Preservation of Historic City of Kyongju
By Choe, Chong-Dae(The writer is President of Dae-kwang International Co., and the Korean representative of Compagine Cotonniere of Paris, France. He is also a director of the Korean-Swedish Association.)
I am confident that nobody in the world could be as fascinated with their place of origin as I am with my hometown of Kyongju. Not only I was born and did I grow up there, but my ancestors have lived there for many centuries, from generation to generation. Further, my strong affection for Kyongju is connected to my love for my family and in particular my father, a pioneer of Korean archeology. This is why I always feel sentimental and full of nostalgic reminiscences whenever I visit or even think about Kyongju, and I am very proud of all the aspects of its Shilla Dynasty cultural heritage - even a small piece of stone or tile, a single shard of pottery, or a handful of soil. I am widely known to the expatriate community in Seoul as "Kyongju Choe".
Kyongju was the ancient capital city of the Shilla Kingdom for just slightly under a thousand years - from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D. No other place in the world can rival Kyongju, in terms of its duration as a capital city, and of the richness of its cultural heritage. This is why many call it the "mecca" of ancient Korean culture, and a permanent "spiritual" homeland for all of the Korean people.
Blessed with the natural beauty of mountains and of rivers, the flood plain of the region invited many ancient Korean inhabitants to the area, commencing even in prehistoric times. Kyongju has numerous relics and other reminders of its ancient cultural heritage, such as royal tombs, Buddhist temples, fortresses, monuments, rock sculptures and other archeological remains. They were built and created out of a strong sense of scientific and artistic passion, and our ancestors' wisdom has left an ancient city, which is a true "Open Air Museum".
Thanks to its abundant and fascinating historic sites and relics, the Kyongju Historic Region - as well as Pulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto there, in particular - have been designated as the only "World Cultural Heritage" sites in Korea, by the UNESCO.
It is, however, disheartening that whenever I have visited Kyongju in recent years, I was barely able to feel the old authentic atmosphere of the ancient capital of Kyongju, due to the rapid urbanization that destroys the authenticity of the ancient city. It is not an exaggeration to say the city is now facing a deathly serious problem, in terms of the preservation and the development of its cultural heritage. It is, therefore, the time for us to rush to "save" the history of this UNESCO-recognized region.
I was most delighted to hear recently a "Society for the Preservation of the Historic City of Kyongju" (Chairman: Attorney Lee, Jyung-nak) has officially started operations (in October of 2005), as a non-governmental organization based in Seoul, in an effort to preserve the historical sites of Kyongju effectively. The Board of Directors of the Society is comprised of figures from various sectors of society, who are particularly interested in Shilla's cultural heritage. I have been recommended to become a member of this Board, and had the honor in that connection of attending an academic seminar for the preservation of Kyongju, and an evening event entitled "Night of Kyongju, Ancient Capital of Shilla", hosted by the Society, which was held in Kyongju last July. Many representatives of civic groups in Kyongju, and even scholars and others from Seoul and elsewhere, participated in this event. The theme of the seminar focused not only on topics related to the preservation and the sustainable development of Kyongju, but also activities to enhance cultural diversity via the pursuit of future projects.
After the seminar, drinking a Korean traditional wine at a pub very near to historical sites and looking towards Namsan Mountain in Kyongju, it evoked in me a sense of inspiration - emanating from the fascinating legacy of ancient Shilla culture - and in a dream-like state of virtual utopia I composed an artistic "epic" poem, as follows:
"Like the water in southern streams, Kyongju is as pure as crystal - and verily Namsan Mountain is beautiful, with many Buddhist remains. Phoenixes fly over the magnificent ancient tombs, and stone Buddha statues and pagodas. The mysterious tower of Chomsongdae [Astronomical Observatory of the Shilla Dynasty] stands watch over Wolsong [Royal Palace of Shilla] and reminds me of the brilliant history of the ancient Shilla Kingdom. Depictions of groups of flutes - made of blue and yellow jade - demonstrate the heritage of the Shilla Kingdom; they depict the "voice" of our ancestors' very peaceful song. The thousand-year-old Shilla Kingdom's glory spreads far and wide throughout the city. People all over the world duly gather together in this wonderful, charming and mysterious place, to reminisce about the splendor of Shilla culture!"
In view of the rapid urbanization that took place in recent decades, many areas surrounding valuable cultural heritage sites in Kyongju have changed vastly, compared to the '60s and '70s. Unseemly apartment buildings, motels and entertainment facilities sprouted like mushrooms in the areas of Kyongju very near to cultural remains.
Many precious cultural assets in Kyongju have long been neglected and even been damaged, simply because of senseless development. This neglect and damage, without a proper preservation "roadmap", has placed certain important tangible cultural heritage relics on the verge of destruction. To preserve cultural remnants facing annihilation under these circumstances - namely, protect the cultural heritage of Kyongju against excessive industrial development and environmental changes - is an urgent priority.
I hope that the Society for the Preservation of the Historic City of Kyongju gains a level of status and respect similar to that of a "National Trust" in other nations, and plays a significant role in protecting Kyongju's cultural heritage by offering strategies for harmonious development - which shall allow that heritage to be passed on, to generations of our descendants. Thereby, our ancestors' cultural identity and traditions will be preserved and even highlighted, and Kyongju shall maintain its place as a most fascinating, internationally appealing cultural city and tourist venue.
- 위 글은 경주고도보존회 최정대 이사께서 2006년 9월 4일자 'Korea Times'에 기고한 칼럼입니다.