The bulbous hills of the Gyeongju Historic Areas

20170718 Gyeongju Daeneungwon Park P1450834

The group of grassy, strangely globular hills in Gyeongju looks like an oversized playground without slides and climbing frames. It is a rather unique sight, which we immediately remember from when we first visited the Royal Tumulus Park on a previous journey in 1992. Meanwhile, the Gyeongju Historic Areas are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. So we have come back to have another look.

20170718 Gyeongju Jaemaejeong historic costume P1450888

On our journey on the fast KTX Train from Busan, we had a taste of the Korean high-tech shift in the past 25 years. Namely, we had reserved seats, but the train conductor never looked at our tickets. He just walked past, looking at his tablet, checking the taken and free seats. No need to disturb the passengers if everything appeared in order. Later we found out that an even more developed system worked when travelling on highway buses.

Michu Wangneung tomb in the  Gyeongju Daeneungwon historic Park

From the Gyeongju Train Station, we shuttle quickly to the central sightseeing area on a local bus, and proceeded to explore the UNESCO-listed Gyeongju Historic Areas. The route recommended by the tourist office was about 6 km. Many travellers rented bicycles, but as we had nearly the whole day we decided to walk – which worked out fine for us.

Closed until the 1970s

Until the 1970s, the tumulus tombs were still overgrown with grass and untouched. Although it was obvious that the hills contained important tombs, the archaeologists were reluctant to open the tombs of previous kings. When they did eventually, they found a wall painting of a flying horse and golden crowns from the Silla period (around 6th c AD). The Cheonmachong Tomb is now open for visitors, with a small exhibition of replicas from this find.

Wolseong Park Cheomseongdae in the centre of the Gyeongju historic areas

The sightseeing route then leads us to an ancient astronomical tower. It is a small stone structure from which you wouldn’t see any star in South Korea’s bright night sky today. And further we walk to some more tumulus tombs, and to an old Confucian Temple near the Woljeonggyo bridge. This section is rather a relaxed countryside walk without amazing highlights. We cross the huge excavation site of the Wolseong Fortress. We cannot make out the trace of fortress buildings, but then we meet a bunch of Korean archaeologists. They assure us that they are going to discover more foundations and figure out where the actual castle was. They seem rather confident that there will be a reconstructed fortress here in a few more years.

Anapji, one of the temples of the Gyeongju historic areas

For some more visual stimulation we make a detour to Anapji, a garden around Wolji Pond. Between Lotus flowers and fields, a number of open pavilions (now called the Eastern Palace, or Donggung) are strewn around a meandering pond. This makes for a nice stroll garden and some good views, although we are, as often during our Korea trip, not sure how much of this is really old and original.

The National Museum

One of the highlights of our sightseeing day in Gyeongju is the National Museum at the edge of town. There’s much more to it than the golden crowns from the Royal tombs. Apart from a lot more golden grave goods and intricately decorated 5th century pottery, there are fantastic Buddhist statues. We also like the bird-shaped vessels from 3rd century burials. People used them in the funeral rites, and presumably the deceased then hoped to fly to heaven with them.

Are the Gyeongju Historic Areas worth visiting?

Definitely yes! The strangely shaped tombs are really unique and it is fascinating to imagine the old Silla culture thriving during the 1st-10th century. It might be a good idea to start with the National Museum though. That way you would be able to acquire sufficient historical background for your walk.

20170718 Gyeongju Lotusteiche P1450938

***NB: Our 10-day visit to Korea was not sponsored or supported in any way. All expenses were paid for by ourselves. ***

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  1. It is always a great idea (and one I often forget) to do some background research into an ancient civilisation before you visit the heritage sites themselves. So, a useful tip to do a museum visit before Gyeongju Historic sites. It all sounds fascinating – and I love the Korean ladies in their hooped dresses

  2. Wow.. This looks really amazing! I never knew Gyeongju had such a great historical site. The hills does remind me of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines too! I am also looking forward to seeing the reconstructed fortress . 🙂

  3. I would love to explore the Royal tombs. So much fantastic history here and an UNESCO world heritage site too. ‘m actually amazed at the high tech train system they have as well in Korea!

  4. I never heard of Gyeongju but now I am interested in visiting because of its historic aspects.Would truly love to explore those tombs so I am adding this place to my Korea list. Hopefully 2019 I be out there. If not sooner. 🙂

  5. I love visiting a historical site with using modern ways to reach 🙂 It is so cool that the train conductor doesn’t disturb the passengers. It is annoying that you are relaxed and you put your ticket to your wallet then someone comes and ask to check it. BTW,
    I never heard of Gyeongju before reading this post, it is added to my wish list

  6. Hi Danik! Yes Korea has a lot to offer to tourists. Very old culture and tons of historical sightseeing. Infrastructure is perfect too and the food ist tasty (very spicy though….). And it is not too expensive (but more expensive than South East Asia).

  7. What a great exploration into Korea’s rich historical past. Not familiar with Gyeongju and it sounds like a place I’d like to visit. I love the idea of walking, and taking the time to see all the historical monuments. Can’t wait to visit Korea soon 🙂 Will be adding this region to my list.

  8. Dear Rosemary, you really should. One day is enough to see the sights and walk the city. But Korea in general has so much to see and explore. There is good hiking too….

  9. My husband lived in Seoul for two years, but I didn’t get the chance to visit him. I believe he also visited this place while he was living there. The temple there looks lovely.

  10. I don’t know much about South Korea, but Gyeongju looks like a very interesting place to visit. Those bulbous hills and astronomical tower would be wonderful to visit. But I think the National Museum would be the best place to visit – those bird vessels are just delightful!

  11. Love the whole heritage feel here. The astronomy tower got me curious as to whether you have any of the old instruments within. And can you go inside it?

  12. I would love to visit South Korea one day. I know nothing about Gyeongju but the tombs are fascinating. The architecture is incredible here and the scenery too. Hopefully one day!

    1. South Korea is quite underrated as a tourist destination I would say. The tombs are actually not too much to look at from the outside, but learning about the history is indeed very interesting.

  13. Your posts really making my feet itch for Korea. I’m planning on going next year in September. The cultural sites as well as the sceneries look so beautiful and interesting. However, I wonder if the system of public transportation is as amazing as in Japan. At least it sounds extremely developed from what you are describing.

  14. Wow, it’s another place from the UNESCO World Heritage list! The bulbous hills of Gyeongju look so intriguing and exciting. Also, tumulus tombs are such a significant historical site. You had a great trip!

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