Colonial Korea: Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)

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A mountainside view of Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do in 1933.

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Baekyangsa Temple, which is located in Naejangsan National Park, lies to the far north of the Jangseong, Jeollanam-do city limits. In fact, the temple grounds border the neighbouring province of Jeollabuk-do. Baekyangsa Temple is scenically situated on the southern slopes of Mt. Baekamsan.

Baekyangsa Temple, which means “White Sheep Temple,” in English (more on that later), was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C.E. – 660 A.D.) by Zen Master Yeohwan. At first, the temple was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was only later that it changed its name to Baekmasa Temple. Finally, the temple was named Baekyangsa Temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The name of the temple, Baekyangsa Temple, refers to a legend that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. In this legend, sheep came down from the neighbouring mountains to listen to sermons preached at the temple. After listening to the temple sermons, the sheep would gain enlightenment and ascend to heaven.

During the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, Baekyangsa Temple was recognized as a key temple in Korea. Currently, Baekyangsa Temple is the 18th headquarters for the Jogye-jong Order. Additionally, it plays an important role in educating monks in the Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do provinces in Korea.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Baekyangsa Temple in 1933.

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The scenic pavilion at Baekyangsa Temple in 2014.

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The beautifully framed Daeung-jeon main hall in 2014.

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The main hall and Baekhak-bong Peak off in the distance.

Colonial Korea: Ssangbongsa Temple – 쌍봉사 (Hwasun, Jeollanam-do)

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The amazing Daeung-jeon Hall from 1933 at Ssangbongsa Temple in Hwasun, Jeollanam-do before it was tragically destroyed by fire in 1983.

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Ssangbongsa Temple is located in southern Hwasun, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Twin Peaks Temple,” in English, and it gets this name from the twin peaks that frame Ssangbongsa Temple.

Ssangbongsa Temple was first established some time before 839 A.D. There isn’t a specific date attached to this temple, but the stupa for the monk Hyecheol-guksa at Taeansa Temple states that he spent a summer at Ssangbongsa Temple after returning from Tang China in the first year of King Shinmu (r. 839). So it appears as though Ssangbongsa Temple was already built some time before 839.

Throughout the years, Ssangbongsa Temple has be expanded and reconstructed; and then, in 1597, the temple was partially destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Of all the buildings, both the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the Daeung-jeon three story wooden pagoda survived. Throughout its long history, both of war and peace, the Daeung-jeon Hall remained unharmed. However, in 1983, the wooden pagoda was completely destroyed by fire when a devotee tripped and knocked over a candle during Buddha’s birthday. This national treasure was restored, as a  replica, in 1986.

In total, Ssangbongsa Temple houses one National Treasure and three additional Treasures. Of the group, it’s National Treasure #57, the stone stupa of Master Cheolgam during the Unified Silla Dynasty that stands out from the group with its sheer beauty.

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The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 1933.

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A closer look at Ssangbongsa Temple in 1933.

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The amazing Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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The uniquely designed Hoseong-jeon Hall.

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Now the oldest shrine hall at Ssangbongsa Temple: the Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 2014.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall replica from 1986.

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Another look at the Daeung-jeon three story wooden pagoda.

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A look at the Hoseong-jeon Hall in 2014.

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As well as the temple’s Geukrak-jeon Hall.

Colonial Korea: Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

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Hwaeomsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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Hwaeomsa Temple was first established as a temple in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi (who may or may not have been an Indian missionary monk). The name of the temple means, in English, “Flower Garland Sutra Temple.” And it’s located just outside Gurye, Jeollanam-do in the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

After its foundation, and during the mid-600s, the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625-702) returned from Tang China after studying there for ten years. With him, he returned to the Korean peninsula with the Hwaeom sect of Buddhist teachings. It was through his efforts, as well as the state support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), that Hwaeomsa Temple was not only rebuilt, but it was expanded, as well.

Then, in the late 800s, Hwaeomsa Temple was further expanded, once more, under the guidance of Master Doseon-guksa (826-898). It was at this point in the temple’s history that most of the stone monuments that still stand to this day, like the stone lantern and stone pagodas in the main temple courtyard, were built.

