Daesansa Temple – 대산사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

The beautiful artwork dedicated to Yongwang at Daesansa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in south-western Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, on the northern ridgeline of Mt. Cheonwangsan, sits Daesansa Temple. The temple is scenically located past the Daesan-ji lake and up a zigzagging mountain road that looks down on the valley below.

As you first enter the grassy temple courtyard, you’ll notice the monks’ dorms and the visitors’ centre bookending the main hall at Daesansa Temple: the Wontong-jeon Hall. Out in front of the Wontong-jeon Hall is a one tier pagoda that’s seen better days. Lining the tiers and base of the pagoda are figurines that have been left behind by devotees. Painted around the exterior walls to this newly constructed main hall are beautiful, large Palsang-do murals depicting the eight stages from the Buddha’s life. Up near the eaves of the roof are smaller Shimu-do, Ox-herding murals, that are just as intricate and masterful as the Palsang-do set.

Stepping inside the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a unique set of main altar statues. The largest one in the middle is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And the golden capped statue to the left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), while the one to the right is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Rounding out the artwork inside the Wontong-jeon Hall is an older mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal to the left of the main altar.

To the right rear of the main hall are a set of three shaman shrine halls. The first to the far left is the Sanshin-gak. The all-natural wooden exterior houses a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Sanshin is joined in the painting by a dour looking tiger. To the right of the Sanshin-gak is the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak. Inside this shaman shrine hall, which has an all-natural wooden exterior, as well, are a pair of shaman murals. The first to the left is an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and to the right hangs a beautifully vibrant mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

The final shaman shrine housed at Daesansa Temple is dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The Yongwang-dang lies down a set of stone stairs. The white screened shrine houses one of the most amazing paintings dedicated to Yongwang that I’ve ever seen in Korea. This masterful painting is a new addition to the temple, and the former red wooden tablet that used to be housed inside the Yongwang-dang now rests out in front of it.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus #1 and get off at the bus stop named “Nokmyeong 2 ri” after seven stops (or 17 minutes). And from this stop, then take the town bus named “Punggak Sunhwan” (풍락 순환 버스). And after six stops, or 19 minutes, get off at the “Oksan 2 ri” bus stop. From this stop, you’ll need to walk for about 30 minutes, or 2.1 km, to get to the temple. Follow the signs as you make the climb towards Daesansa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. The main highlights to this temple are the amazing shaman artwork at Daesansa Temple. While there, have an especially close look at all four major pieces of artwork. Also of note are the statues resting on the main altar inside the Wontong-jeon Hall and the one tier pagoda out in front of the main hall.

The view from Daesansa Temple.

The Wontong-jeon main hall at Daesansa Temple.

The one tier pagoda out in front of the Wontong-jeon Hall.

One of the beautiful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals that adorns the exterior walls of the Wontong-jeon Hall.

As well as this intricate Palsang-do mural.

Inside the Wontong-jeon Hall during morning prayer.

The view towards the shaman shrine halls behind the main hall at Daesansa Temple.

The Sanshin-gak at Daesansa Temple.

The dour looking tiger and Sanshin together.

The Chilseong/Dokseong-gak at the temple.

The older mural dedicated to Chilseong.

And the vibrant Dokseong mural housed inside the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak.

The Yongwang shrine.

The amazing Yongwang mural housed inside the Yongwang-dang.

And one final look up at the Wontong-jeon main hall at Daesansa Temple.

Daejeoksa Temple – 대적사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Looking through the main gate at the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Daejeoksa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daejeoksa Temple is located in northern Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, nearly halfway towards the neighbouring city of Gyeongsan. Daejeoksa Temple was first constructed in 876 A.D. by the monk Bojo (804-880), and I’m guessing this isn’t to be confused with the more famous Bojo-guksa (1158-1210). But this temple was later abandoned only to be reconstructed by the monk Boyang during the early part of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). But even after reconstruction, the temple was reconstructed once more in 1689 by the monk Seonghae. And throughout the years, Daejeoksa Temple has gone through several renovations and repairs like in 1690, 1754, 1939, and more recently in the 1970s to the present.

