Wolji, Royal Garden of Silla  

Gyeongju National Museum

Wolji was an artificial pond on the grounds of the royal palace in Silla and has been called Anapji since the Joseon Dynasty. Excavation resulted in more than 30,000 cultural artifacts recovered from the pond as well as the surrounding building sites. The Wolji Exhibition Hall displays the extravagant daily lives of the royal family and artistocrats of Silla. 

A pond across from Wolseong Palace has long been beloved by the people of Gyeongju as a place of rest. Appreciating the beautiful landscape of this pond year-round, poets and artists named it “Anapji,” meaning the pond where wild geese and ducks may frolic in peace. According to historical records, the construction of the pond was overseen by King Munmu of Silla, and the fact that foundation stones and stone steps remain between adjacent fields indicates that there may have been a building here a long time ago.

During dredging work to renovate the pond in 1974,
roof tiles were discovered with inscriptions such as “Seupbibu Magistracy” (one of six magistracies in Gyeongju, Silla) and “Hanji Pond.” Inspired by this discovery, the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage began excavating the pond and its surroundings in 1975. As a result of this excavation work, the institute uncovered 26 building sites, 8 wall sites, water supply and drainage systems, masonry, and nearly 33,000 cultural assets.

Among the unearthed artifacts, a lock with the inscription “Donggunga” suggested that the pond was originally named Wolji. Donggunga was a government office in Silla that managed Donggung Palace and comprised several divisions, one of which was called Woljiakjeon. Wolji was the name of a pond and akjeon referred to the division responsible for landscape management. Therefore, this artifact confirmed that Donggung Palace was placed here during the Silla period and that the pond’s original name was Wolji. The old name of the pond, which had been long forgotten, was thus restored.

Most artifacts from the Silla period have been discovered around graves or temple sites, but those from Wolji Pond are materials from palace buildings and include daily necessities used by the royal family. They were in good condition when discovered because most had been buried in vast fields that were not sealed off from the air. Royal family culture in Silla can be understood through these artifacts from Wolji Pond and even the pond itself as its lifespan mirrors that of Silla’s, from the time when King Munmu first built the pond until King Gyeongsun (r. 927-935), the last king of Silla, invited the first king of Goryeo dynasty Wang Geon (r. 918-943) there for an official banquet.

Dug a pond
2nd lunar month, 674 (14th year of King Munmu’s reign), “Dug a pond and built a mountainous area on the premises of the palace to plant flowers and raise rare and precious birds and animals” – Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms
Roof Tile and Traditional Brick 
Over 24,000 roof tiles were excavated from Wolji, amounting to the largest discovery from a single historic site. These artifacts come in various types and designs, providing valuable insight into the study of roof tiles and bricks under Unified Silla.

A finial refers to a tiled structure attached to both ends of the ridge of the roof. They served to stave off evil spirits and were also used as decoration to add to the resplendence of the building. About 20 pieces of finials of this kind were excavated from Wolji Pond.

Green-glazed roof tiles, like this one, are quite rare, since they were generally used only for superior architecture and craftworks. A dragon face fills the space, with particular emphasis placed on the volume. The tile is believed to originate from the early Unified Silla Period.

During the first half of the 6th century, the end of the lotus petal on the tile was made significantly smaller through Goguryeo’s influence, or a round-petal design was used instead as commonly found in Baekje. After the mid-6th century, however, a distinctive lotus design appeared as Silla’s indigenous style. This design survived until the mid-7th century, and is characterized by single-layered petals with a ridgeline on the center and a great visual sense of volume.

A floral medallion is an imaginary flower that combines the lotus with other various plants. It has two types: an eight-petal variant of a lotus, and a four-petal one with freely arranged leaves and stems. This floral design first appeared in Sassanian Persia around the 7th century, and was introduced to Silla via China’s Tang dynasty and then became widely used throughout the Unified Silla period.

