Who would have thought that the Cheomseongdae, the mysterious observatory shown in last year’s sageuk (historical drama) Queen Seon Deok, would be still standing today? Very recently, my family and I visited Korea. On our way down from Seoul to Busan, we stopped at the city of Gyeongju, which was the capital city of Shilla in the 7th century. Under clear skies, I was able to see the Cheomseongdae with my own two eyes and it was an extraordinary experience.
Cheomseongdae was built during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), and is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. The observatory is 5.17 meters in diameter and 9.4 meters in height. The bottle-shaped tower made of square granite stones stands on the square stone base. The length of the stone is 5.35 meters. Up to the 12th layer from the bottom, this hollow tower was filled with soil and pebbles. Between the 13th and the 15th layer, there is a square opening through which an observer can ascend to the top. Cheomseongdae gives a sense of balance, harmonizing straight lines with curves.