You first approach Daejeoksa Temple to the left of the famed Cheongo Wine Tunnel. On the very road that leads up to the temple, there is an outlying stupa for the monk Pungam, which was erected in 1752.

To the left of this stupa, and up a sidewinding side street, is Daejeoksa Temple. Up a set of wide stone stairs, you’ll come to the temple entry gate with a pair of intimidating guardians on both of the entry doors. Stepping through the gate, you’ll enter into the temple courtyard with the monks’ dorms to your right and the historic Geukrak-jeon Hall straight ahead. This shrine hall, which also acts as the temple’s main hall, is Korean Treasure #836. The Geukrak-jeon Hall dates back to the repairs made at the temple in 1754.

Approaching the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll first notice the foundation stones that the hall rests on. Some of these stones are carved with lotus blossoms, turtles, and crabs. As for the stairs that lead up to the shrine hall, they are similar to the ones at the Daeung-jeon Hall at Beomeosa Temple in Busan. These stairs are even older than the shrine hall itself; the stone stairs date back to 1676.

Stepping inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a triad of statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre inside the smaller sized shrine hall rests Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). A painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs to the right of the main altar. And all around the interior of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are paintings of Taoist Immortals (Shinseon), Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). A look up towards the ancient ceiling is worth a gander with its dragons and floral murals.

To the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The exterior to the hall’s walls are largely unpainted all except for the traditional dancheong colours. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll notice a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal. And this statue is backed by a Jijang-bosal motif relief of the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife. Out in front of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall are three memorial tablets for deceased monks that once called Daejeoksa Temple their home.

The final shrine hall visitors can explore at Daejeoksa Temple is the Sanshin-gak shaman shrine hall to the rear of both the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The Sanshin-gak Hall was built in the mid-1990s. The exterior to this hall is unadorned, and when you step inside, the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural is rather non-descript. However, of interest inside this hall is the six-pack of soju to the bottom right of the mural, as well as the Pororo mat that you stand on while praying to the Mountain Spirit.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #7 and get off at the fifth stop, which is the “Songgeumri” bus stop. This bus ride should last about 25 minutes. From this bus stop, you’ll need to walk about ten minutes, or 700 metres to get to the temple. The temple lies to the left of the Cheongdo Wine Tunnel.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride should take 16 minutes and cost about 14,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. By far, the main highlight to Daejeoksa Temple is the Geukrak-jeon Hall. It’s a rather obvious choice when a temple has a Treasure associated with it; and for Daejeoksa Temple, it’s the main hall. With its beautiful masonry that makes up the foundational stones, as well as the beautiful paintings housed inside the main hall, you can take the better part of a day just exploring the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The road that leads up to Daejeoksa Temple.

The stupa dedicated to Pungam from 1752.

The entrance and main gate at Daejeoksa Temple.

One of the guardians that adorns the main gate’s doors.

The historic Geukrak-jeon Hall at Daejeoksa Temple.

The beautiful stairs that lead up to the Geukrak-jeon Hall and date back to 1676.

One of the stone carvings at the base of the Geukrak-jeon Hall. This one is a turtle design.

As well as one of the highly unique dragon heads that’s placed near the entrance of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The triad of statues that rest on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall with a mural of Chilseong to the right.

A look up at the ceiling inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

One of the Biseon (Flying Angels) that’s painted on one of the interior walls to the historic main hall.

As well as this Bodhidharma-like motif of the Shinseon.

The Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

Out in front of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

Inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

A beautiful blue sky to the rear of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

The Sanshin-gak to the rear of the Geukrak-jeon Hall and Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

The Pororo mat that you step onto inside the Sanshin-gak.

And the Sanshin mural inside the Sanshin-gak. Notice the six-pack of soju to the bottom right.

Cheongryeonam Hermitage – 청련암 (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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Cheongryeonam Hermitage to the east of Namjijangsa Temple in southern Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Cheongryeonam Hermitage is located east of its affiliated Namjijangsa Temple. Both are located in southern Daegu on the south side of Mt. Choijeongsan (905m). Like Namjijangsa Temple, Cheongryeonam Hermitage was first constructed in 684 A.D. by a monk named Yanggae. Both were constructed on the behest of the Silla king, King Sinmun (r. 681-692). Like Namjijangsa Temple, Cheongryeonam Hermitage was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Cheongryeonam Hermitage, during the Imjin War, was used as a training centre for warrior monks. The hermitage was rebuilt several times from 1653 to 1714. Once more, the hermitage was destroyed by fire in 1806. The current hermitage structures date back to 1808.

