|Gyeongju, South Korea|
My first visit to Gyeongju, South Korea was in September 2003 when I first came to South Korea. The Korean head teacher of my elementary and middle school academy took my co-worker David Miretti (who I still keep in contact with) and myself to the two most famous places in Gyeongju: Bulguksa (Bulguk Temple) and Seokguram. Seokguram is a grotto that is a part of the Bulguksa complex, that holds a stone Buddha statue.
Bulguksa is located on the slopes of Mt. Toham in North Gyeongsang province in the city of Gyeongju. It's considered to be the masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Silla Kingdom. The history is a long one. In 528, King Beopheung built a small temple on this site. However, according to Samguk Yusa records, the current temple began to be built under King Gyeongdeok in 751. The prime minister at the time was led by Kim Daeseong in order to pacify his parents. The temple was completed in 774 after Kim's death and was later named Bulguksa (The Temple of the Buddha Land).
|I loved the bridge leading to the temple. It's called Sokgyemun.|
The temple went through renovations during two Dynasty periods (Goryeo and Joseon). During the Imjin Wars (1592-1598 Japanese invasions of Korea), the wooden buildings were burned to the ground. After 1604, reconstruction and expansion of Bulguksa started, followed by 40 renovations until 1805.
After World War II and the Korean War, a partial restoration was conducted in 1966. President Park Chung Hee ordered a major restoration of Bulguksa between 1969 and 1973 after an extensive archeological investigation.
Bulguksa and Seokguram were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.
My second visit came this month as I went to Gyeongju to do a project for the Hotel Hyundai in Gyeongju to help promote their hotel on my blog as well as on Instagram. I also wrote a review for them on Trip Advisor. My wife's brother-in-law drove and thankfully he did. Gyeongju is not easy to get around without a car. You can get a bus to Bulguksa with no problem and you can take the bus to Seokguram but that task might be a bit more difficult. This will be mentioned later.
Comparing my first visit to Gyeongju in 2003, I didn't see any major differences except for a lot more cafes as we were driving along the way to our hotel. There were a few more restaurants but not a whole lot. I'm happy to see that Korea hasn't done anything to ruin Gyeongju's charm. Of course back then there wasn't an amusement park but overall Bulguksa and Seokguram look exactly the same as when I saw them in 2003 and that's a great thing!
The two towers that haven't changed at all are Dabotap and Seokatap. They are structures that were both created in the Silla Dynasty. Despite them having a different appearance from each other, they have relatively the same height and are both made of stylobate to create a proportional and balanced look of the temple. You can see them here.
As you walk along this quiet path for about 10 minutes you might encounter at least three squirrels along the way as I did! It was nice to just enjoy the nature and the true feel of real Korea.
Then you arrive at the main complex of Seokguram. However, you need to climb up some stairs to get there now. I especially loved the lanterns during the season of Buddha's Birthday (May 3rd).
Here's my wife with her sister and brother-in-law as we start to make the climb up to the Seokguram Grotto..
|My lovely wife with her sister and brother-in-law a few steps ahead of us|
Once you get to the top, you find the grotto that holds the Bonjonbul figure of Buddha which is 3.3 meters in height and 2.7 meters in width. You can't take pictures of it once you're inside unfortunately but here is a pic that I found from a tourism site of Korea. It is an artificial stone Buddha made of granite. As mentioned earlier, the construction started by King Dae-Seong in 751 and finished in 774 by King Hye Gong.
Not only will you see the Bonjun Statue as you walk into the grotto, but you'll also see the Bodhi-sattva, and his disciples. The statue has a generous smile and is engraved with a lotus flower design. The ceiling is half-moon shaped and has a lotus flower designed cover on it.
|Picture courtesy of english.visitkorea.or.kr (Visit Korea)|
Scott Worden (L.A./Seoul Guy)