Gyeongju is often described by the Korean tourist board as an open-air museum, thanks to its large number of grassy regal, burial mounds. The tombs in question are known as Tumuli, which are prolific and impossible to miss. Right in the centre of town, the walled-off Tumuli Park (대릉원) contains over two dozen tombs. It’s hard to imagine that this was until quite recently a functioning – though quiet – part of town, but in the 1970s the buildings were removed and the area beautified, creating a path- and tree-filled park that’s wonderful for a stroll. Entrances are located at the east and north of the complex, but its most famous hump sits to the far west. Here lies Cheonmachong (천마총), the only tomb in Korea that you can actually enter. Its former inhabitant is not known for sure, but is believed to be a sixth- or seventh-century king whose many horse-related implements gave rise to the name – Cheonmachong means “Heavenly Horse Tomb”. Excavated in 1973, it yielded over twelve thousand artefacts, which was the largest single haul in the country, and although many went to Gyeongju Museum, a few decorate the inner walls of the tomb. There’s also a full-scale mock-up of how the inhabitant was buried. Elsewhere in the complex is the large tomb of King Michu, who reigned from 262 to 284 and fought many battles to protect his empire from the neighbouring Baekje dynasty. According to legend, he even dispatched a ghost army from beyond the grave when his successor was losing one particular bout of fisticuffs; these phantoms disappeared during the resulting celebrations, leaving behind only the bamboo leaves that had infested the cavities of the enemy dead. For this reason, the tomb is often referred to as the “Tomb of the Bamboo Chief”. One other tomb of note is the double-humped Hwangnam Daechong, which was almost certainly the resting place of a king and queen.
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