Museum Without Walls
Gyeongju(or Kyongju) is home to quite a number of magnificent examples of Korean palaces, temples, pagodas, paintings and sculptures. The city has thousands of buildings and relics that give you a glimpse of the glory of the Shilla Kingdom which existed for more than a thousand years. After all, Kyongju was the capital of the Shilla Kingdom.
At Kyongju, you will find a great concentration of favorite tourist destinations, all delightfully preserved due to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as one of Korea’s National Heritage sites. It was also named among the ten most historically significant sites in the world.
Sites that you should not miss include the Tumuli Park, where you can see 20 royal tombs (rounded structures that rise up like little hills). These tombs hark back from the Shilla era. Located right in the middle of Kyongju, this park also houses the Flying Horse Tomb, the most famous of the Shilla tombs in the park. This tomb had over 10,000 treasures which are now to be found in Korea’s museums, particularly the Kyongju National Museum. At the foothills of Mount Sondo is another tomb – King Muyol’s tomb, which harks back to 661 A.D. There is also another unique tomb, the Tomb of King Munmu, to be found east of Kyongju. The tomb is a one-of-a-kind underwater crypt that was built back in the 7th century.
Near Tumuli Park, you will see one of the world’s oldest observatories – the Chomsongdae Observatory. Be enthralled with its design. The observatory is replete with symbolisms – shapes and stones representing months and days, earth and heaven. You should also take a spin along the Kyongju Folk Crafts Village. See how the locals create the souvenirs you can buy at great prices.
Aside from this, there is also the Pulguksa Temple, a favorite tourist haunt that is a fine specimen of the Shilla architect’s skill, artistry and devotion to Buddha and Buddhism. This temple is located at Mount Tohamsan, on its western slope. The temple’s wooden structures have since been rebuilt, but the stone structures such as the pagodas, stone bridges and stairways are still in their original state. You should also see the Sokkuram Grotto, which is a fantastic Buddhist shrine, among the best in Asia. In this grotto, you will see the huge 8th century stone Buddha sitting serenely and looking out over the hills and into the horizon. It has an impressive granite dome. You can also relax and take in the scenery at Anapji Pond – the royal pleasure garden where the nobility entertained important visitors.
Do drop by the National Museum which holds some 80,000 artifacts. These were taken from the different Shilla sites in Kyongju. Outside the museum stands the largest bell in Asia. The Emile Bell is all of 3 meters high and weighs 25 tons. There is also Mt. Nam, which contains some 80 Buddhist statues, 60 stone pagodas and around 100 temple sites. Mt. Nam is in the southern boundary of Kyongju.
Even without the historic and cultural sights, Kyongju is still a treasure with its lovely environment – a valley flanked by mountains with a stream flowing in the valley’s center.
Strolling the streets of Kyongju is like being inside a humongous open-air museum. Most of the popular sites are within walking distance of the other.