Mt. Seondosan – 선도산 (Gyeongju)


 The royal tomb of King Beopheung on Mt. Seondosan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Other than the three temples on Mt. Seondosan in Gyeongju, there were five other sites we saw. It really goes to show that Gyeongju has an endless amount of things to see, and most of those are non-touristy location, as well.

The first of these five sites was the Silla Muyeorwangneung. It’s quite a mouthful, I know. What it is is a stele for King Taejong (or Kim Chun Chu), who reigned from 654 A.D. to 661. While King Taejong didn’t unify the Three Kingdoms, he’s believed to have laid the groundwork for the unification of the peninsula through an alliance with Tang China and by defeating the Baekje Kingdom. This stele rests inside a pavilion that shelters the turtle based stele from Mother Nature. The inscribed portion of the stele is missing, but the dragon roof of the structure still remains. Six dragons are inscribed on either side of this top, and they are holding a pearl in their hands. As for the base, the turtle is expertly executed. The front legs have five toes, while there are just four at the rear. This artistically represents the turtle exerting itself and pushing itself forward. Also, the bottom of the jaw is coloured red by the stone’s natural colour to show just how much force the turtle is exerting. All this symbolism is meant to show the social power at this time during the Golden Age of the Silla Kingdom. Behind this stele is the actual tomb of King Taejong. This burial mound is joined by four additional burial mounds that are believed to be King Taejong’s ancestors.

The next place we visited, and after taking a wrong turn on our way to King Beopheung’s royal tomb, was a three tiered stone pagoda from the Unified Silla period. We knew we had taken a wrong turn when we ended up next to a cattle farm. But fortunately for us, we found this emblematic and simplistic pagoda from the Unified Silla period. The pagoda has a double base and it stands 4.6 metres in height. It’s believed that the pagoda was built during the 9th century and belonged to a temple called Aegongsa Temple. Unfortunately, the temple no longer remains; instead, the stoic pagoda is surrounded by beautiful twisting red pines.

Back on the country road, we finally took the right turn and made our way to the royal tomb of King Beopheung. King Beopheung (or Kim Wonjong) reigned from 514 A.D. to 540 A.D., and he’s one of the most important kings in Korean history in the growth and development of Buddhism on the Korean peninsula. It’s during the 15th year of his reign, and after resisting the advances of Buddhism by neighbouring kingdoms for nearly 150 years, that Buddhism was finally named the state religion of the Silla Kingdom as a result of King Beopheung approving it. Additionally, it was during his reign that the first temple, Heungnyunsa Temple (also found in Gyeongju), was founded. The tomb itself can be found past a rice paddy and up a beautiful path lined with twisting red pines and the greenest of grass. The mound itself stands three metres in height and thirteen metres in diametre. The royal tomb is beautifully framed by additional red pines and the tomb’s location is amazingly serene.

The final two places we saw, in a failed attempt to see Seondosa Temple, were the Three Storied Stone Pagoda in Seoak-ri and the Royal Tomb of King Munseong of Silla. The pagoda stands just a little over four metres in height, but the base and the body appear to have been constructed at separate times. It almost appears as though the base were lost or destroyed and an ad hoc one was constructed instead. This base is rather plain in design and not nearly as impressive as the one at the Aegongsa Temple Site. Next to this pagoda are the royal tombs of King Munseong and his royal ancestors. King Munseong reigned from 839 to 859 during the declining years of the Silla Kingdom. His rule was marked by early and active trade and followed by uprisings and rebellions. The tomb itself is beautifully situated on the side of Mt. Seondosan, and it stands 5.5 metres in height and 20.6 metres in diameter. Interestingly and a bit to the left of this royal tombs, there appears to be a commoners tomb with beautiful stone guardians out in front of the burial mound, so have a look.

HOW TO GET THERE: Without a car or a bike, this could be a really long day for you. But to get to the general area of Mt. Seondosan, and from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus #30 to get to the Mt. Seondosan area. After two stops, you can get off at the Seorabeol University dormitory stop. (서라벌 대학 기숙사). From there, you can let the exploring begin. What you’re looking for, if you’re in fact looking for King Beopheung’s grave and the turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong, you’ll need to head south and to the west to locate these hidden gems.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. For the sheer amount of things you can see on Mt. Seondosan, it’s worth the rating it has. However, when you add into the mix the royal tomb of King Beopheung, perhaps the most important royal figure in the development in the spread of Korean Buddhism, as well as the turtle based stele of King Taejong, and you have more than enough reason to venture off the well-worn tourist trail in Gyeongju.


 The burial mound of King Taejong.


 The turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong.


 The reverse angle to this amazing stele.


 The pagoda from the Aegongsa Temple site.


 A different angle with the neighbouring red pines.


 The rice paddy out in front of King Beopheung’s tomb.


 The green grass path that leads up to the royal tomb.


 The first look at the royal burial mound that houses the remains of the Buddhist king, King Beopheung.


 A different look at the serene site.


 The Three Storied Stone Pagoda in Seoak-ri.


 The Royal Tomb of King Munseong


  A look at the older looking guardian statues in front of a person’s burial mound.

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