What To Expect
You will explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Seokguram grotto and Bulguksa temple which were both built during the glorious period of the Silla kingdom (BC 57 - AD 935). After taking a twisting ride up around eastern side of Tohamsan and about 10 minute walk through a lovely wood brings you to Seokguram grotto, the home of the serene stone Buddha of the eighth century. The basic layout of the grotto includes an arched entrance which leads into a rectangular antechamber and then a narrow corridor, which is lined with bas-reliefs, and then finally leads into the main rotunda. Inside, a white statue of a seated Buddha, in a sublime state of enlightenment, is surrounded by 37 relief figures of Bodhisattvas, disciples, devas, and guardian kings.
The Buddha image is sculptured in perfect proportion with stark simplicity while the garments were accomplished by shallow cuts. Curled knots of the head and the sacred jeweled spot on the forehead are evident but not conspicuous. The face is full and round with a comparatively small nose and clearly defined mouth. The eyes are half closed under long arching eyebrows while there is no hint of smile. The ears are long and stretching out. The hand mudra symbolizes witnessing the enlightenment. The grotto represents the magnificent harmony of religion, science and the arts of Buddhism, symbolizing the pure land in which Buddha resides.
Next, visit Bulguksa temple. Following the one-pillared gate and the four guardian's gate, you will reach two double level arched stone staircases - the symbolic bridges, leaving the world of sufferings behind and to enter Buddha's land. Up from the bridges on the terraced main courtyard stands the Hall of Great Enlightenment. The hall houses Sakyamuni Buddha who is flanked on the right by Kasyapa and Maitreya Bodhisattva and on the left by Dipankara and Ananda. Before this hall stands a stone carved lantern and two stone pagodas. Three-storied Seokgatap with its calm simplicity of lines and minimal decoration and Dabotap with highly ornate and the noted complexity of the universe stands blending well into the architectural harmony. While here, it is worth noting the carved wood fish and cloud shaped gong hanging from the beams and a large dharma drum resting on the back of a turtle. Behind the main hall stands lecture hall, Museoljeon literally Hall of No Words. The hall gets its name from the belief that Buddha's teachings cannot be taught by mere words alone.
At the back of this hall is a steep flight of steps leading you up to the Gwaneumjeon housing an image of the Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of perfect compassion, and stands at the highest point of the complex. Below the Gwaneumjeon sits Birojeon and houses a gilded statue of Vairocana with the gesture of the first wisdom, a combined hand mudra formed with both hands positioned in front of the heart, with the raised forefinger of the clenched or vajra-fist' right hand encircled by the closed vajra-fist' of the left hand. Enshrined in the Nahanjeon hall is Sakyamuni attended by two bodhisattvas, and sixteen figures of Buddha's disciples sitting in deep meditation. Hall of Supreme Bliss, standing near the main compound, houses the gilt-bronze Amitabha Buddha, the ruler of the Western Paradise Sukhavati. The architectural design of Bulguksa is one of constrained dignity, peace, and harmony and the temple still remains one of the most remarkable achievements of the ancient Far East.
Stop off at Gwaereung, the tomb of the King Wonseong, which dates 798. The tomb is a 7.7 meter high circular ground mound made of piled-up soil with a bottom diameter of 21.9m. The stone fence and 12 animals of the zodiac carved around its base are excellent condition. What makes this tomb really significant and unique are the statues carved from granite along the promenades leading up to it - a two sets of lions, a couple of scholars, and a pair of military guards who are clearly Arabs in their clothing and the shape of their eyes.
Onto Gyeongju national museum featuring many thousands of priceless archaeological and historical artifacts including splendid craftworks such as gold crowns, earrings, belts, ornaments, glassware, potteries, clay figures, Buddha statues, tiles and a lot more. The Anapaji hall displays roughly 700 of the 30,000 artifacts dredged up from the Anapji pond including a royal barge. A gigantic Emille Bell from the eighth century is on display and you must certainly stand in awe before the bell with such artistic beauty of design.
Visit Cheomseongdae, known as the world's oldest existing astronomical observatory. You will continue to the Tumuli Park that encompasses 23 huge tomb mounds where Silla rulers were buried. One of the tombs, Cheonmachong, is opened to the public and you can go inside and see how the tombs were made and replicas of the treasures excavated in 1973.
You will stop off at Poseok bower, a summer pavilion where the later kings of Silla often forgot their loyal duties and spent most of their time with royal banquets. All that can be seen now is the abalone-shaped stone channel through which at one time a cool stream of water was directed into the banquet. The 55th King Gyeongae of Silla killed himself at the party here in 927 when Gyeonhwon, the king of the Later Baekje attacked Gyeongju. The elm, in large trunk and gnarled with age, may have witnessed the final day of Silla.
Gyeongju National Museum
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