We spent today in Gyeongju, the capital of the Silla dynasty in Korea which started in the southeast in 57 B.C.E. and expanded from there through 668 C.E. There are two parts to Gyeongju – the old town and the new town. The new town is where most people live now, while the old town is where we spent most of our day learning about the Silla dynasty and Korean history. Our tour guide told us that there are extraordinarily strict construction rules within the old town not just aesthetically but also even on any minor repairs that need to be done because every time they break ground, they find more artifacts. This became apparent throughout our visits to various historical sites which were full items from every time period.
The first place we visited was the Daereungwon Tomb Complex which was the royal cemetery in the fourth through sixth centuries. Three of the tombs there were excavated, and we were able to walk through one of them. Instead of being buried in the ground, people then were placed on the ground with belongings and sometimes servants for the afterlife, and then a mound was built on top of them using stones, clay and then soil. This, we learned, prevented robbery because the tomb could then only be opened from the top which would be visible to everyone. Apparently when they excavated one of the tombs, they found the remains of a would-be robber who tried to open the tomb from the side and was killed by the stones collapsing on him. It was fascinating to see the similarities between the burial grounds in the Silla dynasty and what I have learned of ancient Egyptian tombs like the pyramids – both above the ground and built up into a monument of sorts, and both bringing everything they thought they would need in an afterlife with them – even though these areas were so far from each other.
Later in the day we continued to learn about the Silla dynasty through visits to Cheomseongdae Observatory and the Gyeongju National Museum. We also visited two of the most significant Buddhist temples in South Korea – Seokguram and Bulguska Buddhist Temple – where we continued to learn about the influence of Buddhism in the area.