After yesterday’s exploration of what my friend Penny is pleased to call Teletubby land, otherwise known as the burial mounds of the Shilla dynasty, we wanted to know more.
We went to Gyeongju National Museum. We saw the most extraordinary Shilla artefacts, from the Neolithic era right through to the early 10th century, when the dynasty finally ran out of steam.
Such exquisite early tools and pottery. Then, when the Shillas recognised the need to bury their kings by equipping them for the next world, what exquisite jade and fine gold jewellery and ornaments.
How come we learn about the ancient Egyptians, but not about these sophisticated and forward-thinking people? It really is our loss. I want to know more.
The only pictures I’ve got to show at the moment are the gold accessories that a sixth century Shilla monarch would have worn in life, and taken with him to the after-life on his death.
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If I take just one thing from our visit to Gyeonju, it’ll be this.
The busy town is broken up by expanses of parkland. In these parks are tumuli – large grassy mounds. Some are fairly small, some are enormous. Each one is the burial place of a monarch from the long-enduring Shilla dynasty, which lasted from 57 BC to 935 AD, or one of their family. Like the Egyptian pyramids, these mounds contained fabulous treasures: we’ll go and see some tomorrow.
For us, these mounds are striking enough, even without sight of their treasures. I wonder why they’re so little known outside Korea?
We went to one of the oldest surviving Buddhist monasteries in Korea today, Bulguk-sa. Like Fountains Abbey, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s been around about 250 years longer than Fountains, as it was started in the year 751.
Both are religious foundations. But whilst the monks were forced to leave Fountains Abbey on the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Bulguk-sa is still an active religious community. We were moved this morning by witnessing a solitary monk chanting his devotions in one of the buildings.
Both suffered the destruction of their buildings. Bulguk-sa, like so much of Korea’s heritage, was burned by Japanese invaders in the 1590s. Fountains Abbey crumbled following the Dissolution at much the same time.
Fountains Abbey remains a ruin. Bulguk-sa has been rebuilt. The Japanese destroyed Korea’s heritage so often and so comprehensively over the years that if significant buildings were not restored there would be, quite simply, nothing left.
So I think a twinning arrangement is in order. Exchange visits once a year as a minimum. Though with genuine Buddhist monks to welcome us at Bulguk-sa, I wouldn’t turn up in my polyester dressing-up robes from Fountains Abbey.
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