Kalavinka is an imaginary bird that appears in Buddhist scripts. It is a human-headed creature with a beautiful bird call. Convex rood-end tiles with a Kalavinka design were also excavated from the Hwangnyongsa Temple site, Bunhwangsa Temple, and Samnangsa Temple site as well as Wolji Pond.

This roof-end tile depicts a pair of birds facing each other and holding a branch in their bills. The birds are accompanied by lotus-flower designs above and below, with the edges adorned with a bead design arranged at regular intervals. Given that the same type of tiles were also excavated in Wolseong and the Gameunsa Temple site, this tile is estimated to have been made in the late 7th century.

Green glaze, which is applied to the surface of earthenware, is made by adding minium to lye or silicic acid, and mixing it with iron for the pigment. Green-glazed tiles were excavated from royal palace sites such as Wolseong and Wolji, as well as the sites of Sachonwangsa Temple and Gameunsa Temple, which suggests that tiles of this type were used exclusively for royal palace buildings or large-scale temples built by the government. Double-layered lotus petals are the representative design of the convex roof-end tile of Unified Silla.

The concave roof-end tile, which seals the end of a row of concave roof tiles, comes in two types: one with a jaw and the other without one. The arabesque-designed tile is the most common, followed by those with designs of honeysuckle or grass and flowers. The typical arrangement of designs features vines stretching out from both ends and crossing at the center symmetrically. The blank space left between the simplified stems and designs gives a sense of stability. Concave roof-end tiles of this type were also discovered in the Sacheonwangsa Temple site and the Wolseong moat. The tiles are estimated to have been produced between the years of 660 to 680.

Tiles like this were used for flooring or decorating a building, and typically featured engravings of dragons or deer on the sides. Many tiles with deer designs have in fact been found at Wolji, but most of the tiles excavated from there have floral medallion designs on the face, demonstrating the popularity of such designs in the early Unified Silla Period. This particular tile has a lotus flower engraved in the center, surrounded by a large floral medallion design. Separate flower petal designs occupy all four corners for additional decoration. The full-bodied deer on the sides of the tile are surrounded by elaborate designs of vines, providing perfect symmetry and structural balance.

The upper center of this brick is decorated with an eight-leafed floral medallion. Each of the four corners also carries a design, which forms a crisscross pattern of a flower when connected by other bricks. One side of the brick features two deer facing each other against an arabesque pattern, while the other side has an inscription that reads, “A person named Gunyak with the title of Sosa from the province of Hanjibeol made this brick on March 3, the 2nd year of the Tiaolu era of Chinese Tang (680).” The province of Hanjibeol refers to the province of Hanji, one of the six provinces of Silla, which suggests that each province bore a share of the burden for supplying building materials for the construction of royal palaces.

Wooden Artifact 
The soil in Korea is mostly acidic, which easily decays organic matter underground. Thus, cultural artifacts made of organic materials like wood or fabric are rare discoveries. However, some wooden relics in Wolji have survived as they were protected from decomposition by the mud flat below the pond, leading to the discovery of various wooden products including construction items, inscribed wooden tablets and household goods. Such artifacts are not often discovered in other historical sites, and thereby provide an important clue for exploring life in Silla.

This dice is 14-sided with six rhombic and eight hexagonal faces. Each face contained different inscriptions in Chinese characters that mostly refer to liquor, such as “drink three glasses of liquor at once,” “sing and drink alone,” and “ask someone to sing.” Given this feature, the dice seems to have been used for drinking games at banquets. This object reflects the elegant and tasteful leisure life of the Unified Silla aristocrats. The dice was excavated from the mud flat under the stone-walled revetment to the northwest of Wolji Pond, but became lost during the conservation treatment process. Currently, its replica is on display.

This wooden boat was found upside-down in Wolji Pond, directly in front of the East Masonry. One full boat and pieces of two other boats were found there, all of which appear to have been used for entertainment in Wolji. The wooden boats sank to the bottom of the pond and lay buried under the mud with minimal exposure to oxygen, thus preserving them in near-perfect condition until their discovery. The fully formed boat was carved from three entire tree trunks, which were joined together and secured with oak strips inserted in the front and rear to act as linchpins. The form of the boat is a combination between a canoe and a kayak.

