Colonial Korea: The Ancient City of Gyeongju – 경주 (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Wolseong Fortress

A portion of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in Gyeongju from 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The ancient city of Gyeongju is located in the southeastern part of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. Gyeongju has a population over 264,000 people, and it’s the second largest city, by area, in the entire province behind Andong.

Gyeongju was once known as Seorabeol. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdon (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). The Silla Kingdom, at its height, ruled over two-thirds of the entire Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. Gyeongju is known as the “museum without walls” for the nearly 200 Treasures and National Treasures spread throughout its city limits like the famed Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage, and Bunhwangsa Temple.

This article will more narrowly focus on the lesser known and visited sites in Gyeongju. One of these is the Banwolseong Palace Fortress just north of the Gyeongju National Museum. The Banwolseong Palace Fortress means “Half Crescent Moon” and it was first constructed in 101 A.D. It was the second royal palace in Gyeongju behind Geumseong.

Just across the road is Anapji Pond. Anapji Pond is an artificial pond that was first constructed in 674 A.D. by order of King Munmu (r.661-681 A.D.). The pond is located on the northeastern edge of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress site. Its oval shape measures 200 metre across east to west and 180 metres across north to south. The pond was constructed to commemorate the unification of the Silla Dynasty during the previous decade.

To the south of the ancient palace and fortress lies the 494 metre tall Mt. Namsan. With an area of eight kilometres by twelve, as well as over 40 valleys, there are a countless amount of treasures hidden on this sacred landmark.

A pair of these sites can be found along the Samneung Valley. The first of the two, about half way up the valley, is the Seated Stone Buddha. The statue of Seokgamoni-bul appears on a mountainous plateau. Sitting on a beautiful lotus pedestal, this statue was once disfigured with its head broken off and its face in pieces. At first, the statue was slapped together with concrete; but more recently, between 2007 and 2008, it was put back together. While not as beautiful as it once was in ancient times, it looks a lot better than its once deforming make-over. This is Korea’s Treasure #666.

Another site to be enjoyed along the Samneung Valley on the southern side of Mt. Namsan is a little further up the trail from the Seated Stone Buddha. This time, and past the Sangseonam Hermitage, is the Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Now off-limits because of falling debris from the neighbouring mountain, this amazing sculpture stands an impressive seven metres in height. With its panoramic views of the southern parts of Gyeongju, it makes for quite the photo-op. The sculpture dates back to the Silla Dynasty.

Yet another site to be enjoyed on Mt. Namsan is on the northern side of the mountain. Chilbulam Hermitage, known as the “Seven Buddhas Hermitage,” in English, dates back only a hundred years. A nun was hunting for mushrooms on the northern side of Mt. Namsan, when by mere chance she stumbled upon a pair of statues that make up the seven Buddhas statues. They were buried in the ground, so she dug them up. Now, Chilbulam Maae Stone Buddha is National Treasure #312. The stone statues date back to the 8th century. As for the temple itself, Chilbulam Hermitage’s main hall, Samseong-gak and dorms date back to 2009. Above the hermitage is Treasure #199, which is a 1.4 metre tall cliff-side carving of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Anapji - 1916

The beautiful Anapji Pond next to the Banwolseong Palace Fortress also from 1916.

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The mountainous terrain where the Banwolseong Palace Fortress is located.

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And another view of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress from 1916.

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The view from Mt. Namsan in southern Gyeongju from 1916.

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A look up towards the peaks of Mt. Namsan in 1916, as well.

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The Seated Stone Buddha of Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul on Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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Part of National Treasure # 312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 1917.

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Another part of the famed statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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A look towards the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in 2006.

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As well as Anapji Pond from 2006.

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Another beautiful look at Anapji Pond from 2011.

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The view from Mt. Namsan from 2013.

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Another scenic look down from Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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One last look down Mt. Namsan at Gyeongju.

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The Seated Stone Buddha on Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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Further up the valley is this Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in 2013.

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A closer look at the off-limits statue.

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Part of National Treasure #312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 2013.

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And another look at the statues at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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