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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Korea 2013: Gyeongju Chapter 3

Anapji Pond


We were very excited when we got up the next morning. For that day we had planned to visit a number of traditional Korean landmarks. First up, the Anapji Pond. The Korean Tourism Board had a very interesting write-up on the place, and we were drawn to visit it:

According to the historical records of ‘Samguk-sagi,’ Anapji Pond was built during the 14th year of King Munmu (in power 661-681 AD) of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC-935 AD). Small mountains were created inside the palace walls, beautiful flowers were planted, and rare animals were brought in to create an exquisitely exotic garden fit for royalty. The pond was originally built in Wolseung Fortress (erected in 101 AD during the Silla period), but the fortress was destroyed and now lies in ruins. In 1974, an excavation project revealed large spherical shapes (measuring 200 meters in diameter and 180 meters in height) which indicated that 3 islands had been located in the pond. Thanks to these important findings and existing historical records, Anapji Pond has been restored to nearly its former glory. 

We arrived to realise that the word "pond' does not actually justify the size nor the grandeur of the site. From my perspective it seemed to function more as a "lake". Built during the Shilla Dynasty, the Anapji Pond was built as part of the Crown Prince's palace. We learnt from the audio guide that the water body was designed by an architectural expert to accommodate the construction of three "islands", incorporating an elaborate drainage system to cope with changes in the annual rainfall of the area. Quite an accomplishment for that period of history!

The lovely palatial pavilions. During its heyday the garden
complex could apparently accommodate 1,000 people.
View of Anapji Pond from the main entrance.
The "islands" floating on the elaborate water feature.
Our sons were of course at home in the
natural surroundings, enjoying the lovely
"forest" grounds nearby.

Cheomseongdae Observatory & the Daereungwon Tombs
Referring to the map of the area, our next location, the Cheomseongdae Observatory built by Queen Seondeok was just separated by the Anapji Pond by one main road. What we didn't expect was that the road was very long; moreover travelling with two young kids magnifies the total time taken. We were therefore relieved when we finally arrived at the site.

According to Korean Tourism, the Observatory was built by one of the country's greatest rulers for astronomical purposes:

Cheomseongdae is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia. 
Constructed during the reign of Queen Seon-deok (632-647), it was used for observing the stars in order to forecast the weather. This stone structure is a beautiful combination of straight lines and curves, and was designated as National Treasure No.31 on December 20th, 1962. 

Cheomseongdae was built in a cylinder shape with stones 30cm in diameter. 362 stones were piled up to make 27 levels. Roughly 4.16m up from the bottom there is a 1㎡ square entrance and a space to hang a ladder under it. 
The inside is filled with soil up to the 12th level, and the 19th, 20th, 25th, and 26th levels all have long rocks hanging on two areas, shaped as the Chinese letter 'δΊ•' (jeong). 

It stands 9.17m high and the base stone on each side measures 5.35m. 
The Vernal Equinox, Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Summer Solstice and the 24 solar terms (also known as the astronomical solar year) were determined by the observation of stars. The pavilion stone is believed to have been used as a standard of deciding directions, north, south, east and west. The 362 stones used to build Cheomseongdae represented the 362 days in a lunar year.

Since the structure was supposed to be a viewing platform for the stars, we had expected a huge tower. We however forgot that during that era, any tall structure would have already been considered extraordinary.

The road is long.... But with a beautiful scenescape, travelling
was rather enjoyable.
One for the road...
The Cheomseongdae Observatory.

Again referring to our map, we ascertained that our next destination, the Daereungwon Tombs, were just next to where we were. We therefore took some photos of what we thought were the burial mounds of the ancient Shilla Kings. We learnt later that while there are many burial mounds scattered all over Gyeongju, only a couple were identified as the final resting places of the ancient nobles!

Our supposed Daereungwon Tomb Complex. We realised later
that these were probably just a number of unidentified mounds.
After more than an hour of walking, asking for directions, retracing our steps and once again returning to our original location, we finally arrived at the fabled royal site.

Korean Tourism shares this interesting nugget about the tombs:

Large ancient tombs of kings and noblemen of the Silla Kingdom can be seen around Gyeongju at the Daereungwon Tomb Complex (Cheonmachong Tomb). There are twenty-three large tombs located here; the most famous being Cheonmachong and Hwangnamdaechong. In an excavation of the area in the 1970's, Cheonmachong was discovered with a painting of mounted horse. This painting is the only discovered painting from the Silla Era. You can also view the inside of Cheonmachong. There are 11,526 remains and crowns of the king inside the tomb demonstrating the lavish lifestyle of the king. Another tourist attraction is Hwangnamdaechong, which is the largest ancient tomb. It houses the bodies of both the king and queen and has over 30 thousand relics and gold accessories. The unique thing about Hwangnamdaechong is that the queen's tomb has more luxurious accessories. From that researchers have concluded that even the queen can have a high social position before marriage. You can feel the ancient culture of Korea 1,500 years ago when visiting these tombs.

After passing though the main entrance we were immediately convinced that our wanderings were not in vain. The glorious Autumn trees served perfectly as guards for the final resting place of the great Shilla leaders. As solemn figures lining the sides of the tombs, the trees truly added to the ethereal nature of the site. We were even allowed to enter one of the burial mounds, the Cheonmachong Tomb. What a spectacular way to end our day!

The Daereungwon Tombs at last!
A lovely half-hour walk to the cluster of
burial mounds. A delightful endeavour with
the tree-lined pathways.
What lies beneath?
Fresh life awakens after the passing of the dead...
Peaceful streams. Solace to those long gone?
Mummy & Z enjoying a special moment.
E looking particularly reflective.
One of the favourite photos taken by my expert
photographer wife.
Rest at last...
Exhausted by the day's wanderings, we took a cab back to a restaurant near our pension, before asking our lovely hostess Mrs Kim to fetch us home for a much-needed sleep.



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