Gyeongju, South Korea – A walk on the wild side
Home » Downloads » asia » Gyeongju, South Korea – A walk on the wild side

Unification-Hall-image-credit-Mark-Andrews

Gyeongju, in South Korea, shares a great cultural heritage with the cities of Xi’An in China, Nara in Japan and Pompeii in Italy.

For almost a millennium it was the capital of first the Silla kingdom, and later the whole Korean peninsular. After the conquest by Goguryo in 918AD, Gyeongju became somewhat of a provincial backwater. Pillaged by Mongol and Japanese invaders, today’s invaders have more gentle intentions.

Eight million visitors reach Gyeongju annually. Most tourists inspect the central area encompassing Tumuli Park, Cheomseongdae (a stone observatory), Anapji Pond and the National Museum before moving on to Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto. Satisfied, they board their tour buses bound for Seoul or Busan. Yet just an extra day allows a much more tranquil and fulfilling experience.

Tomb Raiders

Gyeongju is a city of tombs, and the most visited ones are in Tumuli Park. It contains 20 tombs and is indeed impressive. However, with the city and surrounding area littered with tombs it doesn’t take that much searching to find a nearly deserted one.

Within easy reach of Bulguksa Temple, but well off the tourist circuit is Kwaenung Tomb. Seen from above it looks like a light bulb cut into the surrounding woodland.

Larger than life statues guard the thin tree lined strip leading to the tomb. The first facing pair are fearsome warriors each with one hand clasped in a fist and the other clutching a sword. Their wavy hair, heavy beards and prominent noses look curiously alien to Korea. In fact the statues represent Persian mercenaries who served the Silla court.

The next pair is far less menacing civil officials. Taking you up to the tomb are two pairs of lions. A stone girdle decorated with the weathered signs of the Chinese zodiac holds in the tomb’s waist. Little flowers poke through the grassy dome. The name Kwaenung means “suspended tomb” and legend says that the body of the king, believed to be King Wonsung (38th King of the Silla Kingdom), was suspended over a pond.

Two tombs situated on the west side within easy reach of central Gyeongju are those of lifelong friends King Muyeol and General Kim Yu-shin. King Muyeol started the Korean unification process that was completed by his son King Munmu. General Kim was the military leader for both monarchs.

King Muyeol’s Tomb is nestled in a pine wood at the foot of Mount Sondosan. Under his reign (654-661) Silla conquered the Baekje Kingdom which had been plotting with Goguryo against Silla. Near the entrance a stone tortoise lives in a small building. This large monument is beautifully lifelike with a hexagonal armour plated shell.

Originally it carried a stone tablet but now just the lower capstone portion remains with its three pairs of intertwined dragons. The base of the tomb itself was reinforced with stones. Today only the larger stones remain. Four more large tombs lie beyond the coppice holding King Muyeol’s Tomb.

The households of King Muyeol and General Kim were very much intertwined. Boyhood friends Muyeol latter married Kim’s sister, Munhee. One time the two boys were playing an active sport when the young prince’s jacket tore and Kim took him back to his house to get it repaired. After the elder of his two sisters was too shy to come out to repair it, his younger one did so. On seeing her it was love at first sight for Muyeol. The two started seeing each other and soon Munhee was pregnant. Kim discovering his sister’s pregnancy decided to burn her as an example to immoral women and made a funeral pyre. Queen Seonduk saw the smoke rising and discovered the story and her nephew, Muyeol’s involvement. She ordered him to go to rescue her and they later married. Their first son became King Munmu.

General Kim Yu-shin’s tomb is more elaborate than his monarch’s, but it is much smaller and situated on Songhwa Mountain, overlooking Gyeongju City. There is some dispute as to whether the tomb really is the General’s because of its position and ornateness. Citizens weren’t allowed such an elaborate tomb. However, some articles found in the area confirm that it is the general’s. While the tomb has a stone belt featuring the signs of the zodiac the well preserved figures show the animals in civilian costume whereas on the tombs of kings they normally wear military uniform. The 42nd ruler, Hungdok, posthumously awarded the General the title King Hungmu.

Lost World

Walking into Yangdong is like going through a time warp. The village, established in the 15th and 16th centuries, dates from the Joseon Dynasty. Today around 150 homes, mostly belonging to the Son and Lee families, remain in much their original state of glory.  Isolated in the countryside around 20km from Gyeongju it is well off the tourist circuit. The village features houses of the yangbang class - a hereditary nobility class based on scholarship. ...


(1576 WORDS)


See more stories by Mark.


Attached Files

stone-tortoise-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
stone-tortoise-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
sochulji-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
sochulji-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
namsan-2-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
namsan-2-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
namsan-1-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
namsan-1-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-warrior-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-warrior-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-official-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-official-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
kwaenung-tomb-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-3-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-3-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-2-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-2-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-1-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
yangdong-1-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
Unification-Hall-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
Unification-Hall-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
tomb-sunset-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
tomb-sunset-image-credit-Mark-Andrews.jpg
Gyeongju-A-Walk-on-the-Wild-Side-.rtf
Gyeongju-A-Walk-on-the-Wild-Side-.rtf