Gyeongju is a very historical place, and so today we visited sites that were part of the ancient Silla empire. We began the day with Daereungwon Tomb Complex, which was very different from my visits to graveyards back home. In Silla times, prominent people were buried under gigantic mounds of stone and clay – from the outside, they’re covered in grass and look like artificial hills. These extravagant structures prevented thieves from entering the tombs, a necessary precaution considering that people were buried with a mass of gold, jewelry, and other valuables. A person’s wealth was also displayed by how many servants were killed and buried with them, in order to serve them in the afterlife. In some tombs, the number was over thirty.
We then visited a nearby bridge that served as a connection between the royal palace grounds and the surrounding town. Apparently, in ancient times, a young man who was in love with the princess purposefully fell off the bridge into the river. When the princess heard about it, she invited him inside to dry off and they ended up falling in love.
The bridge may serve as a reminder of ancient times and stories, but our tour guide explained that we were actually visiting a full-scale replica. The original bridge was destroyed during one of the many times Korea was invaded, and a detailed replacement was built only recently. This was not our first time visiting a historic site that had to be rebuilt due to past invasion and violence – and although I was aware of Korea’s turbulent past, I definitely did not expect these many sites to be painstakingly reconstructed. I think this sends a message about how much Korea values its history – I am not sure if America would go to such lengths to rebuild ancient buildings and structures.
We wrapped up our cultural tour with a visit to a Buddhist temple. Incidentally, this temple is only open for one day a year on Buddha’s birthday, and we were able to go. After a short, peaceful hike, we arrived at the temple, which overlooks a stunning view of the mountains.