Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt.1 – 삼릉골 (Gyeongju)

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The Headless Mireuk-bul Statue in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long wanted to visit Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, for many, many years, but for whatever reason never got around to it in ten years. Well, I was finally able to rectify that short-coming when I visited this past week.

The Samneung Valley, which means “Three Tombs’ Valley,” in English, is situated on the western side of Mt. Namsan. From the parking lot (which has bathroom and a visitors’ centre with maps), to the top, it’s about 1.5 kilometres, and it takes about an hour to travel. During this time, you’ll see plenty of shrines, statues, and even a hermitage, along the way. The trail starts off rather easy, and it gets more and more steep as you near the summit.

The first thing you’ll see along the way, and just 250 metres in, are three burial mounds for which the valley gets its name: Samneung Valley. Slightly to the right, and a little off the trail, you’ll see the three burial mounds fenced off through a forest of red pines. The first mound of the three houses the earthly remains of King Adalla (r. 154 A.D. to 184 A.D.) during the Silla Kingdom. During his reign, Silla continued to expand. The second burial mound belongs to King Sindeok, who reigned from 912 A.D. to 917 A.D. King Sindeok, during his reign, was constantly at war with his western neighbours. In addition, King Sindeok’s burial mound is the largest of the three with a circumference of 61 metres and a height of 5.8 metres. The final burial mound is that of King Gyeongmyeong (r. 917 A.D. to 924 A.D.), and he was the third last king of the Silla Kingdom.

Continuing up the trail, which includes a wooden boardwalk in part, and you’ll next come to the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue. From the tombs to the statue, it takes about 15 minutes, or 400 metres. This statue use to be buried in the valley, but was later placed in its present location. It stands 1.6 metres tall and is missing both its head and hands. The most impressive feature about this statue are the finely sculpted details of the monks’ clothes that he’s wearing. This statue is datable to the Unified Silla Period.

Next to this statue, and up the mountain to the left, is the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face. Only 50 metres away from the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, it’s hard to miss. This image stands 1.55 metres tall and is slightly elevated off the ground. The right hand of Gwanseeum-bosal is raised, while the left is holding a bottle. And on her head, she wears a beautiful crown. What is most interesting about this statue, and through the natural colours of the stone that it’s carved from, is that its mouth is coloured red. While it isn’t exactly known when this sculpture was carved, it’s estimated to be from the Unified Silla Period.

Getting back to the main trail, and walking up it an additional 200 metres, you’ll next come to the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. The triad to the left, and the one you’ll first see when you first arrive at these carvings, is four metres tall and wide. The central figure is standing on a lotus base with his right hand raised, while his left hand is placed over his stomach. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas are kneeling, appearing as though they serve the central Buddha. It appears as though these two Bodhisattva statues are holding up flowers to the Buddha. And the statue to the right is slightly larger than the one to the left with the dimensions of four metres tall and seven metres wide; however, this triad doesn’t seem to have weathered the passage of time quite as well. The central Buddha image appears to be Amita-bul based on his mudra, and he is surrounded by a halo of light, as he sits on a lotus. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas, which appear to be Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal, stand firmly by Amita-bul’s side.

The second part of Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan will appear next week.

For the Story of Samneung Valley.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Samneung Valley, on Mt. Namsan, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once in Gyeongju, and at the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch either bus #502 or #504 across from the terminal. Just make sure with the driver that they’re heading in that direction. So simply ask, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” in Korean. You can either take the bus or you can get a taxi to take you. Again, simply say, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” and the driver will do the rest. In total, the trip should cost you about 8,000 won. From where both the bus or the taxi drops you off, the large trail head opposite the parking lot for Samneung Valley should be obvious.

View Samneung Valley, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Mt. Namsan has earned its nicknamed as the “outdoor museum.” And nowhere is this better suited than with the Samneung Valley and its multiple statues, shrines, and hermitage. In combination, it’s really hard to beat. There’s little else to say about this part of Gyeongju then to say, that unless you’ve visited Mt. Namsan, you really haven’t visited Gyeongju at all.

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The view from the parking lot at Samneung Valley up at Mt. Namsan.
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A look at the three tombs at the trail head for which the valley gets its name: Samneung-gol.
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And a look through a pair of twisted pines before I was off again on my hike through the valley.
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And for a small portion of the hike, you even get a bit of a boardwalk.
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The second site up the trail is the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue.
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Whether it was damaged by the Japanese or Korean Neo-Confucianists is unclear.
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To the left of the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue is this Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face.
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A better look at Gwanseeum-bosal with a bottle in her left hand and her right hand held towards her chest.
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A closer look at the pink lipped Bodhisattva.
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The fourth site along this trail are these pair of rocks that display the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. This can be a bit hard to see, but with a bit better look, you can see the masterful sculptures.
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A look to the left reveals a standing Buddha with a pair of Bodhisattvas at his side.
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A closer look at one of the flower offering Bodhisattvas. To the left of his head you can see his arms and the flowers he is offering.
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The triad of carvings to the right. In the centre is a seated Amita-bul with a pair of standing Bodhisattvas at his side.
DSC_1140A closer look at Amita-bul that sits in the centre of the triad to the right.

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