After visiting Hahoe, we headed south to Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BC - 935 AD).
Silla evolved from the city-state of Saroguk, a member of the Jinhan Confederacy during the Proto-Three Kingdoms period of Korea. The Silla monarchy was officially established in 57 BC by King Bak Hyeokgyeose near present-day Gyeongju. Throughout the Three Kingdoms of Korea era (57 BC - 668 AD), Silla coexisted with rivals Baekje to the west and Goguryeo to the north. Silla later defeated and absorbed Baekje and Goguryeo, reunifying the peninsula and ushering in the Unified Silla era of Korean history, which lasted until the founding of the Goryeo dynasty in 935.
During its millennium-long rule—Silla was one of the longest sustained dynasties in world history—the kingdom witnessed a golden age of Korean science and culture. Exquisite statues, temples, academies, pagodas, weapons and ornaments from this period remain among the most representative treasures of traditional Korean art and architecture. Many of these pieces were inspired by Buddhism, which was imported from India and formally adopted as the state religion by King Beopheung in 527.
As the capital of this prosperous kingdom, Gyeongju was at the center of Korean commerce, politics and culture for several centuries; today, a vast number of archaeological sites and cultural properties from this period are concentrated in the city. Despite damage inflicted upon valuable relics by Mongol forces, Japanese invaders and Joseon-era Neo-Confucian radicals, most of the cultural resources remain remarkably well-preserved. Therefore, despite its diminished political influence today, Gyeongju is now one of Asia's most popular and historically significant tourist destinations.