The Kimchi-ite: A 1000-Year-Old Temple In The Middle Of Seoul

Exiting Sadang Station in Seoul, you can immediately tell it is one of the busiest stations in South Korea; throngs of people are everywhere, pushing and shoving their way in and out. Outside the station are dozens of alleys with neon lights going up four stories, advertising barbecue restaurants, bars and karaoke rooms. Lines crisscross the sidewalk for buses that will take people home to the suburbs. It’s near unimaginable that not far behind the station, up an unassuming hill, is a tranquil Buddhist temple.

This colorful door panel is one of many dragon pieces on the temple doors.
Gwaneum Temple (관음사) was established shortly before 900 A.D. by the Jongye Order in order to harness the power of the mountain’s feng shui. It sits halfway up a mountain, amongst trees, streams and hiking paths. The only reason I even knew it existed is because a friend of mine found it accidentally when he was lost. While the temple was established well over 1,000 years ago, most of the buildings on the site were built in the 1970s, with a few dating to the 1920s.

The interior of the temple where respects are paid and people meditate.

A new statue sits atop a pedestal as a place for self-relection.

These ornate, carved flowers add amazing colors to the temple doors.

The colors used in the art and architecture of Korean temples are always striking, and separates them from temples in other parts of Asia. Almost exclusively, four colors are used: teal, blue, orange and red. The main doors are guarded by large, carved, wooden dragons – a theme here that would continue throughout the grounds.

Dragons are a continuous theme throughout the temple grounds, as seen in this artwork on a temple wall.

Carved dragon heads protect the temple entrance.

A view from the top with Seoul Tower in the distance.

After spending an hour slowly exploring the temple grounds, I turned to walk back to the station when I was presented with this magnificent view of the city. There are certainly many places to check out the Seoul cityscape from above, but this one was unexpected and without the crowds that too commonly accompany Korean attractions, making this perspective one of my favorites.

Be sure to check out all the other Kimchi-ite posts here.

[Photos by Jonathan Kramer]

Child on rocking horse is the latest statue on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

Trafalgar Square
The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square has gotten its latest adornment–a giant bronze kid on a rocking horse.

Trafalgar Square is one of London’s most visited spots. In fact, it’s hard not to go there since it’s right in front of the National Gallery and is a nexus of several important roads. Three plinths flanking Nelson’s Column support statues of a king and two generals, and a fourth plinth, originally constructed to carry a statue of King William IV, is now used as a space for temporary installations.

This latest statue is called “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101″ and is meant to reflect a different take on the heroic equestrian statue. You can read the full artist’s statement here.

Trafalgar SquareAs a regular visitor to London I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s coming next to the Fourth Plinth. Personally, though, I don’t think any of the statues have been as good as the very first, put up in 2005.

“Alison Lapper Pregnant” showed an English artist born with no arms and shortened legs. The giant marble statue, seen here in a photo courtesy Vards Uzvards, showed her nude and pregnant. It caused quite a stir when it went up, with some people saying Lapper’s condition was being exploited for shock value. I didn’t think so and, more importantly, neither did Lapper. Instead, it showed a brave woman who wasn’t afraid to get on with her life despite a terrible birth defect. That’s much more impressive than a cute kid on a rocking horse.

No public domain image of the statue was available at press time. This photo of a model is courtesy Loz Pycock.

Sexy goddess bares all in Boston

sexy
The ancient goddess of love, sex, and beauty is making an appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is a new exhibition examining one of the most popular ancient goddesses and her place in the Classical world. More than 150 ancient works of art are on display, including famous pieces such as the Knidia, a life-size sculpture of Aphrodite made by the 4th-century BC Greek artist, Praxiteles. Another interesting piece is the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a reclining figure who from one side looks like a voluptuous woman, and from the other like a man.

The exhibition traces Aphrodite’s sexy origins in the Near East and the place of her cult in Greek and Roman society. Aphrodite was a Greek goddess who was adopted into the Roman pantheon as Venus. She was the symbol of romantic love and ideal beauty. She also oversaw marriage, an odd choice since many of the myths surrounding her involve her cheating on her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaistos (Vulcan). Men worshiped her because she aroused male virility.

Being in charge of such important aspects of life made Aphrodite extremely popular. She was the patron goddess of Pompeii. Interestingly, Ramsay MacMullen in his Paganism in the Roman Empire points out that altars in private homes in Pompeii were more often dedicated to Foruna, Vesta, and Bacchus than Aphrodite. Perhaps because love received so much public worship, people felt they needed to give good luck, the home, and drinking some attention. They can be related, after all!

McMullen’s book (which I highly recommend) also touches on various ways the Romans worshipped Venus, including picnicking in the orchards around her sanctuary in Cnidus, and wild processions where a woman playing Venus led a string of dancing children playing Cupid. She and the other deities were very much part of daily life.

The exhibition also looks at related figures of Classical mythology, such as Aphrodite’s sons Eros (Cupid), the well-endowed Priapus, and Hermaphrodite.

If you want to meet this lovely lady and her interesting offspring, you better hurry. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is only on until February 20, 2012.

