After its humble beginnings in 57 BC, Kyeongju served as capital of the Shilla kingdom for nearly a millennium. For almost 300 years of that time, following the Shilla conquest of the Koguryo and Paekche kingdoms, it was the ruling city of the entire Korean peninsula.

When the Koryeo dynasty finally overtook Shilla in 918 AD, the capital moved far north to Kaeseong. Kyeongju fell into obscurity and, despite various Mongol and Japanese raids of Korea, was virtually neglected until a Korean cultural revival began in the early 20th century. Many historic landmarks have been restored to their original grandeur--the results are magnificent.

Though Kyeongju is relatively small, the city is usually flooded with tourists, because if you walk in any direction from the city center you'll encounter tombs, palaces, pleasure gardens, temples, the finest historical museum in the country, and so much more. Even the gorgeous mountains surrounding the city are littered with shrines, rock carvings, statues, and other relics. Koreans call Kyeongju "the museum without walls."

Click on any image on this page to view a larger version, then use your browser's "back" button to return to this page. Please note that the picture quality of the small versions on this page is often terrible, because Rob over-compressed the images in hopes of making the page load faster. He'll fix that eventually, but for now, he promises you that the large versions of the photos are of quite excellent quality, so please do check them out.

Tucked into the mountains 16km southwest of Kyeongju is Pulguksa, a temple built in 578. We headed up there right after arriving in town and spent the whole morning looking around the vast spread of buildings. Here are two shots of the stairs--which are actually closed to tourists these days because they have some strong spiritual significance.
Cheris and the monstrous guardians in the gateway to the temple.
A turtle-back drum. These are very common at Korean temples, but some of the painting and carving work on all the "usual temple stuff" at Pulguksa surpassed all the others we've seen.
The pagodas at Pulguksa, including this one behind Cheris, are among Korea's national treasures.
At many temples and in many parks, we've seen vast fields of "wish stones"--add another rock to the pile without knocking them all over and your wish may come true.
Random shot taken amongst the buildings. This picture is Rob's (failed) attempt to convey the size of the place.
Another common sight at temples: the carved and painted fish, used as a drum in certain ceremonies. Also check out the dragon lurking in the rafters.
Rob took a moment to pose in front of this building, one of the main prayer halls...
...and then he snapped this self-portrait by the stairs on the way out.
We ate lunch at a sidewalk table outside one of the many resturants in Pulguksa's parking area. There we met this young man and his fluffy feathered friend.

The next stop was Seokkuram Grotto, high in the mountains above Pulguksa. It's a cave dug into the side of the mountain with elaborate relief carvings and a massive stone Buddha statue inside. Unfortunately, no photographs are permitted in the shrine. Here's a picture taken from the outside, plus one of Cheris by the huge bell near the Seokkuram entrance.

We had an appointment to meet some friends, so we didn't have time to wait for the bus back into town... and so we begged a ride with a friendly Korean couple. We snapped these pics of their cute kids in the back of their minivan.

We were on time for our plan to meet up with two good friends from Taejon: Shin Eui-kyeong (English nickname: Mac, as in MacGyver) from our morning adult class, and her husband, Yoo Kyeong-wan. Together, we visited Anapji, a royal pleasure garden set around a beautiful man-made pond near the center of town. Not too long ago, the pond was dredged and up came thousands of Shilla artifacts--so many, in fact, that a new building had to be erected at the Kyeongju National Museum to house them all.

We shared an excellent dinner with them (Korean mushroom stew, amazing stuff), and then, in one of his truly brilliant moments, Rob left his camera in their car, whereupon the couple left town. Rob didn't get the camera back until the next week, so pics of Sunday's romps are conspicuously missing from this page right now. Scans of Cheris's photos will appear here eventually. For now, we hope you've enjoyed what you've seen...

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