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The fabled city of Gyeongju is the ancient capital of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which lasted a thousand years and exerted control over two thirds of the Korean Peninsula. Home to the court of Silla and the kingdom’s elite, Gyeongju supported a million inhabitants at its height. Today, its population is less than 300,000. Perched on the coast, Gyeongju is a provincial city with a trove of national heritage, including ancient stone temples, sculptures, pagodas, fortresses, and palaces, all complimented by the Gyeonju National Museum, home to an astonishing 160,000 artefacts. As a centre of Korean history, the city sees around 6 million visitors each year.
Dating to the 8th century and Gyeongju’s illustrious golden age, the Bulguksa temple is home to no less than seven national treasures, including fine antique statues, bridges, and pagodas. Managed by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the complex is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist and Korean art. Equally, the Seokguram grotto, artificially forged from granite, is home to exceptionally fine Buddhist art work, including an impeccable statue of Buddha that enjoys unobstructed views of the ocean sunrise from his perch. The Joseon Dynasty, too, which ruled Silla from 1392 to 1897, played a central role in forging the city’s identity. Yangdong village, where folk customs, crafts and architecture are immaculately preserved, is the place to glimpse the balance and quiet solemnity of that era.Read more
For a city deeply in tune with its ancient past, it is little surprise that Gyeongju is a major centre for Korean Buddhism. The mountains around the city are full of Holy sites – shrines, statues, and unmarked places of outstanding natural beauty – where seekers can pray and meditate. Nasam, known as the sacred mountain, is particularly rich in hallowed spaces. But Silla, aside from its religious significance, knows how to throw a good party too, playing host to a slew of evocative annual festivals dedicated to music, dance, literature, folk games, and of course, Buddhism.