Not surprisingly, and like so much of the rest of the Korean peninsula, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Just thirty years later, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt.

Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples throughout Korea. Not only that, but it’s also one of the most venerated, as well. In total, Hwaeomsa Temple houses four National Treasures like the Three-story Stone Pagoda, which is National Treasure #35, as well as the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67. In addition to these National Treasures, Hwaeomsa Temple also houses an additional eight Treasures.

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The Iljumun Gate from 1933 at Hwaeomsa Temple.

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Some of the intricate artistry adorning the Iljumun Gate.

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The smaller sized Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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The East Pagoda out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall in 1916.

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As well as the West Pagoda in 1916 in the main temple courtyard.

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Some of the beautiful woodwork adorning the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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A look inside the main hall in 1933.

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A look up at the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon in 1933.

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A look around the main hall.

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To the left of the main hall are the Wontong-jeon Hall and Nahan-jeon in 1933.

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The Gakhwang-jeon in 1933 with the massive, and historic, stone lantern out in front of it. The stone lantern also just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

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Outside the Gakhwang-jeon.

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A look inside the spacious Gakhwang-jeon.

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A look across the main altar inside the Gakhwang-jeon.

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The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 1916.

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A closer look at the lion base of the pagoda.

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An up close and personal with just one of the ferocious lions.

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The stone statue at the centre of the lion pagoda is believed to be Yeongi’s mother.

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Doors carved into the body of the pagoda.

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A stupa found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.

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A large biseok found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.

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The same exact biseok from 2005.

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The Iljumun Gate in 2013.

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Daeung-jeon main hall in 2013.

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The massive Gakhwang-jeon in 2013 with the West Pagoda out in front of it.

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A look inside the Gakhwang-jeon hall in 2005.

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The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 2013.

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And a closer look at the pagoda in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

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Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do in 1933

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Songgwangsa Temple is one of the three Korean jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Unlike the other two temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels.

Songgwangsa Temple is located in scenic Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English, and Songgwangsa Temple was established in the 1190s. Much like Bulguksa Temple a few hundred years earlier, Songgwangsa Temple was created on the former grounds of a temple; in this case, it was Gilsangsa Temple. Gilsangsa Temple was first built in 867 A.D. Gilsangsa Temple was built by the Seon master, Hyerin. In total, some thirty to forty monks lived at the temple at this time.

From the mid to late 12th century, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned as a functioning temple. It wasn’t until 1190, and over the course of a nine year period, that the famed monk Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210), rebuilt the temple. Not only did he rebuild Gilsangsa Temple, but he also renamed it Songgwangsa Temple. It was not long after his renaming of the temple that Songgwangsa Temple became important as a centre for Korean Buddhism.

Like so many other temples throughout Korea’s turbulent past, Songgwangsa Temple also suffered. During the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as the more recent Korean War (1950-53), Songgwangsa Temple suffered varying degrees of damage.

But with this devastation and destruction goes periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was then largely rebuilt in the 17th century after the Imjin War. And even more recently, Songgwangsa Temple was renovated in 1988. It was during this time that fourteen of the temple buildings were refurbished. And even as recently as 2013, Songgwangsa Temple’s Cheonwangmun Gate received a complete renovation.

Throughout its storied past, Songgwangsa Temple has produced some sixteen national preceptors. Also, in 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, which Korean Buddhism is a part of. In total, Songgwangsa Temple houses four National Treasures and twenty-one additional Treasures.

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The Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in 1933.

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The Jogyemun Gate in 1933.

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The stupa field at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The front entrance of the temple in 1933.

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People swimming in the stream that flows down from Mt. Jogyesan.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A closer look at the intricate artwork that adorns the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The temple’s bell pavilion in 1933.

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The Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Another look at the main hall from 1933.

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A closer look at the amazing artistry on the main hall.

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A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.

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A look around the main hall.

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The Guksa-jeon from 1933, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #56.

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A closer look at the shrine hall’s artistry.

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The shrine hall dates back to 1369 and houses 16 paintings of the 16 national preceptors.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall at Songgwangsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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And a look inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall.

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The Jogyemun Gate in 2007.

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A look at the front entry at Songgwangsa Temple in 2007.

