Globalizing the Antiquities of Kyongju

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Globalizing the Antiquities of Kyongju

The tide of globalization propelled Korea''s economic success, but it also brought on its frustration in the late ''90. It is necessary to pursue genuine globalization again, but it has to be firmly anchored in Korea''s unique cultural identity this time.

Nothing can better demonstrate Korea''s cultural identity to the world than the historic city of Kyongju. During the Middle Ages when the East was more advanced than the West, Kyongju was an international city almost comparable to Xi''an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty that ruled a global empire during the golden era of ancient China. Shamefully, Korea still doesn''t have a good reference source showing the history of Kyongju, the capital of the Shilla Kingdom from 57 B.C. to A.D. 935. We cannot talk of Kyongju''s present and future while remaining ignorant of the past of this city with a tremendous variety of cultural and historical heritage, much of which is still buried underground.

High-rise apartment buildings are currently being built in the center of this historic city, which is now expanding to Mt. Nam and Mt. Seondo, the original boundaries of old Kyongju. Although many cultural and historical properties are gone, the area is still rich with buried artifacts. The unexcavated relics will be lost forever if a new city is built on top of them.

In order to compile a historical map of Kyongju, it is first necessary to transcribe historical records and archeological discoveries onto a digital map and a satellite photograph of the current city and then a scholarly effort to reestablish its history on the basis of theories on developing urban structures should be conducted. Once such a map is produced, we would need only to compare such a map with the current inadequate efforts under way to preserve and develop Kyongju to see that the rising demand for expansion and development will lead to the destruction of historical districts.

Many historical cities around the world successfully conserved their heritage by pursuing development and conservation in tandem. To meet new demands, new cities were built around the original urban perimeters, while conserving the ancient urban districts and their historical heritage.

For instance, Jerusalem built a new city in the boundaries of the old city but managed to preserve the original form of the old districts. Venice maintained its ancient urban space by developing the nearby Lido Island and Mestre instead. Rome met demands for modern urban functions by developing the EUR district nearby. Paris built a new urban district called La Defense and successfully prevented developmental plans from clashing with conservation efforts. The 2, 500-year-old city of Suzhou is trying to preserve its historic heritage by building a new city to its west. Through such conservation efforts, these ancient cities still retain their original form today. In contrast, Xi''an, Athens and Istanbul, once the greatest cities in the world, built new cities over the archaeological and historic sites. Many of the unexcavated cultural properties were destroyed or simply bulldozed over, and the cities became mere remnants of what had once been rich stores of cultural properties.

Paris and London, like Kyongju, were ancient cities that developed into medieval cities. At the time, they were smaller than Kyongju, which was more of a city state whose urban sphere encompassed a greater area than today''s Kyongju. This is one of the reasons that conservation efforts are so difficult.

Creating a new Kyongju, to better preserve it as a historic city, can succeed only when based on the concept of building a comprehensive new city embracing the nearby cities of Ulsan, Pohang and Taegu so that it can attain a greater economic competitiveness.

Since ancient Kyongju was located in the vicinity of Hyeongsan River, which girdled Taegu, Ulsan, Pohang and ancient Kyongju, a new Kyongju can embrace them as four mother cities to complement its urban functions.

The key development task in Kyongju is building an international city which, linked with Taegu, Pohang and Ulsan, would be capable of attracting international capital to North Kyongsang province. The new Kyongju has to embrace all the ancient urban districts that comprised the historic city and when the historic city is in the center of a new urbanization plan, the restoration of the ancient capital which unified the three kingdoms will be possible.

The Korean high-speed train project, which will soon become an artery of transportation linking Japan, the Korean peninsula, and China, has been subject to controversy ever since its conception due to the possibility of damaging cultural properties on or near the proposed route, which passes through the outskirts of Kyongju. But this project should not be viewed only in this negative sense, because the high-speed train can also become an opportunity to globalize the old Kyongju sphere.

The forgotten city of a thousand years can be revived as a historical city of global reputation only when its key historical districts are excavated and preserved and its new urban districts are capable of performing the functions of an international city.

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