Introduction to Gyeongju
Gyeongju, which is located in the southeastern corner of Gyeongsangbuk-do, was once the capital of the powerful Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.). Currently, Gyeongju has a population of about 252,000 people. However, during the height of Silla’s power between the 7th and 9th century, it boasted a population of about one million people. Currently, the city of Gyeongju is divided up into 23 different administrative districts. There are 4 eup (larger rural areas), 8 myeon (smaller rural areas), and 11 dong (urban areas). Gyeongju is situated some 370 km southeast of Seoul and 55 km east of Daegu. Gyeongju borders the cities of Cheongdo and Yeongcheon to the west, Ulsan to the south, and Pohang to the north, with the East Sea along its eastern borders. Gyeongju is also home to over half a dozen low-lying mountains like Mt. Namsan (494 m) and Mt. Tohamsan (745 m), which are a part of the Taebaek mountain range.
The fortunes and fame of Gyeongju waxed and waned with the destiny of the Silla Dynasty. During the Silla Dynasty, which ruled over nearly two thirds of the Korean Peninsula at its height, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol, which literally means “capital” in English. It was also known as Gyerim (Rooster’s Forest) and Geumseong (City of Gold), as well. After the unification of the Korean Peninsula in 668 A.D., Gyeongju became the centre for political and cultural life, which included the growth and support of Buddhism (which was the state religion). As a result, Gyeongju’s, and Korea’s for that matter, most famous sites date back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D.) like Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Hermitage. Then with the fall of Silla to the upstart Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the name of the Silla capital changed from Seorabeol to Gyeongju, which literally means “Congratulatory District” in English. Fortunately, and much later, during the Korean War (1950-1953), most of Gyeongju was spared the fighting and the historic sites remained intact. All but for a brief time in 1950, Gyeongju remained in South Korean control throughout the civil war. This would help allow Gyeongju to have one of the most robust tourist industries in all of Korea for which the city is now best known.
Tourism remains the major economic driver in Gyeongju’s economy. With that being said, manufacturing has grown due to its close proximity to the industrial cities of Ulsan and Pohang. It helps both manufacturing and tourism that Gyeongju is connected to the national railway system, a network of highways, and multi-lane city roads which allow for both industrial and tourist traffic.
To this day, Buddhism remains a central part of Gyeongju’s identity with some of Korea’s most famous and historic temples like Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage, Girimsa Temple, Golgulsa Temple and the revered Mt. Namsan having a countless amount of National Treasures and Korean Treasures distributed throughout the city. Gyeongju is also home to the Gyeongju National Museum, which houses some of the rarer and more fragile pieces of Korean history. Gyeongju truly is an outdoor museum that needs to be visited to be believed.