Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (Daewangam

 나의 마음이 내 인생을 좌우한다 ㅣ 초롱둘

 Sightseeing in Gyeongju -
Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (Daewangam), the world’s only underwater tomb 

When tourists are sightseeing in Gyeongju, they usually seek out attractions mainly in the areas around Bulguksa temple, Namsan mountain, downtown Gyeongju, and Bomun Lake Resort.

On this journey, I traveled around the outskirts of Gyeongju and took the opportunity to see the city’s coastal area, highlighting the gorgeous scenery of Korea’s east coast. The Gyeongju sites to see on a trip to the coastal area follow this order: Kirimsa (Kirim Temple), Golgulsa (Golgul Temple), the temple site of Gameunsa, the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (Daewangam), and Igyeondae.

Be forewarned, the road conditions in Gyeongju’s coastal area, the farthest outskirts of the city, are not so great. But if you make the effort to see the whole area, your pains will be repaid with a meaningful excursion. You can sense the protective commitment of King Munmu, who wished to guard the kingdom after his death by becoming a dragon, and on top of that, take in some beautiful sights on Korea’s east coast.

After visiting Igyeondae, the spot that offers the most scenic view of the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu of Silla (Daewangam), I went down to the seaside village of Bonggil (in Gyeongju’s Yangbuk-myeon) to get a closer look at Daewangam. The village is a typical seaside tourism spot where you can see inviting scenes of seafood and drying fish on both sides of the road.

When I spotted these tents scattered along the beach, I figured they were being used for shade, like beach umbrellas, but that was not the case. Below the tents that at first appeared deserted, I was intrigued to discover that preparations for ritual offerings were taking place.

At last, the vast expanse of the East Sea unfolded before my eyes, and upon the jade-colored sea, Daewangam appeared like a painting. The wind was blowing so hard, with sand swirling in the air… In the photo, though, the tomb of King Munmu looks like just… a tranquil landscape.

The Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (30th king of Silla) (Daewangam, Historic Site No. 158) is located in the waters just off the coastal village of Bonggil-li, in Yangbuk-myeon, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The only undersea tomb in the world, this spot is permeated with the protective guardian spirit of King Munmu.

King Munmu, the 30th king of Silla, was the son of King Taejong Muyeol and Queen Munmyeong (born Mun Hee), the younger sister of the 7th century general Kim Yushin. Carrying on the achievements of his father, King Munmu brought down the Goguryeo dynasty and unified Korea’s three kingdoms. As the substantive ruler who actually unified the three kingdoms, he was the king who defined Silla and made it what it was, elevating Korea’s historic legacy.

King Munmu died in 681 after a reign of 21 years. His last will and testament stated that his remains were to be cremated and entombed in the East Sea, where he declared that he would become a dragon and thwart invasions by Japanese raiders. In accordance with his final wishes, his remains were cremated on the seventh day after his death and entombed in a great rock formation at the mouth of the East Sea. These rocks are called Daewangam, which means ‘Great King Rocks.’

Located about 200 meters off the beach, the rocks are arranged in such a way that the ocean’s waters flow in and out of the formation in all four cardinal directions. In the wide central space of the formation, there is a great broad rock with a north-south orientation beneath which the remains of King Munmu are thought to have been entombed. With a telephoto lens, it is possible to see a small tombstone there.

There was a fierce wind that day, strong enough that I was worried that the windborne sand beating my cheeks might find its way into my camera. When the waves retreat, everything was momentarily so calm that it was hard to believe that the waters had just been raging. But then after taking a breather and re-gathering strength, the waves would come back with renewed ferocity.

Two different kinds of scenes were unfolding in the salt air of the seaside. In one, photographers were attempting to capture images of the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu, and in the other, visitors were directing fervent wishes and prayers to the East Sea

The day that I visited was the Korean traditional lunar holiday Samjinnal, bringing an especially large number of visitors and giving me the first chance in quite a while to take some photos of Korean folk religion rituals. These people, who had come from nearby Pohang, were making an offering on a rather grand scale, with all kinds of fruits and painstakingly prepared foods. When you think about it, since Pohang is also located on the east coast, this beach must be recognized as a more auspicious ritual site.

Hang on, over here are two pigs sprawled out… in preparation for an offering. Truly, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Samjinnal is said to have been a day of rest decreed by the king. The third day of the third month in the lunar calendar, this day signifies the time when snakes begin to reappear after winter, and the swallows start to come back from the southern regions where they migrated on the ninth day of the ninth month. There is a longstanding Korean folk belief that condiments (soy sauce, red pepper paste, dwenjang, and the like) made on Samjinnal will taste better… Anyway, this seems to be a very positive and auspicious day, without a doubt.

Hm, despite the windy conditions, these mothers seem to be praying and then praying some more for their children’s benefit. It feels like I too will have a very auspicious year after witnessing this kind of ritual for the first time.

As I stand on the beach near Daewangam, I look back towards Igyeondae (Historic Site No. 159), the spot I just came from a little earlier. It appears as a mere speck in the distance. 

Zooming in on the pavilion Igyeondae

Igyeondae is the site that offers the most scenic view of Daewangam. It is known as the place where King Munmu was seen ascending to the sky as a dragon from his final resting place in the sea, Daewangam.

Underwater Tomb of King Munmu (Daewangam, or “Great King Rocks”)

Bonggil-li (village), Yangbuk-myeon, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province


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