Cheongryeonam Hermitage is situated just 200 metres to the east of Namjijangsa Temple through a beautiful lush forest. Past a hillside full of picnic benches, and along the dirt trail, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage grounds.

The first thing to greet you, as you make your way towards the eastside entry gate, is a tall traditional stone fence. Upon entering the squeaky three door gate, you’ll be welcomed by an “L” shaped main hall, which also acts as the monks’ dorms.

To the right of the main hall is a storage shed, which is joined by a biseok statue. As to the left of the main hall, there is the hermitage’s garden from which the monks draw sustenance. It’s also joined by another storage shed.

To the rear of the main hall, and the real highlight to this temple, is the unpainted Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The shaman shrine hall is surrounded on all sides by dense shrubs and hydrangeas. On the front side of the Samseong-gak are four fading paintings of guardians. As you step inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). These paintings are joined on the far right wall by an older, yet beautiful, guardian mural. Also, have a look at the low-lying beams inside this shaman shrine hall. In particular, look for the vibrant murals of the blue dragons.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu train station, walk about 15 minutes (930 metres), to get to Chilseong market (where the NH Bank is located) bus stop. Take the bus that reads “Gachang2” on it. After 50 stops, or one hour, get off at the “Urokri” (last stop) and walk about 2.7 km, or 41 minutes, to get to the temple. When at Namjijangsa Temple, head right while travelling through the temple parking lot. Head up a dirt road for about 200 metres until you come to Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Daegu train station. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs 23,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. Cheongryeonam Hermitage is beautifully located on the southern side of Mt. Choijeongsan. The trail leading up to the hermitage is one of the more beautiful you’ll find in this area. But without a doubt, the real highlight to this temple is the unpainted Samseong-gak; and rather strangely, the tall stone wall that acts as a barrier between the outside world and Cheongryeonam Hermitage is a highlight, as well.

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The dirt road that leads up to the hermitage.

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The beautiful vista along the way.

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The dirt road and forest as you near Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

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The entry gate to the diminutive hermitage.

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The main hall and monks’ living quarters at Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

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The hermitage’s garden and storage shed.

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The path that leads up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look up at the camouflaged Samseong-gak shaman shrine.

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Rather uniquely, the Samseong-gak is unpainted all but for the four guardians at the entries.

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One of the decorative guardians.

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As well as another.

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The Sanshin mural housed inside the Samseong-gak.

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The older guardian mural housed inside the Samseong-gak, as well.

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This blue decorative dragon adorns one of the Samseong-gak’s roof beams.

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And the view from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

Namjijangsa Temple – 남지장사 (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the Samseong-gak at Namjijangsa Temple in southern Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Situated south of the Daegu city centre, and south of the towering Mt. Choijeongsan (905m), is Namjijangsa Temple. The name of the temple means “South Bodhisattva of the Afterlife,” which shouldn’t be confused with Bukjijangsa Temple to the north of the Daegu city centre.

Namjijangsa Temple was first established in 684 A.D. by the monk Yanggae. Eventually, Namjijangsa Temple would grow to eight shrine halls, as well as a bell pavilion and the Cheonwangmun Gate. However, in 1592, like much of Korea, the temple was completely destroyed by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Afterwards, from 1652 to 1769, the temple underwent an extensive rebuild. Historically, the famed warrior monk Samyeong-daesa used Namjijangsa Temple as the staging site for battles against the Japanese during the Imjin War. The temple functioned as a headquarters for the Yeongnam region. Also, it was home, at one point in his life, to the monk Muhak, who would help advise the Goryeo Dynasty founding king, King Taejo.

You first approach Namjijangsa Temple down some country roads, until you eventually arrive at the temple parking lot. It’s next to a beautiful large water fountain that you’ll climb a set of stone stairs on your way through the temple entry gate. The entry gate, rather uniquely, houses the temple bell. At some temples, the temple bell is housed on the second floor, but not at Namjijangsa Temple. As you pass through the entry gate, you’ll see the bell to your right through wooden slats.