Top photo: Fresco of The Judgment of Paris, Roman, Imperial Period, 45–79 A.D. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. © www.pedicinimages.com. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Is the Romulus and Remus statue a copy from the Middle Ages?

Romulus and Remus
It’s one of the most famous symbols of ancient Rome–the legendary Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf. Legend has it the brothers were born to a Vestal Virgin who had been abducted by the war god Mars. Abandoned, they were raised by a she-wolf. As adults they fought each other. Romulus killed Remus and went on to build Rome. The statue graces Rome’s Capitoline Museum and is photographed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.

But it may date from centuries after Rome fell.

In fact, it may date from the Middle Ages. The bronze wolf has long thought to be Etruscan, an ancient Italian culture that predated the Romans. Modern carbon dating shows it wasn’t made in the 5th century BC but rather the 13th century AD. The babies are known to have been added in the 15th century. The tests on the wolf were conducted five years ago and were shrugged off by the Capitoline Museum as inconclusive.

Now scholars are saying the museum was wrong to dismiss the results and have pointed out that the statue was cast as a single piece, something the Etruscans and Romans couldn’t do with a statue so large. Medieval artisans could. It’s possible the present statue was a copy produced from an earlier statue that was, indeed Etruscan. It’s impossible to say.

The museum is adding this “alternate theory” to its literature, although that doesn’t mean they’re giving up on the Etruscan theory just yet.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The top creepiest statues in New York City

There are countless statues in New York City, each one put into place for a different reason. Many of these statues have been there for decades, often gifts and peace offerings from other countries. The Statue of Liberty, for example, was a peace offering from France, officially dedicated in the year 1886. Lady Liberty represents the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. While the word ‘creepy’ typically does not pop into anyone’s head when they think of this important statue, there are plenty of other monuments in good ol’ New York which can make the most fearless person’s skin crawl.

Listed here are the top creepiest statues in New York City. Understand that while some of these statues may seem like odd choices, there is always a rhyme and reason behind picking them. Fasten your safety belts and get ready for an interesting journey into the weirdest monuments the Big Apple has to offer.

1. Miguel de Cervantes (right) First on the list is the statue of famed Spanish writer and painter, Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was born on Sep. 29, 1547 and died April 23, 1616. He lived in Madrid for a large portion of his life and is most popularly known for writing the epic novel “Don Quixote.” A statue of him currently rests on the NYU campus near Fifth Avenue and has been in place since 1986. This particular statue is known for giving the viewer a solemn, lonely feeling. Plus, it does sort of look like he is watching everyone as they walk past him. At any rate, whether some people agree or not, the statue of Miguel de Cervates is pretty creepy.

2. Lin Ze Xu This is probably an odd choice, considering Lin Ze Xu was a widely respected Chinese scholar and member of the Qing Dynasty, advocating peace and moral high-ground during his tenure–but the selection stands. Xu was born Aug. 30, 1785 and died Nov. 22, 1850. A statue was erected by an unknown sculptor in 1999 and is now sitting on the busy intersection of East Broadway St. and Chatham Square. Xu was chosen to be on this list of creepy statues because of his grim expression and stature. Xu’s memorial has him dressed in ancient Chinese garb, looking as if he is lording over the many passerby of Broadway St.

3. Dolly Dimples Now it’s time to kick it into high gear. Dolly Dimples is an extremely odd example of New York statues, currently owned by a local candy shop called Valvo’s Candy. She is a giant 1950’s style little girl and can be seen in the distance waving at passersby, sporting a rather unscrupulous smile. She was originally part of a drive-in restaurant in the 1970s called Pat’s Diner. While Dolly Dimples is probably modeled after the idea of a sweet, innocent school-girl, she at least appears to have ulterior motives hidden somewhere behind that creepy grin of hers.

4.Big Leather Guy This statue resides off of Route 30 and used to belong to Alvord’s House of Leather. Alvord’s closed in late 1998 and now the statue has found a new home. He looks quite a lot like the fabled character Paul Bunyon and is totally retro, sporting his 1970s suede jacket and high-legged boots. Big Leather Guy is now positioned outside of the entry way at Adirondack Leather Shop, greeting customers with his all-too-warm smile.

5.The Long Island Sphinx Near the beaches of Long Island resides a strange, small-scale ‘replica’ of the mighty Sphinx. This one more than makes the list of creepy New York City statues, not only because of it’s decidedly lecherous expression, but because of an odd inscription carved into his midsection, which reads: “She Who Climbs To The Sphinx’s Head, A Millionaire Will Surely Wed.”

6.The Stoned Shores of Staten Island Finally, the time comes to mention the stone structures of Staten Island’s beaches. These strange monuments litter the shores, taking the viewer on a wild journey to what appears to be a very creepy alien landscape, full of towers, rooms and Stonehenge-like structures. These oddities were in fact built by Douglas Schwartz, who claims that his creations, spanning over a half-mile, are the product of an ecological art experiment. Regardless of their purpose, Schwartz gets awarded the official crown for ‘King of Creepiness.’