Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cheomseongdae – Stone Astronomical Observatory

Cheomseongdae is a stone astronomical observatory in Gyeongju in South Korea which means star gazing tower in Korean. It is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia which dates back to the 7th century during the time of the Kingdom of Silla with its capital in Gyeongju.

The Korean government designated Cheomseongdae as the country’s 31st national treasures of South Korea, on 20th December, 1962. It is also seen as symbols on Korean coins and in travel literature. From early history, Koreans were known for their fascination with the stars and believed that influences from the stars could dictate the happenings in the universe, society, history as well as the life of a person.

This view originated from China, who considered that the heavenly bodies determined the course of people’s live and history and the difference between astronomy and astrology is at times not clear. Inspite of this, the Korean’s interest in nature and the movement of the heavenly bodies for over 2000 year, has given rise to a large amount of astronomical knowledge.

And the Cheomseongdae had become a fitting national symbol since the observatory represents the Korean’s quest for scientific as well as philosophical knowledge. According to some scholars, they were of the opinion that Cheomseongdae’s design was influenced by Buddisim due to the similarities in its design with that of Mount Sumeru, the centre of the world, according to the Buddhist mythology.

Cylindrical in Shape, Resembling the Upper Part of a Milk Bottle

Cheomseongda is 5.7 metres wide at the base, 9.4 tall and cylindrical in shape, resembling the upper part of a milk bottle. Half way up the structure, an opening is constructed and it is presumed that the astronomer gained entry into the tower through this opening with the use of a ladder.

Presently the upkeep of the tower is not maintained and dirt has filled the tower to the opening level. Archaeologists were of the belief that the star gazer would reach the top of the structure through another ladder from inside. There are eight rectangular stones, eight by six feet, resting on top of the tower, which are positioned to form two squares.

From the opening inside the tower, are two sets of stone bars positioned parallel to the top of the opening which according to the archaeologists supported the stairway to the top.

Constructed out of 362 Cut Granite

The tower was constructed out of 362 pieces of cut granite which represented the 362 days of the lunar year. The window area was framed with three stone tiers which made a total of twenty seven circular layers of stones. Cheomseongdae was constructed by Silla engineers in 647 CE in honour of the Queen Seondeok who was the 27th ruler of Silla.

 Twelve of the layers were placed below the window level while twelve were placed above where some debated that those twelve tiers represented the twelve signs of the Korean zodiac or the twelve months of the year. Besides these, there were twelve large base stone which were set in a square along with three stones on each side which represented the twelve months of the year along with the four seasons.

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