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The stream that flows down to Songgwangsa Temple from Mt. Jogyesan in 2007.

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The Daeungbo-jeon main hall in 2013.

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And a look inside the main hall in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Muwisa Temple – 무위사 (Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)

Muwisa6Part of Treasure #1315 is a painting centred by Amita-bul from 1476. This black and white picture was taken in 1933.

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Muwisa Temple is located in the beautiful Wolchulsan National park on the south side near the city of Gangjin, Jeollanam-do. The temple is first believed to have been built back in 617 A.D. by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. At this time, the temple was known as Gwaneumsa Temple after the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Gwanseeum-bosal. Later, in the 10th century, it was expanded by the equally famous monk, Doseon-guksa. It was at this time that the temple came to be known as Muwigapsa Temple.

In total, the temple houses two National Treasures and four additional Treasures. The first of the national treasures, National Treasure #13, is the main hall at Muwisa Temple: the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to 1430. The other national treasure is National Treasure #313, which is a mural of Amita-bul that backs the triad of statues on the main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural is believed to date back to 1476.

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The exterior of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall in 1933. The hall is National Treasure #13.

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Some eaves from the main hall at Muwisa Temple.

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And some more from the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.

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And a final picture that captures some more of the intricate woodwork on the main hall at Muwisa Temple.

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A look inside the Geukrakbo-jeon at the historic painting of Amita-bul. This picture was also taken in 1933.

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Another historic painting of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas inside the Geukrakbo-jeon from 1933.

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The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural backing the main altar is National Treasure #313.

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The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.

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The ceiling inside the main hall above the main altar at Muwisa Temple.

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The Geukrakbo-jeon as it appeared in 2014.

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The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon with National Treasure #313 backing the triad of altar statues.

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The decorative ceiling above the main altar.

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The Gwanseeum-bosal mural on the back side of the main altar.

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One of the historic murals that adorns the interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon.

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As well as another.

Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Some beautiful flowers enjoying a bit of springtime rain at Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do.

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Heugguksa Temple, which lies just north of the Yeosu city centre, is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Yeongchwisan (Vulture Peak Mountain). The name of the temple, Heungguksa Temple, means “Temple of Flourishing Kingdom Temple,” in English. Heungguksa Temple was first built in 1196 by the famed monk Jinul. The temple was built in this location to fulfill a former monk’s prophecy. The prophecy stated that if a temple was built on the grounds that Heungguksa Temple now occupies, the nation would flourish. The temple was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After some of the temple buildings were rebuilt after this invasion, they were destroyed once more during the Imjin War in 1592 and 1597. Heungguksa Temple was rebuilt once more in 1642 by the monk Gyeteuk.

You first approach the temple grounds past the stately Iljumun Gate. The first sign that you’re approaching the temple grounds is a grouping of twelve stupas that also include the earthly remains of Jinul, as well as other prominent monks from eastern Jeollanam-do. A little further along, and just before you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate, is a turtle-based stele that dates back to 1703. The history of the temple’s reconstruction is written on the body of the biseok.

Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four descriptive statues of the Four Heavenly Kings that stand on an elevated enclosure. To the left of this gate is the temple’s museum which houses an 18th century Gwaebul painting of Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The museum is joined by a weathered bell pavilion that houses an equally old looking collection of Buddhist percussion instruments.

Straight ahead of the Cheonwangmun Gate, and just before you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Beopwangmun Gate. Originally constructed in 1624, the interior of this gate is rather spacious.

Having stepped inside the main temple courtyard, and straight ahead, lays the Daeung-jeon main hall at Heungguksa Temple. The main hall dates back to 1624. Out in front of the main hall is some beautiful masonry, which includes a turtle based stone lantern (which now looks more like a demon than a turtle), as well as some decorative reliefs on the stairs that lead up to the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are pastoral paintings. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jaehwagara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues date back to 1628-1644. The masterful main altar painting that backs these statues dates back to 1693. In the back left corner is a historic all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) front and centre. These statues date back to the 17th century and are backed by elaborate paintings of the worlds that the Ten Kings rule over in the afterlife.

