Silla Art and Science Museum

The Silla Art and Science Museum is in the Gyeongju Folk Craft Village. Its location is in the hills on the outskirts of Gyeongju, South Korea. A small private museum, it was established in 1988 to educate about the history of Korean science during the Silla period.

Silla Art and Science Museum in Gyeongju, South Korea
Silla Art and Science Museum

The Silla was a dynasty which ruled over parts or all of the Korean peninsula from 54BC to 935AD. It was the first dynasty to unify the Korean peninsula and form a Korean national identity. The many mounds seen in Gyeongju are tombs of Silla royalty and aristocracy.

Mounds: Tombs of Silla Royalty and Aristocracy
Mounds: Tombs of Silla Royalty and Aristocracy

Exhibits and models in the museum are displayed over two floors and the basement. Most of the accompanying description is in Korean with English being limited to the heading. In spite of this I manage to gain some knowledge from the exhibits.

Seokguram Grotto

In the museum basement is a series or models describing how the Seokguram Grotto, a part of the nearby Bulguksa Temple was built.

odel of Seokguram Grotto
One of a Series of Models of Seokguram Grotto

I visited the Grotto the previous day. Its construction began in 742AD and the Buddha within is considered to be one of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture. Photography was prohibited.

Cheomseongdoe

Another large exhibit is a model of the Cheomseongdoe. The Cheomseongdoe is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia. The actual Cheomseongdoe is located in Gyeongju within 10 kms of the museum.

Cheomseongdoe
Cheomseongdoe

A cylindrical structure standing 9.17 metres high with a base of 5.35 metres, it was build in the reign of Queen Seon-doek (632 - 647) for the purposes of astronomical observations. The information was to be used to aid weather predictions.

Built with 362 pieces of cut granite, supposely one brick for each day of the lunar year, the stones were placed to make 27 levels. Inside it is filled with soil to the 12th level, roughly 4.2 metres from the base. At that level there is a 1 sq metre opening providing acess to the interior. This is connected to the ground by a ladder. The 19th, 20th, 25th and 26th levels have long rocks jutting from them forming the chinese symbol for Jeong. I have no idea of its significance.

Observations from the Cheomseongdoe allowed accurate prediction of the equinoxs and the summer and winter solstices.

Smaller Exhibits

There are a number of exhibits of relics and figurines which had been unearthed from the tombs of some of the Silla royalty. While I can appreciate their beauty I can not place them in any historical context because descriptions are written in Korean.

Ornamental Sword
Ornamental Sword
ensive Bodhisattvas
Pensive Bodhisattvas

Another exhibit that caught my eye was a plate containing movable metal type. It is not from the Silla period but 14th or 15th century. Though historically significant, it is not as historically significant as it could have been if the culture was different. Movable metal type was first used in Korea in 1377, more than 60 years before Gutenburg. However Korea used Chinese writing at the time.

Movable Type

In 1446 King Sejong created the Korean alphabet. In 1447 he printed a book, "Worin-chongang-chigoki" using movable metal type. His alphabet was not widely taught in that period because the aristocrats preferred to use Chinese. And that is why historical impact of movable type was far less in Korea than in Europe.

Making of Sangwonsa Temple Bell

Another large exhibit features a full sized replica of the bronze bell from the Sangwonsa Temple, located in Pyeongchang County. Pyeongchang is where the 2018 Winter Olympics is to be staged. The exhibit describes the process, in Korean, of how the bell was made.

Model of Sangwonsa Temple Bell
Model of Sangwonsa Temple Bell

It is worthwhile visit to the little museum whose existence I was not aware before I came to Gyeongju. Even though the target audience are Koreans, perhaps audio guides could be provided for us foreigners.