South Korea // Gyeongsang //

The Underwater Tomb of King Munmu

Just off the coast east of Gyeongju is the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (문무대왕 수중릉). Though the name befits a good novel, and it’s popular with Korean tourists, the actual signature of rocky crags may come as an anticlimax; it’s worth the trip, however, not only to see the beauty of the surrounding countryside but also to feast on delicious fresh seafood.

The king’s final resting place lies literally a stone’s throw from the coast. In his lifetime, Munmu achieved the first unification of the Korean peninsula, reasoning that the power of his united forces would better repel any invasion from the Japanese. On his deathbed, and still clearly concerned by the Nipponese threat, he asked to have his ashes scattered on the offshore rocks, believing that he would then become a sea dragon, offering eternal protection to the country’s coast. Just 1km inland you’ll be able to make out two giant stone pagodas, 13m high, which mark the former site of Gameunsa (감은사), a temple built on the orders of Munmu’s son, Sinmun, in order to provide his sea-dragon father an inland retreat along the now-dry canal.

You may be lucky enough to witness one of the banana-heavy shamanist ceremonies that occasionally take place on the beach, honouring spirits of the local seas.

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