To the rear of the main hall is the Buljo-jeon, which houses some ancient artifacts from the temple. Unfortunately, this hall is locked at all times. To the rear of this hall, and slightly up an embankment, are a pair of halls. Passing under a low lying entry gate, the first of the two halls is the Palsang-jeon. This hall houses eight replica paintings from the Buddha’s Life (Palsang-do murals). To the left of the Palsang-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. Newly rebuilt, the hall houses replicas of original paintings of the Nahan.

The final pair of halls that visitors can enjoy at Heungguksa Temple lie to the rear of the temple grounds. The first is the Wontong-jeon, which houses a multi-arm and headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Purportedly, the hall was first constructed in 1633, but judging from the architecture, it’s probably closer to the 19th century because of the brackets holding up the hall. Just below the Wontong-jeon is an artificial cave that houses a dragon-spout well, as well as two stone reliefs dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang (The Dragon King).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #52 to get to Heungguksa Temple. The bus leaves every 40 minutes from the terminal, and the ride should take about an hour from the terminal to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Heungguksa Temple has a wide variety of shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring the temple grounds. Beautifully situated under Mt. Yeongchwisan on large grounds, the stone masonry in and around the main hall is something to enjoy at the temple. The ancient buildings, as well as the artwork that adorns the halls both inside and out, are something to take your time with, too. There’s a little of something for everyone at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you at Heungguksa Temple.

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The pathway that leads you towards the temple courtyard.

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Part of the set of twelve prominent stupas at the temple.

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The large commemorative stele at the entry of Heungguksa Temple.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The hollow Beopwangmun Gate.

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A look through the gate towards the main hall at Heungguksa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon.

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The turtle-based stone lantern out in front of the main hall.

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A closer look at the turtle-based stone lantern. Looks a little more like a goblin these days.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar and the 17th century statues.

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The uniquely supported dharma drum at Heungguksa Temple.

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A collection of dongja (attendants) that line the museum walls.

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The unpainted Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.

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A look inside at the 17th century statues of Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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A look past the Buljo-jeon towards the upper courtyard.

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The diminutive gate that welcomes you to the upper courtyard and the Palsang-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Palsang-jeon.

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And the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.

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The secluded Wontong-jeon at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Yongwang-dang at the temple.

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With a look inside the shaman shrine hall.

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Enjoying the rain and the view.

Hyangiram Hermitage – 향일암 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do on a rainy day.

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Located in the very southern tip of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, and perched in and around the crags and crevices of Mt. Geumosan, is Hyangiram Hermitage. The hermitage was first founded in 644 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa. It was here that Wonhyo-daesa had a vision of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Originally, the temple was known as Wontongam Hermitage, until the High Priest Yun Pil changed the name of the hermitage to Geumoam Hermitage in 950 A.D. while studying there. In 1592, the entire hermitage was burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War. In 1715, the hermitage was rebuilt by the monk Inmuk-daesa. It was also at this time that the hermitage was renamed with its present name of Hyangiram Hermitage, which means “Looking Out at the Sun Hermitage,” in English. On December 20th, 2009, the main hall at the hermitage, as well as the bell tower, was completely destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the rest of the hermitage was spared from this fire, and both the main hall and the bell tower have been rebuilt in recent years. Hyangiram Hermitage, alongside three other hermitages like neighbouring Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, are four holy sites for the worship of Gwanseeum-bosal.

You first approach the hermitage grounds past a large collection of stores and restaurants. About half way up the mountain, you’ll come to the hermitage’s admission booth. After paying your 2,000 won entry fee, you can either head left towards the stately Iljumun Gate and large turtle-based stele, or you can head right up the road that monks use for their vehicles at the hermitage. I would suggest the much more beautiful, and scenic, left pathway.

The aforementioned trail will zig-and-zag its way up the mountain, until you arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage grounds. Just outside the temple grounds, once again, you can either head right towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or head left towards the main hall. Again, I would recommend heading left and making your way through a narrow opening in the rocks and up a flight of stairs sculpted from the mountain’s rock face.

It’s only after appearing on the other side of these naturally occurring obstacles that you get a great view of the South Sea from the hermitage’s main courtyard. You also get to see some islands that dot the horizon, as well as a neighbouring harbour.

