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Arts & crafts Gyeongju history Ruins & remains tombs

The Tou (토우): Mysterious Burial Figurines of the Early Silla Dynasty

Tou Figurines (image from heritagechannel.tv)

Tou Figurines (image from heritagechannel.tv)

If you take a stroll down the Bonhwang-ro street of traditional crafts and culture in downtown Gyeongju, you’ll probably notice a series of odd-looking stone sculptures depicting amorphous animals and lumpy  people with exceedingly large genitalia.  You’d probably be forgiven for assuming the city government has wasted the local taxpayers’ money on some abstract and tasteless public art.  In reality, these odd sculptures are actually enlargements of several “Tou” (토우); miniature clay figurines made during the Silla peoples in the 4th and 5th centuries.  These figures actually served funerary vessels and were unearthed from early Silla tombs by the hundreds and they now make up one of the more interesting permanent exhibitions at the Gyeongju National Museum. read more »

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Video: Buddha’s Birthday at Bulguksa, Tongdosa and Sinseonsa Temples

 

Since we’ve been on the topic of Buddha’s Birthday lately, I thought I’d post a few HD videos shot at a few of the Buddhist temples around Gyeongju this year on Buddha’s Birthday, aka Seokga Tansinil (석가탄신일). Rob Fioretta, my coworker at Gyeongju University, was kind enough to share with me the video he took of the lantern parade at Gyeongju’s famous and historical Bulguksa (불국사) Temple that night. The lantern parade on Buddha’s Birthday is my favorite time to visit Bulguksa (in fact, it’s one of the few times it’s not filled with hoards of screaming school kids and bus tours) and the atmosphere there is very magical. I’ve been three times since I moved to Gyeongju, though I haven’t shot any new video since 2008. The quality of that old video is pretty lo-fi, so thanks Rob for the update ;-) read more »

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Buddha’s Birthday at Sinseonsa (신선사) Temple on Mt. Danseoksan (단석산)

Miruk Grotto at Sinseonsa Temple, Mt. Danseoksan, Gyeongju

Miruk Grotto at Sinseonsa Temple, Mt. Danseoksan, Gyeongju

Like many things in Gyeongju, I’ve been meaning to write about Mt. Danseoksan for a while, but I’ve been too busy to get around to it.  However, celebrating Buddha’s Birthday, or Seokga Tansinil (석가탄신일), yesterday at the ancient stone grotto of Mirukgul (미룩굴) on Mt. Danseokan has given me the best reason I’m probably going to get.  Located about 10 km south-west of Gyeongju City, Mt. Danseoksan is officially part of Gyeongju National Park and is famous for its history, legends and natural beauty.  Literally meaning “Split Rock Mountain,” Mt. Danseoksan is, in fact, named after one such ancient story involving the famed Silla general Kim Yu-sin. read more »

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Gyeongju Videos on the Korean Heritage Channel

 

The other day I was rummaging around on Youtube for videos to fill out a playlist on Gyeongjublog’s fledgling Youtube Channel and I stumbled across some amazing videos on something called the Korean Heritage Channel.  I know I use far too many superlatives on this blog already, but this channel features some of the best promotional videos I’ve seen produced on Korea.   Some might say that’s wouldn’t be too difficult considering the schmaltzy overdubbed travel schlock typically broadcast on Arirang.  However these videos are of a different class entirely.  They’re each brief 2 to 3 minute long vignettes of rich HD footage tastefully edited together with traditional music and subtitled commentary.  read more »

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Slideshow: Autumn in Namsan-dong (남산동) Village

Muryangsa Temple, Namsan-dong, Gyeognju

Muryangsa Temple, Namsan-dong, Gyeognju

To be honest the Korean urban lifestyle doesn’t really do much for me.  Sure, I sometimes miss the art and culture, the night clubs and the convenience.  But after living in London, Berlin and Barcelona, there’s really not anything new that I get out of big cities in Korea.  All it takes is a walk through one of the many quaint and quiet farm villages near Gyeongju to remind me why I like living with the Korean countryside so close at hand.   One of my favorite places to visit is Namsan-dong (남산동);  a string of farming villages just 15 minutes outside of town tucked in the shadow of Gyeongju’s historic Mt. Namsan (남산). read more »

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Off the Beaten Path: The Standing Buddha (마애불얍성) of Mt. Maseoksan (마석산)

Standing Buddha of Mt. Maseoksan, Gyeongju

Standing Buddha of Mt. Maseoksan, Gyeongju

Hidden away above a small farming valley just south of Mt. Namsan, the Standing Buddha (마애불얍성) of Mt. Maseoksan  (마석산) is the epitome of “off the beaten path.”  In fact, for a long time the only reference to it I could find was a mark at the bottom of the regional map published by the Shilla Cultural Society.  I found absolutely nothing about it in any English guidebooks or online and very little when I ran searches for it in Korean. So, of course, for a guy like me that’s all the more reason to check it out and see what’s there.  Happily, I discovered one of those numerous hidden gems that are scattered around Gyeongju. read more »

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Wierd Gyeongju: Mr. Seo, Penis Carver of Mt. Namsan (남산나무꾼)

Penis Carver, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

Penis Carver, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

There are many times in this country when I’ve wished I had a better grasp of the Korean language.  Standing in Mr. Seo Seung-am’s workshop at the foot of Mt. Namsan (남산) was definitely one of those times.  On display all over the shop are literally hundreds of hand-carved wooden penises.  There are big ones, small ones, some with faces, and some with breasts.  There are penis coat racks, penis hiking sticks, penis hat racks and penis chairs.  Heck, some of the penises even have penises.  I would simply like to ask Mr. Seo “Why?” read more »

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Exploring the Mysteries of Mt. Nangsan (낭산)

Mt. Nangsan, Gyeongju

Mt. Nangsan, Gyeongju

If you’re visiting the Gyeongju National Museum and happen to look east over the highway you might notice the outline of a hill on the far side of the train tracks.  From the looks of it you wouldn’t guess this low ridge (often describe as looking like a silkworm) was in fact considered one of the most sacred mountains of the Shilla Dynasty. As such, it’s home to numerous ancient relics and features in a number of stories and legends from the Shilla Era. read more »

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Wierd Gyeongju: The World’s Largest Silkworm (누에 체함학습관)

Silkworm Experience Learning Center, Yeongcheon

Silkworm Experience Learning Center, Yeongcheon

Inspired by the “Weird America” books back home,  I’ve decided to start a series of posts on some of the quirky, cheesy or just plain strange tourist attractions that abound around here.  I could begin the with the wish-granting stone of Cheonwonsa Temple (천원사), or the legendary Vagina Valley of Mt. Obongsan (오봉산), but I figure it’s only fitting that I start with the giant silkworm statue of Oryong-ri (오룡리). It’s reputed to be the largest silkworm statue in the world (that is according to what little info I could find online).  Though, I don’t think anyone has phoned the kind folks over at Guinness about it yet. read more »

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Hiking Namsan (남산): The Secrets of Samneung Valley (삼릉골)

Maitreya Buddha, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

20 ft. Maitreya Buddha, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

Gyeongju’s Mt. Namsan (남산), or literally “South Mountain”, may not be among the tallest or most beautiful mountains in Korea, but to me it’s one of the most magical.  It might look gentle from the side, but up close Namsan’s got enough steep valleys, twisting peaks and craggy boulders to give any hiker a run for their money.  Not to mention, it’s a treasure trove of ancient Shilla (신라) Dynasty ruins and carvings.  Its peaks and valleys are scattered with over a hundred pagodas, hermitages, and stone Buddhas dating back 1,300 years. read more »

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