked together with red bean paste between them.
There is also another version of this local bread that is just filled with red bean paste and is a bit sweeter and more dense.
Both were rather nice.
Up on the mountain above the city of Gyeongju sits the beautiful temple of Bulguksa.
This large temple complex was built in the 8th century by an aristocrat who built the temple in honor of his parents.
He also built the Seokguram Grotto which is located farther up the mountain, in honor of his parents in his previous life.
Both places today are UNESCO world heritage sites.
The drive up the mountain was beautiful.
Red maples and blooming cherry trees dotted the green slopes with bursts of color.
We parked at the Grotto, and after a visit (sorry, no photos were allowed), we walked down the steep and beautiful forest path (of about 450 steps) to Bulgaksa temple.
We toured the temple with our UNESCO audio guide which I had downloaded onto my iPad, and then we walked back up the mountain to our car, which by that time, was the only car left in the parking lot.
We encountered many large groups of school kids in the grotto and around the temple.
One group of boys came to me and asked:
“Where are you from?”
I answered, “America.”
They said with enthusiasm: “We LOVE America! America number One! Go USA!”
Then they asked what is my name
I said: “Suzy” (knowing they would never be able to pronounce Tali).
They were unable to pronounce Suzy as well.
Some said “Suki,” others said “Suchi”…
Then one of the boys said: “You are absolutely gorgeous!”
I laughed, thanked them, and I found myself wondering where did they learn to to say this phrase… Perhaps from watching romantic movies or dramas on TV?…..
It made me chuckle that they did not realize that it was not the kind of line that a ten years old throws to a woman that could be his grandmother….
But it was cute and endearing.
We chose to stay in two places during our stay in Gyeongju.
We spent two nights in the comfortable Suites Hotel on Bomun lake, where we got a lovely suite room with sculptures, with a glass wall opening to a large free standing bath, and with a large bed with luxurious bedding and a great shower.
Tomorrow we are moving to a local guesthouse, and we plan to continue to explore more of the sites that this historically rich area has to offer.