Water stoppers were used to control the water level in a pond, and were discovered lodged in the drain on the north side of the pond. It has a round protrusion that serves as a handle on its front.

Metal Craftwork 
Many of the metalcraft wares of Silla are related to food, clothing, and shelter, providing insight into the royal life in the kingdom. These metal objects include food vessels and spoons as well as gilt-bronze door handles, hangers, and dragon-head-shaped decorations. In particular, gilt-bronze scissors demonstrate the excellent metal craftsmanship of the time.

This door handles in the shape of an dragon’s face were found in Wolji. The wide eyes and sharp protruding teeth create a dynamic air. The round handles were hung from the mouth. Since these door handles are so similar in both size and shape, it seems likely that they were both cast from the same mould and plates.

Despite being crumpled flat, this gilt-bronze wind chime was originally round in shape. The surface has double ridges engraved at regular intervals and an arabesque design engraved between the lines. There are tiny holes on the top and bottom parts.

Recovered from Wolji, these two gilt-bronze dragon heads are almost identical, as if they were cast from the same mould. The bulging eyes, flaring nostrils, and sharp canine teeth of the dragons are portrayed in rich detail. Even the dragons’ scales and manes were fashioned with great dexterity and lined with dotted lines. The horns atop the head and the tongue inside the mouth were made separately; the horns were attached through a hole in the head, while the tongue was fixed to the mouth with a rivet. There is a small hole at the back of the head for a nail or rivet, indicating that the dragon heads were likely socketed somewhere for decoration.

Many bronze plates, bowls, and spoons which were actually used were found in Wolji. This bronze bowl has a matching lid with a knob on top and a 1cm. base attached to the bottom. The rim of the lid is bent slightly inwards to make it fit onto the top of the bowl. The Chinese character for “set”(仇) is inscribed onto both the interior of the lid and the outer bottom of the bowl, indicating that these two pieces were designed as a pair. This inscription seems to be rather exceptional, as other bowls with a similar shape that have been discovered do not bear any such markings.

This snuffers, used to cut lamp wicks, were found in Wolji. They were originally made of gilt-bronze, although little of the original plated metal has survived. The handles of the snuffers were made in the curved shape of vines, and the front side is also decorated with elaborate vine incisions. What’s more, every bit of open space is dappled with bead designs. Along the blades of the snuffers, there are hemispheric rims to catch the cut wick; when the snuffers are closed, the rims create a full circle. This metalwork bears a very stylish and intricate design, conjuring up the lavish lifestyle of the palace during the Unified Silla Period.

Iron products 
Various kinds of farming and fishery tools were excavated, including spades, plowshares, pitchforks, hoes, sickles, and harpoons. Other discovered artifacts consist of woodworking tools like hammers, axes, and awls; weaponry such as helmets, swords, spears, and arrowheads; and horse-riding equipment including foot straps, horse-strap pendants, and bits.

This lock is shaped into the Hangul character “ㄷ” with the inscription, “東宮衙鎰”. The word 東宮 refers to the palace of the Crown Prince, which confirms that Wolji was the location of Donggung Palace. It was discovered in addition to other locks, each with inscriptions in Chinese characters, “思正堂北宜門” and “合零闡鎰”. The former indicates that the palace had annexed buildings called Sajeongdang House (思正堂) and Buguimun Gate (北宜門).

This helmet was discovered in the mud flat under the revetment to the east of the pond. On the top is a hemispheric cover with two holes for attaching decorations. The upper part was made of two concave iron sheets, which were bound and fixed with round-headed nails. In addition, iron scales were also excavated, which seem to have been linked through the holes in the lower part of the helmet to cover the wearer’s neck and shoulders. This is the only extant helmet from Unified Silla.

