Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Visiting the Capital of the Silla Kingdom

Long before there was Korea there were three different kingdoms in the region that the North and South Koreans now call home: The Goguryeo to the north, the Baekje to the southwest, and the Silla (pronounced she-lah), which existed from 57 BC - 935 AD, in the middle. Lucky for us, the capital of the Silla, Gyeongju, is a thriving city about 2 hours away from Andong. Even luckier, Sara and I were sent there for a conference on co-teaching last weekend. And I will never turn down a some-expenses-paid vacation.

The conference was fun, but nothing special. It was very similar to orientation in many ways, except that I was able to be there with my co-teacher, which was more fun than helpful. It's good to teach with someone you can call your friend, and not just a colleague. For more details on the conference itself, see Sara's blog (anythingbutsquid.blogspot.com). The conference itself lasted a mere day and a half until Friday afternoon, so Sara and I, along with our good friend Katie, decided to stay in Gyeongju for the remainder of the weekend.

Everything in Korea is old, but Gyeongju is really old. And it's obvious. But it certainly hasn't escaped modernization. For example, outside of our conference hotel room was a view of the stunning Gyeongju Tower, an observation tower in the middle of the Gyeongju Cultural Expo Center.

Though we didn't get to go up in it this time around, it was still cool to see.

While downtown Gyeongju looks basically like every other city in Korea, the one thing that is stunningly unique about this place is the mounds. Oh boy do they have mounds.And mounds.Mounds and mounds of mounds.

What are these oddly shaped hills you say? They are the tombs of literally hundreds of Silla Kingdom kings, queens, and dignitaries. And they were EVERYWHERE. You could not turn a corner in Gyeongju without stumbling head over heals into a giant heap of tombs. Some are more culturally important than others, but they are all equally impressive. What's more, it was all me, Sara, and our friend Katie (pictured above) could do to not run up them and roll down like giddy 4th graders.

Aside from the mounds of kings, there were also mounds with trees.Mounds you could go in.
And mounds you couldn't.
The ones above are the tombs of the founder and first king of the Silla Kingdom as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th kings of the Silla Kingdom. No word on where the 4th king ended up, but in Korea, if they don't talk about it, it can't be pretty.

After Sara, Katie and I were finished investigating all of the tombs, our friend Andrew showed up and we all rented bikes, a popular way to travel around Gyeongju.Our first stop was to Gyeongju's national museum, which was small and unimpressive, but entrance was free so I can't complain. The buildings were certainly cool.
It was also fully equipped for the handicapped, old, and WEAK. I was pretty tired from all that biking. Does that count?After that we stopped off at Anapji pond, which is a man made pond formerly used as a leisure spot by the Silla royalty. Like nearly every important, historical, and beautiful building in Korea, most of the buildings there were destroyed long ago by numerous invasions by the Japanese.
After a long day of biking, we sampled one of the other fine things Gyeongju has going for it.You can sit at home and talk about how you could live without McDonald's all you want, but spend 7 months of your life without a hint of authentic western food, let alone a decent cheeseburger, and then we'll talk. I had McDonald's 3 times in the span of two days, and I don't regret it one bit. My only regret is that we didn't get to visit the Gyeongju KFC.

On our last day in town, Andrew, Katie, Sara and I decided to trek out to the must-not-miss Bulkuksa Temple and Seokguram. The former is considered the No. 1 historical and scenic site in Korea by the Korean government. It was certainly beautiful and scenic, but it was also marred by more tourists than I've seen anywhere in Korea.
The temple wasn't terribly different from many others I've seen before, including in Andong, but it was nestled nicely into a mountain, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And while there were a lot of people (including screaming children) it was still a peaceful and beautiful place to spend the afternoon.
It was especially nice to see it in the fall, since all of the leaves in Korea are now bursting into full color.
Our last stop, Seokguram, is a very old Buddhist grotto which contains an enormous statue of Buddha built into the mountain. Built in the 8th century, it has stood the test of time and now stands as a great monument to Buddhist culture in Korea and around the world. Since we aren't allowed to take pictures of the actual Buddha, I am borrowing this picture from Wikipedia to give you a good view.

Upon leaving the grotto, visitors are met with a spectacular view of the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which was a great site to see right before leaving Gyeongju. It is a good reminder for me that I need to return to this beautiful city.

7 comments:

  1. What a wonderful experience. The beauty of the country continues to be amazing to me. It's hard to beat having a cheeseburger and all the fixin's with friends. The pics are great too!

    AJ

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  2. Great post! And let the record show -- I am not sitting at home talking sbout how I could live without McDonalds! Thanks for sharing your weekend with us in your photos and words! Tim

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  3. Why are you trying to make me learn?

    XD

    It's ok. This old dog is up to learning new tricks.

    Take what you will from that <3

    Great post!

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  4. That was a really awesome post! You took a lot of good photos- I'm glad you got the Expo center, that's a cool one.

    Hehehe, and I think you really captured the spirit of the mounds that were everywhere.

    I'm not sure how to finish writing about this weekend, because I think you covered it beautifully.

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  5. Gteat article and pictures Scott. Korea is truly a beautiful and fascinating country. Love, Dad

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  6. This is role reversal. You gave the educational part and Sara gave the social part. You are a great team.

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