Gyeongju was the capital of Silla, which, two thousand years ago, was a Korean kingdom located in the southern and central parts of what is now Korea. At one time, Silla was a wealthy country and Gyeongju was the fourth largest city in the world.
Some of the remains of the Silla kingdom still exist and parts of Gyeongju are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
For my first full day in Gyeongju, I walked around one of the World Heritage Sites: the Gyeongju Historic Areas. I first went to the Daereungwon Tomb Complex.
At the tomb complex, for much of the time, I walked around what was a pleasant park and some large grassy knolls, wondering where the tombs were. It was only when I entered Cheonmacong Tomb that I realised that the grassy knolls were the tombs! They have wooden chambers and stone mounds. Various artifacts are sometimes in the tombs.
Cheonmacong Tomb is the only tomb on the site open to the public.
When it was excavated in 1973, a gold crown, bracelets and other possessions were found.
My next stop was the observatory, which was built in the seventh century and
is widely acknowledged to be the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. In ancient societies, tracking the movement of celestial bodies was of great political importance because astronomical observations served as a guideline for farming as well as a means to foresee the country’s fortune. The structure consists of a square base, a main section, and a top. The main section is made of square-cut stones stacked in 27 tiers which form a curved cylindrical column. On top of this, eight long rectangular stones are stacked in two tiers to create a square frame that resembles the top of a well. Inside, the column is filled with gravel and soil up until the 12th tier of stones, above which it is hollow. There is a square hole on the south side between the 13th and 15th tiers. It is presumed that this hole served as an entrance and was accessed with a ladder, and that once inside, another ladder was used to reach the top where the observations were made. Other theories suggest that this structure might have been used as an altar, a religious symbol, or a commemorative monument.
I also went to a palace and, further away, the spectacular Woljeonggyo bridge. It was originally built during the Silla period (AD 676-935) but was burnt down. After research, the reconstruction began in 2008, finally opening in 2018. The bridge was the first time I’d seen a temple-like structure spanning a river.
I walked across the stepping-stones to get a photo from the centre of the river and to walk back along the bridge.
I’d seen on the map given to me by the hostel owner that there was a complex consisting of traditional Korean houses. I could see the houses, but it took me a while to find out how to get within their surrounding wall. When I did, I suspected others had the same difficulty because there was no one else there!