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Namsan, South of Gyeongju

March 14, 2012

The small city of Gyeongju (not to be confused with the city of Gwangju in the south) was the capital of the Unified Silla Kingdom (668 CE – 935 CE), so it’s a tourist destination for anyone interested in Buddhist artifacts.  If you go to the city, definitely make a trip to the south of the city to Namsan (not to be confused with Namsan in central Seoul).  Namsan is a mountain covered with statues and relief carvings from the Silla period.  It’s awe inspiring to see the artwork, and know that it’s been sitting there for 1300 years.

 

Some of the Buddhas had lost their heads over the years, but most of the artwork was in remarkably good condition.  Despite the day being rainy and cold, the mountain was crowded with Korean hikers.  Some of the hikers stopped at the temples and Buddha statues to pray, while others took pictures in front of the statues with goofy poses.  There were many relief carvings directly on the natural rock of the mountain.  After over 1000 years, they have weathered a bit.

 

 

 

We (my mother and I, who came to visit Korea) got considerably more stares than I’m used to Seoul, since there’s not a lot of foreigners outside of the big cities.  One park ranger talked to us for a while, I think mostly because he wanted to practice his English.  He seemed surprised that I had heard of this mountain  (“Why are you here?  Are you interested in Buddhism?”).  Afterwards, he wanted a picture made with us.  I’m not used to my presence being quite so strange and novel for Koreans.

 

It’s really wonderful to see historical artifacts like these outside of the context of a museum.  It feels more real.  If you’re in Korea, I’d highly recommend going.

How to get there:

From Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal:

-Cross the main street, and take one of the 500 buses.  Do not try to take the #10 or #11 buses as some bloggers say, because they don’t actually go to Namsan.  There’s a little tourist info booth outside of the bus terminal where you can get a map of Namsan, so you can see all the hiking routes.

-If you find the bus system in Gyeongju confusing, as I did, you can just hop in a cab and say “Namsan Samneung” and he’ll take you to the main trail on the mountain for about 6000 won.  There’s lots of other trails back down from the top, so if you’re adventurous pick a different route back down to see more statues and temples.  There are hundreds of artifacts all over the mountain.  I’d really like to go back and take a few different routes.

 

 

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