Finally entering the main temple courtyard, you’ll notice the monks’ quarters to your left and the visitors’ centre to your right. Straight ahead rests the Daeung-jeon Hall. In front of the main hall stands a five tier stone pagoda that’s adorned with various trinkets that visitors have left behind as a sign of devotion. Adorning the exterior walls to the main hall is a beautiful set of Palsang-do murals, which depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. 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 on both sides by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Rounding out the interior of the main hall is a massive guardian mural hanging on the far right wall.

To the right rear of the main hall is the temple’s Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Both the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) murals are of a red hue, but it’s the angry tiger tail holding Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that is the main highlight to this shaman shrine hall.

To the left of the main hall sits the newly constructed Geukrak-jeon Hall. As you enter the hall have a look at the amazing dragon doors. At the base of these doors are some amazing Nathwi (Monster Masks). As for the interior, and resting on the packed main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

And just left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall, in an open pavilion under a canopy, is a shrine for Yongwang (The Dragon King). The large painting dedicated to Yongwang is joined by a spring.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu train station, walk about 15 minutes (930 metres), to get to Chilseong market (where the NH Bank is located) bus stop. Take the bus that reads “Gachang2” on it. After 50 stops, or one hour, get off at the “Urokri” (last stop) and walk about 2.7 km, or 41 minutes, to get to the temple.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Daegu train station. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs 23,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Without a doubt, the biggest highlight to this temple is the curmudgeonly Sanshin painting in the Samseong-gak. Adding to the temple’s overall appeal is the large guardian mural inside the main hall, the Yongwang mural, as well as the temple’s beautiful location.

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The entry to Namjijangsa Temple.

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The temple bell that’s housed inside the entry gate.

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The slender five-tier pagoda with the Daeung-jeon Hall behind it.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that depicts the Buddha’s life.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall with Seokgamoni-bul front and centre.

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The view from the Daeung-jeon Hall out towards the main temple courtyard.

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The visitors’ centre at Namjijangsa Temple.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at the temple.

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An all-red Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural.

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Joined by this angry looking Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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The beautiful view at Namjijangsa Temple.

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The Geukrak-jeon Hall to the left of the main hall.

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This amazing Nathwi adorns one of the Geukrak-jeon Hall’s doors.

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The main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall with Amita-bul sitting in the centre.

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And to the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is this shrine for Yongwang (The Dragon King).

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An up close of the Yongwang mural.

Ilchulam Hermitage – 일출암 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ilchulam Hermitage in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just east of the airport and south of Mt. Unbongsan in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is the diminutive Ilchulam Hermitage (Sunrise Hermitage). Next to a flowing stream, you’ll need to head down a country road to find this little known hermitage.

Upon arriving at the hermitage grounds, you’ll need to climb a set of stairs with rails next to it. The rails are used to bring items up to the hermitage. After summiting the stairs, you’ll be greeted by the main hall straight ahead of you. While a bit boxy in design, the main hall is adorned with masterful Ox-Herding murals all around its exterior walls. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll first notice a triad of statues resting on the main altar. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right, he’s joined by a long-haired statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Hanging on the right wall is an older looking guardian mural that’s joined by a beautiful Koi and hummingbird mural. And to the left of the main altar is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural.

To the right of the main hall is the monks dorms. But it’s to the rear of the main hall, and up a set of stairs that’s joined by the sheer face of the neighbouring mountain, that you’ll come across the second shrine hall that visitors can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage: the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak. While the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural is rather plain in composition, it’s the Sanshin mural that’s pretty unique. Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is holding the tiger’s tail, while the tiger smiles in its folk like design.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #200. After 26 stops, or 50 minutes, get off at the “Sangjeong Geomunso Stop.” Walk about 700 metres, or 10 minutes, to get to Ilchulam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While rather underwhelming for the amount of buildings you can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage, it’s the murals like the Sanshin mural and the Ox-Herding murals that make the hermitage worth a visit. In addition, the main altar statues inside the main hall and the guardian mural add to the hermitage’s overall artistic beauty.

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The grounds as you first approach Ilchulam Hermitage.