Buddhist Sculptures
Buddhist sculptures took a variety of forms with various production techniques as evident in Buddha statues made of gilt-bronze plates, or those featuring an incarnate Buddha, or gilt-bronze ones. They date back to between the 7th and the 10th century, which provides a valuable reference to study the Buddha statues of Unified Silla. They were mostly excavated from the mud flat of Wolji Pond around the No. 3 building site. 

Many Buddha statues were excavated from the site of Wolji Pond in Gyeongju, including ten Buddha plates like this one. Although its exact purpose remains unknown, the presence of a spike on the bottom suggests that it may have been fixed onto some other object. In the center, the Svadeva Buddha sits in the Padmasanam posture (lotus position) on top of an elaborate lotus flower pedestal, with his hands held in the Dharmaakra position, which is similar to how Sakyamuni held his hands during his first Buddhist sermon. Buddha, who is flanked on either side by a Bodhisattva, has a plump, round face, an ushinisha on top of his head (a bump representing wisdom), and a halo decorated with various openwork designs.

Of the ten Buddha plates excavated from Wolji, Gyeongju, two are Buddha triads and the rest are contemplative Bodhisattvas, like this one. This Bodhisattva matches the Buddha triads in terms of form and sculpture technique; the lone difference is that this figurines'hands are clasped in front. Two spikes of different lengths extend from the bottom of the pedestal, indicating that the plate was once fixed onto something.

This piece is considered the most beautiful among artifacts of the same type excavated from Wolji Pond. This is a boat-shaped one decorated with patterns of arabesque and flames in openwork. The upper part features a small standing Buddha statue. The center of the metal plate has a hole to be fitted into a protrusion of the statue. Considering the size of this aureola, the statue is likely to have been around 20 cm long.

The excavated artifacts include 26 pieces of craftwork featuring a single incarnate Buddha. The face was simply outlined without any detailed description and most of them depicted a canopy used to shield a Buddha statue. Given the elaborate casting technique and the succinct design with clouds minimally expressed as dots, they are estimated to have been made in the mid-8th century or earlier.

The two-figure incarnate Buddha consists of one Buddha and another making an offering or putting his hands together as if in prayer. Decorations featuring this kind of Buddha come in various types, including one with two Buddhas standing on clouds without a canopy above them, and another bearing clouds decorated with or without cintamani.

All of the ornaments adorned with the triad Buddha feature seated Buddha, with the exception of one piece. The triad Buddha are depicted riding on clouds with a canopy above them. Artifacts featuring this kind of Buddha are very few in number, compared to other counterparts. It is estimated that each of the triad Buddha must have been attached to the upper part of the aureola of a Buddha statue

These two pieces of ornaments were depicted incarnate Buddha paying respect to Sarira: two featuring a three-story pagoda on the back of elephants and horses and one with a seated Buddha putting his hands together on the back of an elephant. Each ornament has a protrusion like their other variants or cintamani, but it is not confirmed whether they were actually fitted into the aureola of a Buddha statue.

Cintamani-shaped ornaments come in six types: those with nothing attached; those with a flame design; those with an incarnate Buddha design; those with a cloud design; those with a flowery design; and those on bronze plates. With the exception of those with a flame design, all the others were made of crystal inlaid on a Buddha statue and, in most cases, the crystal cintamanis were placed on clouds to represent the splendor of the heavenly world.

Over 80 statues featuring a heavenly figure were discovered, the most numerous among such decorations, which suggests that the depiction of a heavenly figure was the most common decoration for the aureola of a Buddha statue. Among the discovered pieces, only four feature a heavenly figure playing a musical instrument such as a large Korean flute, a six-holed bamboo flute or a Korean mandolin.

Artifacts excavated from Wolji Pond include 1,600 pieces of restorable Unified Silla earthenware including bowl-type wares and shards of blue and white porcelain from China. This is the first case in which such a vast amount of porcelain products were unearthed from a single historical site, which is also significant in terms of the chronological documentation of earthenware. While Unified Silla earthenware discovered to date were mainly unearthed from tombs as burial objects, artifacts collected from Wolji Pond are daily items actually used in the royal court, which offers a unique glimpse into court life in Unified Silla. 

