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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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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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Autumn in Gyeongju: My 8 Favorite Fall Scenes

Seongbulsa Temple, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

Seongbulsa Temple, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

With our first blast of brisk weather and leaves starting to turn, fall is finally settling on Gyeongju.  In about a week or so all the brilliant red, orange and gold autumn leaves will be at their peak, so I suggest getting out to enjoy their beauty before the dreariness of winter sets in.  If you need any inspiration to get out of the house, here’s a photo essay of my favorite fall scenes in Gyeongju. Here they are (in no particular order): read more »

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Itinerary: 10 Days in Gyeongju

Tongdosa Temple, South of Gyeongju

Tongdosa Temple, South of Gyeongju

Not to become a broken record or anything, but most tourists just bounce down to Gyeongju for a long weekend, hit up the big tourist sites, and head home Sunday night. It’s a shame really. You can barely even scratch the surface of what Gyeonju has to offer in 2 days. To finally prove what I’ve been harping on so long, I’ve cooked up a 10 day itinerary for visitors to Gyeongju. That’s right: over a week and a half of things to see and do in the area.  If you don’t have 10 days, feel free to pick and choose what suites your liking.  But here are some ideas for exploring a deeper side of Gyeongju and Korea as a whole. read more »

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Gyeongju history Sites to see tips for tourists tombs Top 10

Top 10 ancient Tombs of Gyeongju: Part 2

Continued from Part 1….

Bonghwangdae Tomb, Gyeongju

Bonghwangdae Tomb, Gyeongju

5. Neoseo-ri Tombs (너서리왕릉): Once surrounded by houses, the half dozen or so tombs of Noseo-ri have been cleared of buildings and made into oasis-like park in the midst of downtown Gyeongju. Just across the street from Bonghangdae tomb, this park is a great spot for tomb watching, an afternoon picnic or to just relax in the cool of a Summer’s evening. And, just like Bonghangdae, the Noseo-ri tombs are lit up a night. A stroll through here after dark when the leaves are changing in the Fall is positively spooky. read more »

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Gyeongju history Sites to see Stories, legends & people tips for tourists tombs Top 10

Top 10 ancient Tombs of Gyeongju: Part 1

Shilla Tombs of Tumuli Park, Gyeongju

Shilla Tombs of Tumuli Park, Gyeongju

One of the things that make Gyeongju noticeably unique among Korean cities are all of the ancient Shilla hill tombs scattered about. Some of them are pretty darn impressive actually, as they range from one to two millennia old and most of them are at least a couple stories high. Not to mention there are over 150 of them around the area. Seen from above they look like mushrooms sprouting up all over the city after a rain. read more »

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Gyeongju Cherry Blossoms (벚꽃) Spring 2010

Cherry Blossoms Spring 2010, Gyeongju

Cherry Blossoms Spring 2010, Gyeongju

Over the last week or so the cherry blossoms (벚꽃) here in Gyeongju have just exploded.  Hopefully,you got out to see them last weekend as we’ve been in for a bit of nasty weather lately.  The temperature’s really dropped and we even had some snow mixed in with the rain tonight, which is not going to fair well for the cherry flowers.  But if you’ve not seen them already, don’t give up just yet.  They’ll probably hang on for a few more days, though I have my doubts how many will still be around for the Soju and Ddeok Festival this weekendread more »

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Ichadon (이차돈) Continued

Martyrdom of Ichadon, Baegyulsa Temple

Martyrdom of Ichadon, Baegyulsa Temple

My wife and I went out for a short hike yesterday on Mt. Geumgansan (금강산) to get some exercise and enjoy a bit of the Spring weather.  As I’d just posted on the legend of of Ichadon (이차돈), I figured we’d take walk up to Baegyulsa Temple (배귤사), which was built on the spot where his head supposedly landed.   As we were walking past the temple bell, didn’t I notice that it had a cast relief image of Ichadon with his head flying off!  I’m posting it here for curiosity’s sake.  As Baegyulsa Temple deserves a whole post of it’s own, I’ll have more info on it up here soon (I hope). read more »

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Buddhist culture Gyeongju Shamanism Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines tombs

Shilla Legend: The Martyrdom of Ichadon (이차돈)

Execution of Ichadon, Heungnyeungsa Temple

Execution of Ichadon, Heungnyeungsa Temple

If you visit enough Buddhist temples here in Korea, you might come across some pretty gnarly scenes painted on the sides of these hollowed halls, such as the gothic  tortures of the Hell Realms or the gruesome image of the 2nd Patriarch of Zen, or Seon (선) Buddhism, chopping off his left arm (but more on that fun stuff later).

Every so often you might see the macabre tableaux of the execution of the Korean Buddhist martyr Ichadon (이차돈).   Although he wasn’t the first Buddhist to lose his head during the Shilla Dynasty, it was the legendary miracle of his execution that finally led to Buddhism’s official acceptance by the Shilla Kingdom. read more »

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Underwater Tomb of King Munmu the Great (문무대왕릉)

King Munmu’s tomb (문무대왕릉)

With friends visiting for the New Year, we decided to make use of our new set of wheels and go exploring a bit.  On New Year’s day we made the 45 min. trek over the mountains to Bonggil Beach (봉길해수욕장) on the East Sea, though were a bit too late to catch the sunrise, as is the custom for a lot of folks on New Year’s morning in Korea.  It was sunny and warm (for January anyhow), so we had a lovely time bumming around on the beach by King Munmu’s tomb (문무대왕릉)  . read more »

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