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Place Category: Museum
Gyeongju National Museum was founded in 1945, immediately following the end of the Japanese occupation, as the Gyeongju branch of the National Museum of Korea. Prior to this, Gyeongju had only one small museum facility, about the size of one of the current exhibition rooms. This earlier facility was opened in 1913 in Dongbu-dong, inside a government building from the Joseon era, by an organization called the “Conservation Society for Historic Sites in Gyeongju.” This exhibition facility was reorganized in 1926, when it became the Gyeongju Branch of the Museum of the Government-General of Joseon,” and it remained as such until the departure of the Japanese in 1945.
A major turning point for the museum came in 1975, when it moved into a new building at its current location in Inwang-dong. For the city and people of Gyeongju, the relocation of the museum was a huge event. For example, residents of Gyeongju turned out in droves to watch the Bell of King Seongdeok being moved. The new premises comprised the main building (today’s Archaeology Hall), the annex building (today’s Special Exhibition Hall) and a new belfry to house the Bell of King Seongdeok. The buildings were designed by architect Lee Hui-tae (1925-1981). The main building, surrounded by exterior pillars, recalls the style of a pavilion, particularly Gyeonghoeru Pavilion of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.
In 1982, the second annex building (today’s Wolji Hall) was added to the museum compound. This building, displaying archaeological finds from Wolji Pond, was designed by architect Kim Swoo-geun (1931-1986). Its simple exterior with brick and wood walls surmounted by a tiled roof, is said to have been inspired by traditional warehouses. Art Hall, meanwhile, was constructed in 2002, with Yi Sang-eun (1954 – present) serving as chief architect. This building is, mainly for exhibition, but it also accommodates education, research and office facilities. Currently, there are plans to expand the museum’s overall area by moving the main gate further south. The overall goal of these renovations and improvements is to establish the museum as the gateway to the historical and cultural tourism in Gyeongju. In Korea, Gyeongju National Museum is the second only to the National Museum of Korea (Seoul) in terms of the size and quality of the collection and exhibits. The museum’s collection consists primarily of cultural relics discovered from excavations and surface surveys in the Gyeongju area. Close to 4,500 items are currently on display as the permanent exhibition.
Archaeology Hall consists of Exhibition Rooms 1, 2, and 3, and Gukeun Memorial Room. The gold crowns of Silla and other quintessential artifacts of Silla, can be seen in this hall. Art Hall consists of Buddhist Arts Rooms 1 and 2, the Inscriptions Room and Hwangnyongsa Room. Buddhist sculptures are also on display in the ground-floor lobby and at the mezzanine level.
Wolji Hall is an exhibition area devoted exclusively to archaeological finds from Wolji, a pond inside the Silla palace. The museum’s garden, extending some 74,000m2, is used for displaying outdoor exhibits, including stone Stupas, Buddha statues, lanterns and other stone sculptures from temple and palace ruins in the Gyeongju area. This area also includes the famous Bell of King Seongdeok and the three-story stone Stupa from the Goseonsa Temple Site. Special Exhibition Hall is the site where three to four exhibitions on specific themes are held each year. In the basement of this building is the Children’s Museum, which provides many hands-on activities. Also, classes of the Gyeongju Children’s Museum School, which opened in 1954, and other cultural education programs are conducted here. Finally, in Sumukdang Hall at the edge of Gocheongji, the pond located south of Wolji Hall, seminars on cultural subjects for the general public, including a tea culture course, are regularly held. All of the cultural items on display in Gyeongju National Museum are manmade artifacts. Since all of these pieces were produced by human hands, they are all representations of human thoughts. Each and every item has a story to tell, and they all directly address the beholder. When we respond to their entreaty, a dialogue begins. What person from the past made this? Who used it? What were they thinking about, while making this? When a mother was making this large pottery, what was her little one doing by her side? How sad it must have been to witness a death! Why did ancient people place so many objects inside a tomb? Could this axe really chop down a tree? How did they wear such heavy earrings? Is this gold crown really made of pure gold? What do these motifs on the surface of the vessel symbolize? Gyeongju National Museum is precisely a place where we can hold such conversations with the people of bygone eras, and discover the joys and sorrows they experienced in their lives. It is a place to contemplate life in front of the pensive Bodhisattva statue; a place to encounter an unknown artist who used his chisel to transform a cold block of granite into a Buddha, lit with a warm smile; a place to perceive human dimensions behind the admirable beauty of a manmade artifact; a place to communicate with all those who lived before us, and a place to learn about the old in order to create the new. Gyeongju National Museum is the place for all this, and much more.
Gyeongju, which served as the royal capital of Silla for nearly a thousand years (57 BCE-935 CE), has a wealth of historical and cultural heritage, both above and under the ground, dating from prehistoric times to the Joseon period. Based on the city’s unparalleled historical and cultural legacy, for both Korea and the world, UNESCO added Gyeongju’s historic areas to its World Heritage Sites in 2000. Gyeongju National Museum is located right in the midst of such UNESCO designated, sites as Wolseong and Wolji Pond, part of the royal palace site of Silla; Daereungwon, a large cluster of royal burial mounds; and the former site of Hwangnyongsa Temple, which was formerly the state temple of Silla. Also, to the south, the museum faces Namsan Mountain, home to countless masterpieces of Buddhist art. Encircled by cultural treasures, the museum acts as both the storehouse and the centerpiece for these perpetual and precious historical landmarks. Thus, the museum’s existence must be attributed to the people of the past, particularly the citizens of Silla, who realized their thoughts and ideals in art works and crafted this astounding capital of culture.