June is coming to a close and with it The Korea Blog’s series on Gyeongju. This month we’ve visited some pretty amazing places in the “museum without walls” and we’re rounding the series out with one of my personal favorites, Cheomseongdae (첨성대).
Cheomseongdae translates to stargazing tower and is the oldest surviving astronomical tower in East Asia. The tower was constructed during Queen Seon-deok’s rule during the seventh century. Cheomseongdae is made of 362 cut granite blocks, making its construction incredibly complicated.
According to scholars, when the tower was built, the first step was to harden the soil to prepare it for the massive weight of the granite blocks. Then, the stones were moved into place. As the tower grew, earth was also brought in, forming a mound around the stone column. This way, as builders needed to position new granite blocks, they could simply roll them into position. When Cheomseongdae was completed, all the exterior soil was removed. Earth remains inside the stargazing tower up to “level nine,” the window area.
The Vernal Equinox, Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Summer Solstice and all major constellations were observed from Cheomseongdae, creating one of the most accurate maps of heavens for its time. These records were then used to assist farmers predict the seasons and better plan their crops. Today, visitors to Cheomseongdae can recreate the experience by stepping into the Virtual Cheomseongdae experience hall located next to the ticketing booth. In this small exhibit, visitors can learn about the tower’s history and see amazing 3D representations of the constellations.
Getting to the ancient observatory is quite easy, get on bus 10, 11, or 70 from the bus terminals and get off at the Daereung-won Tumuli Park stop. This park is quite large and frequented by both locals and tourists alike. There are plenty of flowers around and when the wind kicks up, you’ll find many opting to fly kites high into the sky.
Admission to Cheomseongdae is W500 for adults, W300 for youths (13-18), and W200 for children. It should be noted that this admission allows visitors to get close to the observatory, but not inside. The tower rests on a beautiful patch of grass and those paying admission are granted access to walk around. Those not wanting to pay the modest admission price can observe Cheomseongdae from the park.
As one of the most iconic structures in Korean history, the site is quite popular with school groups. Many also opt to take fun photographs using forms of forced perspectives, as seen in the video’s opening sequence.
Do you like stargazing? What’s your sign and what is your favorite constellation?