Gyeongju Stories and Tips

From Cheomseongdae to Bunhwangsa

Gyeongju Photo, Gyeongju, South Korea

Start from Cheomseongdae, a granite observatory shaped like an upturned beer glass. The square base is made of twelve large stones representing the months and seasons, while the 366 stones above are divided into 30 levels, one for each day of the year and lunar month.

Turn right onto the path running away from the observatory, passing the Tomb of King Naemul – a mound rising out of grass cropped like a golf fairway – on the way to Gyerim Forest.

A right turn immediately after the entrance to Gyerim leads to a 16th century Confucian school and a small village. One of the houses has been turned into a restaurant called Yuseokgung. Private dining rooms are set round an inner courtyard, Gayagum music and the smell of pine drifting through the lattice doors. The meal for two was big enough for at least twice as many people, the twenty-five dishes including mountain vegetables, pork and beef, octopus, jellyfish and shark, followed by a dessert of cinnamon tea and fruit.

From the village, backtrack to Gyerim and take the large path on the left towards Banwolseong. Once part of an ancient royal castle, all that remains now is a few scattered stones poking out of the overgrown grass, a small section of boundary wall, and an old ice store with an arched ceiling covered by grass. Steps lead down to a main road and Anapji Pond, two hundred meters to the right.

Anapji was built in 674 to celebrate the unification of the peninsula. The large lotus pond was designed in the shape of the new kingdom, artificial islands in the centre populated with rare and exotic animals, and an 83-metre-long conduit built to carry rainwater from the pavilion roofs to the pond. The conduit is still visible today, along with three reconstructed pavilions at the water’s edge and a scale model of the original complex.

Exiting Anapji, walk left along the main road in the direction of the Museum, then take the first road on the left and cross over the railway tracks. A three-tier stone pagoda in the rice paddies to the right marks the site of the ancient Mitansa Temple. On the other side of some agricultural buildings, massive foundation stones are all that remain of Hwangnyongsaji Temple, which once covered an area of 2500 square meters. Destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century, archaeologists recovered over 40,000 items from the site.

Bunhwangsa Temple is a further couple of hundred meters further along the main track from Anapji. Korea’s oldest definitively dated pagoda stands in its courtyard, a three-tier structure built of cut stones that resemble modern day bricks. The pagoda was rebuilt in 1915, the stones from the remainder of the original nine tiers piled around its base. Stone lions guard each corner of the pagoda, and doors on each of the sides of the first tier are flanked by carved guardian figures.

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