Gyeongju, South Korea
Tucked in the southeastern Korea, Gyeongju was the capital for the Silla Kingdom for 992 years (57BC-AD935). During this time, it flourished as a center of culture, art and learning. Today, more than a thousand years since the city was the peninsula’s governmental seat, Gyeongju is known affectionately as the “museum without walls.” The nickname is well earned seeing that UNESCO deems the whole of Gyeongju as a World Cultural Heritage site.
Understandbly, Gyeongju is high on the tourist ‘to-do list’ amongst Koreans an foreign tourists alike. Walking through the streets of Gyeongju is akin to walking through time. Meandering around the old city will see you weaving between traditional hanok houses where time has stood still, discovering unexpected pockets of life, visiting tiny shops whose owners seem as old as the city itself and catching the last light of day reflecting in the royal pond of Wolji.
It isn’t just strolling by imperial tarns that you can feel close to the kings of Korea. Gyeongju continues to physically cradle Silla royalty. A multitude of earthen tumuli (tombs) command respect and remind onlookers of the dynastic power in their midst. Yet, the ancient Silla kings were not solely interested in power.
Royalty steered the capital city, and thus the kingdom, towards Buddhism. During the 6th century, affiliation with Buddhist tradition not only strengthened royal power but also united the people under a common tradition. The lasting heritage of Buddhism can still be experienced today through cultural relics such as Seokguram Grotto. Perhaps the very essence of Korean Buddhist tradition is also found in Gyeongju. Bulguksa temple provides visitors with a glimpse of Korean Buddhist that is preserved and recognized globally.
The city and its surroundings are dotted with temples, palaces and artifacts from Korea’s history. However it is the people of Gyeongju that really make it what it is today. They are friendly, welcoming, down-to-earth people who love a great time. While life seemingly runs at a slower pace in Gyeongju, the city has a lively atmosphere that feels far removed from the hectic urban trance of Seoul.