Behind you stands the newly rebuilt Daeung-jeon main hall at Hyangiram Hermitage. Lining the exterior walls are a set of Palsang-do murals, as well as a collection of phoenixes and zodiac animals that line the eaves of the hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall, and up a set of stone stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Again, and from this elevated vantage point, you get an amazing view of the South Sea. Inside the main hall are a pair of haunting murals dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). As for the exterior walls, there are a pair of tigers, one of which has its ferocious mouth wide open.

To the left of the main hall, and past the newly rebuilt bell pavilion, are a set of stairs that lead you to the rear of the Daeung-jeon. It’s through an opening in the mountain’s face, and up a set of stairs situated in a crevice on the mountain, that you’ll finally come to the Gwaneeum-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar, and backed by a simplistic black mural, is a rather small seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of this hall stands a three metre tall stone statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Yet another great view of the seaside landscape awaits you from the heights of the Gwaneeum-jeon. It’s also from this vantage point, and if you look down towards the greenery that lies at your feet past the arm rail, you’ll notice a rock outcropping with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it. It’s from here that Wonhyo-daesa also enjoyed the amazing view way back in the 7th century.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hyangiram Hermitage from Yeosu and back, it will probably take you the better part of the day to do. From the Yeosu Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the road and take either Bus #111 or Bus #113 to get to the Impo bus stop (임포 향일암). The bus ride should take about an hour and a half to do. From the bus stop, go 100 metres up the road with the ocean to your left. At the GS 25 convenience store, turn right and start the ascent up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to the entry gate where you have to pay. After that, just follow the signs the rest of the way towards Hyangiram Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For the view alone, this hermitage rates as high as it does. But when you add into the mix the narrow crevices and cracks that link all the halls together, as well as the beautiful artwork all around Hyangiram Hermitage, and you know why this remote hermitage is a must see for any temple adventure seeker.

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The stairs that lead up to Hyangiram Hermitage.

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A large stele along the way.

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A closer look at the Iljumun Gate as the rain continues to fall.

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One of the crevices you’ll have to pass through on your way up to the hermitage courtyard.

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A flight of stairs and you’ll finally see all that Hyangiram Hermitage has to offer.

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The foggy view of the South Sea with an obscured island off in the distance.

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A foggy harbour down below.

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A look up towards the Daeung-jeon and Mt. Geumosan.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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As well as some amazing eaves’ work on the Daeung-jeon.

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Both the bell pavilion and Daeung-jeon roof close together.

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A cave entryway at the hermitage.

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The flight of stairs that lead through another large crevice and up towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon through the rain.

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The front facade of the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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The meditative stone that Wonhyo-daesa prayed upon, as well as a foggy South Sea off in the distance.

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A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the main altar inside.

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To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Hyangiram Hermitage.

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The obscured view from the rolling fog from the Samseong-gak towards the Daeung-jeon.

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A decorative, and ferociously posed, tiger on one of the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.

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The view from the Samseong-gak.

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The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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And a look out onto the rain from the shaman shrine hall.

Now and Then: Unjusa Temple

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The mysterious Unjusa Temple in black and white.

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Unjusa Temple is located in Hwasun County, Jeollanam-do, and its origins are largely unknown. But whatever the date of its creation, it’s believed that master Doseon-guksa established the temple according to geomantic principles. In fact, the name of the temple, Unjusa Temple, can have two meanings. One meaning is “the place where clouds stay.”

Another meaning, and perhaps the more relevant one to the temple’s founding myth, is “Driving the Ship Temple,” in English. The reason this name is important to the principles behind the creation of Unjusa Temple is that Doseon-guksa, according to geomancy, believed that this part of the peninsula would be uneven, and potentially capsize, if it wasn’t righted. Compared to the eastern side of the Goryeo Kingdom, Yeongnam (which means “south of the passes,” in present day Gyeongsang Provinces), the western portion of the peninsula, Honam, had an apparent lack of mountains. So to counter this listing, Doseon decided to build one thousand Buddhist images and one thousand pagodas. By not listing, the ship could be brought back to port (and home).

