Korea: Part I

I’ve resolved to be better about getting to bed at a reasonable hour, but that’s not helping me write blog entries. Oh well. I’ll have to talk about my trip to Korea in parts.


My first stop in Korea was the city of Gyeongju. Gyeongju was the capital of the kingdom of Silla, which formed in the late 1st Century BC, unified most the Korean peninsula in the mid-7th Century, and lasted until 938. Today, Gyeongju is a mostly boring, large town/small city that retains only traces of its illustrious past. It feels like a cross between Spokane and Ellensburg, but just happens to be 2,000 years-old, has some significant temples in the hills, and is dotted with ancient burial mounds.

Gyeongju’s biggest draw is probably Bulguksa, a Buddhist temple founded in 751. The original wooden buildings were all burned down during the Japanese invasion of the 1590s, but they’ve been faithfully reconstructed. When I was there, the place was filled with hundreds of school kids on a field trip, which is a sure way of removing any solemnity from a historic site, but at least they were well behaved, aside from being really noisy.

Anyway, this is the entrance to the compound.


From what I saw throughout my trip, old-style tiled roofs in Korea are always bowed like this. Japanese tiled roofs, on the other hand, have much straighter “spines,” although the eaves are often curved. There are some other architectural differences, too, as well as more use of stone. Korean temples are also more colorfully painted than their Japanese counterparts.

Bulguksa Closeup

In particular, the predominance of blue and green is not something I’ve seen in Japanese temples.

A nifty drum.

Bulguksa Drum

I think this is a bell striker, now decommissioned. [edit: this itself is a bell, like a musical wood block]

Bulguksa Fish


About an hour’s hike from Bulguksa, up into the low-lying mountains, is Seokguram Grotto. Built in the mid 8th Century, Seokguram Grotto is Gyeongju’s other major attraction.

This is the grotto from the outside.


And this is the inside.

Seokguram Buddha

Photography isn’t allowed in the grotto, so I got this picture from Wikipedia.


And here’s another picture that I didn’t take myself.

Gyeongju Tumuli

These are some of the burial mounds that are scattered throughout Gyeongju. I accidentally left my camera in a coin locker when I went to look at them. Wikipedia to the rescue, once again.


More later.


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7 Responses to “Korea: Part I”

  1. Nicole Says:

    Korean temples are definitely more colorful, at least from the ones you have shown us so far. (and of course I approve of the blue and green!) I like the wooden pole-like stair rails in the first picture. Regarding the burial mounds – do they just heap or stack bodies or is there some kind of enclosing – and then when do they decided to mound it up and move on to another one?

  2. kevinjames Says:

    The railings are stone, actually. I think they’re even original.

    As for the burial mounds, I guess I left out an important bit of information. They are *royal* burial mounds. Each one is a single tomb. Some mounds are in pairs; a mound for the king and one for the queen.

  3. Nicole Says:

    Stone?! Okay, that is impressive!!! And, they do lindeed look old. And those mounds being single tombs each makes much more sense then where I went with it….so then how exactly are the royal ones placed in the mounds?

  4. kevinjames Says:

    As I understand it, the tombs inside the mounds come in a variety of different styles. Some have a stone chamber with paintings on the walls, but those might only be found elsewhere in Korea. The mounds in Gyeongju mostly have wooden chambers or jar-coffins, with stones stacked around them. The dead aren’t embalmed, but they are buried with loot (swords, jewelry, horse trappings, etc).

  5. Nicole Says:

    are the insides made to be accessible or did they find out the details by breaking into them?

  6. Barthe Says:

    I saw a movie that was based in Japan. It showed a long road with a train moving on it. On each side were buildings. There was no space between the buildings as there would be here. The only open space I saw in the whole movie was around a temple. I assumed this was because Japan is small with a large population.


  7. kevinjames Says:

    The mounds aren’t made to be accessible, so archaeologists dug them up and then put ground back after they were finished.

    Japan is certainly crowded, but it’s not that bad everywhere. Out of curiosity, do you remember the name of the movie?

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