Location: Gyeongju, South Korea
Background and Opinion:
The Historical City of Gyeongju is a nice city, with historical sites that include the oldest observatory in Asia, an ancient ice storage, Shilla tombs, and Buddhist temples. It is one of the best places to go to if you like Korean history. With that said, it also suffers from being possibly the most overrated place in South Korea. While it’s definitely worth seeing, it’s revered as a very beautiful ancient city with ancient Shilla (the old Korean Kingdom) buildings. In reality, besides the artifacts I just mentioned, it’s just like any other Korean town. In addition, sites like the Anapji Pond are not original as they have been destroyed in past Japanese invasions.
Gyeongju was founded around the first century BC. When it unified the three major kingdoms on the Korean peninsula, it became the first, truly unified Korean state (The Shilla Kingdom) which continued to prosper well into 1000 AD. The ruling clan at the time was named “Park” (박), the source of that surname. The “Silla Kim” clan was also very powerful, which accounts for 1/3 of all people with the surname “Kim” (김) (currently distinguished as “Gyeongju Kim”).
It should be noted that this particular World Heritage Site does not include Bulguksa Temple which is its own separate WHS. If you visit South Korea, do make sure to visit this site as it can give you an insight into Korean history from the times of the Shilla Kingdom (over 2000 years ago). As long as you don’t buy into the hype that it is the greatest place on earth, you will surely have a good time in this World Heritage Site.
1) Completeness and Originality (9/15): Nicely restored, but most of it is not original.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (5/15): In about an hour, you can see most of this site. However, there are some farther away tombs that are worth while (not pictured) which could take longer. Overall, this is rather small for a WHS.
3) Cultural Significance (9/25): It is the center of the first unified Korea. While interesting if you like Korean history, there are other equally important sites all over Korea.
4) Personal Impact (5/15): Really nice weekend getaway, but hardly the best thing to see in Korea. Gyeongju might be one of the more overrated places in the whole country.
5) Logistics (6/10): Arriving by train is pretty easy. Most of the sites are walking distance from the train station and there are plenty of buses and tourist information booths to guide you if you get lost. The crowds are a bit much though. It seems like the ideal spot for a little peace and quiet. Unfortunately, it is a very popular spot with the locals. Luckily, there are 2 other UNESCO World Heritage Sites nearby.
6) Uniqueness (6/20): Besides it being the capital of Shilla, everything can be seen elsewhere in Korea. The Anapji pond is reconstructed nicely and while it is nice, it is no spectacle. The Shilla tombs look almost exactly like the Joseon tombs, which you can see in 18 different locations near Seoul.
Combined Score: 40/100
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