To counteract this imbalance in nature, Doseon decided to call down stone masons from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas. However, before the final Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed as the night drew to a close. With this, all the heavenly masons were recalled back to heaven, leaving two incomplete statues left lying unfinished on the temple grounds. These two unfinished statues, which visitors are able to see on a neighbouring mountain top, are called Wabul in Korea, or “The Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha,” in English. In all probability, however, Unjusa Temple was created as a school for stonemasons.

Presently, of the original one thousand Buddha statues and pagodas, twenty-one stone pagodas and ninety-four Buddha sculptures still remain on the temple grounds. Of these stone structures, three are listed as Korean treasures, while Unjusa Temple itself is considered Historic Site #312. Among all the potential temples you can visit throughout Korea, Unjusa Temple definitely has a mysterious feel to it. More recently, and from 1984 to 1991, the Jeonnam National University Museum conducted four excavations and two academic studies to uncover some of the temple’s greater mysteries.

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A closer, older, look at the valley of pagodas.

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 The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine: Treasure #797.

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A combination of both historic pagodas and statues.

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The twelve metre long Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha.

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A more recent photo from Unjusa Temple towards the valley of pagodas.

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 The unique Hwasun Stone Shrine.

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Some mountainside statues and a crowning pagoda.

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A contemporary picture of the twelve metre long Lying Buddhas.

Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple

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Hwaeomsa Temple from 1920.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple is located in present day Gurye, Jeollanam-do, and it’s part of the famed Jirisan National Park. The name of the temple means “Flower Garland Sutra Temple,” and it relates to one of the temple’s most famous residents. The temple was first founded in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi, who may, or may not have, come from India as a missionary monk. Then, in the mid-600s, the famed Uisang returned from Tang China after ten years of study. With him, he returned with the Hwaeom sect teachings. So through his efforts, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt and expanded at this time with the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647).

And then, once more, the temple was further expanded and refurbished by Master Doseon-guksa in the late 800s. It was at this time that most of the temple’s stone monuments like the massive stone lantern and the stone pagodas were built.

Then, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed. After thirty years, the temple was finally rebuilt. Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples in Korea, and it’s also one of the most respected. Hwaeomsa Temple houses some of the most recognizable features in all of Korea like the Gakhwangjeon Hall and the Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions. In total, the temple houses four National Treasures and eight additional Treasures.

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Monks out in front of the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67.

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 A monk next to the massive stone lantern, which just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

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National Treasure #35, The Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple, from 1914.

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Gakhwang-jeon Hall, today.

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National Treasure #12, today.

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And the unforgettable Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple

 

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The front facade to Songgwangsa Temple from 1928.

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Songgwangsa Temple is located in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do on the western slopes of Mt. Jogyesan. Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English. It  was first established in the 1190s. However, Songgwangsa Temple was built on the grounds of a former temple, Gilsangsa Temple, which was built in 867 A.D. The original Gilsangsa Temple was constructed by Seon master, Hyerin. Not only did he help construct the temple, but he also lived there with thirty to forty fellow monks, as well. With that said, very little is known about Hyerin, and some scholars believe he might simply be a legendary figure.

For some fifty years, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned in the mid-to-late 12th century. It wasn’t until the 1190, and over a nine year period, that the famed monk, Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210) reconstructed the temple. The temple was renamed Songgwangsa Temple at this point, and it was not long after that it became an important centre for Korean Buddhism.

Songgwangsa Temple, like numerous other temples throughout the Korean peninsula, has had a turbulent past. It suffered damage both during the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as during the Korean War (1950-53).

However, coupled with this devastation, the temple has gone through periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also, the temple was largely rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction during the Imjin War. More recent renovations took place in 1988. During this time, fourteen buildings at the temple were refurbished.

In total, Songgwangsa Temple has produced 16 national preceptors. In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Also, it was made an international meditation centre at this time. Historically, it’s one of the three jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels with its large monk population, which still exists to the present day. In total, the temple houses four national treasures and a couple dozen treasures.

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An overview of Songgwangsa Temple from 1940.

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The welcoming Iljumun Gate from 1920.

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The picturesque front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1920.

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And the former main hall from 1930.

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The present day Iljumun Gate.

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The beautiful front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The massive main hall constructed in 1988.