This furnace, found in Wolji in 1975, has both a fireplace compartment and a pipe attachment to vent smoke. The furnace was also used for cooking, as evidenced by the two holes on the top, which allowed two different dishes to be cooked simultaneously. A clay band was laid along the holes to prevent heat from escaping. Designs of flying birds are stamped along the upper ridge of the furnace, while the middle section is stippled with dotted lines. The interior of the furnace retains some smoke residue, proving that this furnace was actually used. In fact, many of the artifacts excavated from Wolji were used in the palace. Such materials are essential for studying the lifestyle of that time, as well as for determining the historical timeline.

The excavated inkstones come in two types: those with multiple feet and those with a round tubular base. They are dark-grey in color as they were baked in a relatively high temperature. Some still show traces of dried ink and others show signs of heavy use on the grinding surface.

Lacquer Wares 
From the mud flat under the stone wall around the west and south of the pond, over 40 vessels and lacquer ware were unearthed, opening a new chapter in the research into Unified Silla lacquer ware. 

This is estimated to have adorned a Buddhist temple altar, and each set was comprised of eight petals. On the surface of each petal, thin silver plate pieces cut out into the shape of flowers and butterflies are pasted and then lacquered, and finally, the lacquer on the designs was scraped out. This technique is referred to as “Lacquered Inlay”, which was also popular in Tang dynasty China. This type of lacquerware also can be found in the Shosoin collection in Japan, which offers a partial glimpse into cultural exchanges in East Asia at that time.

Jade Stone, Horn, etc. 
Artifacts made of stone, glass, and animal bones were also excavated from Wolji Pond. Among them, products made of agalmatolite mainly consisted of vessels and ornaments. The vessels include large bowls, lids, and small jars, all of which are identical with metalcraft vessels in shape. Ornaments made of pyrophylite include the lid of an incense burner attached with a lion figurine, and paperweights. In addition, stone handrails, one of the construction items, and bone ornaments that depict lifelike birds and flowers offer a glimpse of the luxurious court life of this era. 

This lion-shaped incense burner cover, recovered from Wolji, was elaborately carved from a single piece of agalmatolite. A lit incense stick could be inserted into a hole in the bottom, so that the smoke would emanate from the lion’s mouth, nose, and ears. The lion faces forwards, sitting back on its hind legs, fully erect with its claws dug firmly into the ground. Its mane extends from the top of the head down the entire length of its back, and is portrayed with exquisite symmetry and fine detail. The black eyeballs and snarling mouth are exceptionally lifelike. This work is regarded as the most elaborate of the lion statues from the nified Silla Period.

These ornaments, decorated with flower and bird designs, are made from animal bones, and they were found near the drainage facilities of Wolji. Each ornament was made by polishing one side of a long animal bone, boring holes a set distance from one another, and then engraving the designs between the holes in alternating order. Two birds were engraved as a pair, as if preparing to fly off into the sky together. Stone pieces with similar bird designs are housed in Shosoin, Japan, providing a vital clue to the cultural exchange which took place between Unified Silla and Japan. The flower design has petals, stems, and leaves spread on two sides. The realistically portrayed bird and flower designs offer a glimpse into the extravagant lifestyle of the palace. Although the exact purpose of these ornaments remains unknown, some experts believe that they were used to decorate the edge of standing screens or tables.

Recent  Research
The National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage has been excavating the east side of Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond since 2007. With the discovery of roof tiles bearing inscriptions that suggest they belong to large buildings and Donggung Palace in an earlier form, recent research on the Ga district (6,575m2) to the north of Donghae Nambu Line (railroad line connecting Pohang and Busan) has found that in total the ancient Donggung Palace covered an area much larger than that of the restored site at present.
Wolji Gallery 
You can look archaeological finds from Wolji in Gyeongju National Museum. The building named Wolji Gallery, was designed by architect Kim Swoo-geun (1931-1986). Its simple exterior with brick and wood walls surmounted by a tiled roof is said to have been inspired by traditional warehouses.
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