Today was filled with cultural visits in the ancient city of Gyeongju. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Dynasty which lasted from 57 BC – 935 AD . It is filled with thousand-year-old cultural sites and it is considered a world heritage sites by UNESCO. We started of at the Daereungwon Tomb Complex. This is the site of the ancient tombs of the Silla dynasty and the tombs look like big grass mounds from the outside. It contains about 50 tombs of kings, queens, and other important people of the period. The tombs contained the grave of the deceased along with a box of important artifacts. The grave and box was then surrounded by stones and made into the mound shapes. People believe there was no accessible entrance and surrounded by rocks to prevent grave robbers. It is believed it actually worked because when the Korean government excavated it they found a dead body in the rocks. We were able to walk into the Cheonmachong Tomb which was excavated in 1973 and a gold crown, bracelets, and other relics were found. Out of all 50 tombs located in this area only three of them have actually been excavated.
We then moved on to the Dongbu historic area and more specifically we looked at the Cheomseongdae Observatory. This historic structure dates back to the 7th century and is the oldest astronomical observations in Asia. What’s interesting is it points straight at the Big Dipper because they believed this was the most important star constellation. Additionally, the shadow of the observatory was used as a sundial.
We then walked to an ancient bridge that was used by the royalty family whenever they would leave their palace and go into town.
After that we jumped back onto the bus and headed to the Gyeongju National Museum. This museum focused all on the Silla Dynasty. It went through the whole history of the dynasty and incorporated all of the artifacts that had been recovered during all the excavations.
After a busy morning we headed to lunch for a break. Our lunch was delicious and included all types of food like a crab soup, beef, pork, and some stuff I had no idea what it was.
After our break we had a packed afternoon and got on the bus to go to the Wolji Pond and Gyeongju Donggung Palace. This was built in 674 AD and was used for banquets and royal events. The pond was man-made and contained three small islands in it. During the excavation of this site, which was abandoned after the fall of the Silla Dynasty, 33,000 relics was found. One of the relics found was this 14 sided dice that was used during these royal events. It was used as a fun game where a person would roll it and have to do what is said. One example was drink 3 glasses of wine.
We once again got onto the bus and drove to the Seokguram Grotto which was situated on top of a big mountain. This World Heritage Site is a Buddhist temple that dates back to 751 AD. It is an extremely old temple and has a 3.5 meter tall Bonjon statue. What was extremely lucky for us is that one day a year the temple is open to the public, on Buddha’s birthday, and this happened to be today. We were able to walk into the temple, but first we had to take our shoes off, and we got to see this incredibly nice temple that was situated into the mountain and had this extremely old Buddha statue. I even got to christen a Buddha by pouring water on this baby Buddha statue.
For our last stop of this very busy day we went to the Bulguksa Temple. This is the most famous temple in all of Korea and is situated at the bottom of the same mountain. The site is 2563 years old but some of the buildings have been rebuilt because of all the destruction during the Japanese invasion. We were able to walk around this beautiful area and look at all these ancient sites.
It was incredible how we were walking around thousand year old areas that were here way before the creation of the United States. When you compare the countries the United States is so young. You can understand how after so many years the sites are destroyed but how well the temples have been maintained and that we still can rebuild them to how they look blows my mind. It was a very successful day and it was filled with some great history.