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The main hall at the hermitage.

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One of the beautiful Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.

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A look around the interior of the main hall.

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The guardian mural to the right of the main altar.

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A hummingbird and Koi mural to the left of the guardian mural.

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The unique Chilseong mural to the left of the main altar.

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It’s joined by this mural inside the main hall, as well.

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The rock walls that surround the hermitage grounds on all sides.

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A statue that a devotee left behind at Ilchulam Hermitage.

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The Dokseong/Sanshin-gak at the hermitage.

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A rather ordinary painting of Dokseong.

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Who is joined by the tiger-tail holding Sanshin.

Myeongjeokam Hermitage – 명적암 (Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the main hall at Myeongjeokam Hermitage near Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Myeongjeokam Hermitage is directly associated with the famed Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. In fact, the hermitage is situated just west of the famed Jikjisa Temple by about 400 metres.

To get to Myeongjeokam Hermitage, you’ll follow one of several hermitage roads until it breaks off. Finally, you’ll find a path that is shaded by rows of mature trees. And eventually, a crowning two story pavilion will appear. This is the first indication that you’re nearing the hermitage.

Up a set of a few dozen stairs, and under the pavilion that also acts as the hermitage’s entry gate, you’ll finally find yourself squarely in the centre of Myeongjeokam Hermitage’s main courtyard. Straight ahead is a squat three tier stone pagoda. It almost looks as though someone took a giant hand and pressed down on the top of it. Out in front of this pagoda is a Bodhisattva, reminiscent of the one at Woljeongsa Temple, that is praying to the pagoda with a flower in hand. And rounding out this set, on the west end, are two additional stone lanterns.

The only building that a visitor can explore at Myeongjeokam Hermitage is the main hall, which lies just beyond the beautiful stone Bodhisattva. Entering the rather long main hall, you’ll notice a main altar that’s comprised of five statues. In the centre sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Myeongjeokam Hermitage, you’ll first need to get to Jikjisa Temple. And to get to Jikjisa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Gimcheon train station. When you arrive at the Gimcheon train station, you can catch local buses #11, #111, or #112 from the intercity bus terminal that is right next to the train station parking lot. The bus ride is 1,300 won and lasts about 10 to 20 minutes. You can also take a taxi from just out in front of the train station, as well. If you’re travelling in a group, this may be an easier way to go, as the ride costs about 7,000 to 10,000 won. The bus will drop you off at the bus stop which is a nice 15 minute walk to Jikjisa Temple. From Jikjisa Temple, you’ll need to continue west. The hermitage signs along the way should do the rest.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. Myeongjeokam Hermitage has a beautiful view of the valley down below where Jikjisa Temple is situated. Also, the stone Bodhisattva that prays next to the stout pagoda is another highlight to this little hermitage west of the famed Jikjisa Temple.

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The long walk up towards the hermitage grounds.

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The two story pavilion that welcomes you to Myeongjeokam Hermitage.

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The pavilion also acts as an entry gate.

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The view from the hermitage’s pavilion.

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The compact pagoda with a stone Bodhisattva praying out in front of it.

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A closer look at the flower holding Bodhisattva.

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One last look at the pagoda with the pavilion in the background.

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Myeongjeokam Hermitage’s courtyard.

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The main hall at Myeongjeokam Hermitage.

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The entry to the hermitage’s main hall.

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The main altar inside the main hall.

Colonial Korea: The Ancient City of Gyeongju – 경주 (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Wolseong Fortress

A portion of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in Gyeongju from 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The ancient city of Gyeongju is located in the southeastern part of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. Gyeongju has a population over 264,000 people, and it’s the second largest city, by area, in the entire province behind Andong.

Gyeongju was once known as Seorabeol. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdon (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). The Silla Kingdom, at its height, ruled over two-thirds of the entire Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. Gyeongju is known as the “museum without walls” for the nearly 200 Treasures and National Treasures spread throughout its city limits like the famed Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage, and Bunhwangsa Temple.

This article will more narrowly focus on the lesser known and visited sites in Gyeongju. One of these is the Banwolseong Palace Fortress just north of the Gyeongju National Museum. The Banwolseong Palace Fortress means “Half Crescent Moon” and it was first constructed in 101 A.D. It was the second royal palace in Gyeongju behind Geumseong.

Just across the road is Anapji Pond. Anapji Pond is an artificial pond that was first constructed in 674 A.D. by order of King Munmu (r.661-681 A.D.). The pond is located on the northeastern edge of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress site. Its oval shape measures 200 metre across east to west and 180 metres across north to south. The pond was constructed to commemorate the unification of the Silla Dynasty during the previous decade.

To the south of the ancient palace and fortress lies the 494 metre tall Mt. Namsan. With an area of eight kilometres by twelve, as well as over 40 valleys, there are a countless amount of treasures hidden on this sacred landmark.

A pair of these sites can be found along the Samneung Valley. The first of the two, about half way up the valley, is the Seated Stone Buddha. The statue of Seokgamoni-bul appears on a mountainous plateau. Sitting on a beautiful lotus pedestal, this statue was once disfigured with its head broken off and its face in pieces. At first, the statue was slapped together with concrete; but more recently, between 2007 and 2008, it was put back together. While not as beautiful as it once was in ancient times, it looks a lot better than its once deforming make-over. This is Korea’s Treasure #666.

Another site to be enjoyed along the Samneung Valley on the southern side of Mt. Namsan is a little further up the trail from the Seated Stone Buddha. This time, and past the Sangseonam Hermitage, is the Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Now off-limits because of falling debris from the neighbouring mountain, this amazing sculpture stands an impressive seven metres in height. With its panoramic views of the southern parts of Gyeongju, it makes for quite the photo-op. The sculpture dates back to the Silla Dynasty.

Yet another site to be enjoyed on Mt. Namsan is on the northern side of the mountain. Chilbulam Hermitage, known as the “Seven Buddhas Hermitage,” in English, dates back only a hundred years. A nun was hunting for mushrooms on the northern side of Mt. Namsan, when by mere chance she stumbled upon a pair of statues that make up the seven Buddhas statues. They were buried in the ground, so she dug them up. Now, Chilbulam Maae Stone Buddha is National Treasure #312. The stone statues date back to the 8th century. As for the temple itself, Chilbulam Hermitage’s main hall, Samseong-gak and dorms date back to 2009. Above the hermitage is Treasure #199, which is a 1.4 metre tall cliff-side carving of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

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The beautiful Anapji Pond next to the Banwolseong Palace Fortress also from 1916.

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The mountainous terrain where the Banwolseong Palace Fortress is located.

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And another view of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress from 1916.

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The view from Mt. Namsan in southern Gyeongju from 1916.

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A look up towards the peaks of Mt. Namsan in 1916, as well.

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The Seated Stone Buddha of Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul on Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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Part of National Treasure # 312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 1917.

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Another part of the famed statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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A look towards the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in 2006.

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As well as Anapji Pond from 2006.

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Another beautiful look at Anapji Pond from 2011.

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The view from Mt. Namsan from 2013.

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Another scenic look down from Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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One last look down Mt. Namsan at Gyeongju.

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The Seated Stone Buddha on Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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Further up the valley is this Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in 2013.

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A closer look at the off-limits statue.

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Part of National Treasure #312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 2013.

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And another look at the statues at Chilbulam Hermitage.

Sujeongsa Temple – 수정사 (Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The Daeung-jeon Hall at Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just west of the summit of Mt. Bibongsan in northern Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do lays Sujeongsa Temple. This temple for nuns is situated at the end of a long valley and next to a wandering stream that flows the entire way.

Sujeongsa Temple was first constructed by the monk Naong (1320-76) during the reign of King Gongmin (1351-74) of the Goryeo Dynasty. Completely destroyed at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), it was later rebuilt during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

As you approach the temple from the west, you’ll first approach a slender Iljumun Gate along the way. A further kilometre along, and you’ll finally find yourself squarely located in the temple parking lot. Just to the right of the nuns’ dorms, and to the left, you’ll find yourself squarely at the edge of the temple courtyard.

Straight ahead is the temple’s main hall: the Daeung-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, and while smaller in size, it’s Gyeongsangbuk-do’s Cultural Heritage #73. The main hall is surrounded by beautiful floral and Buddhist motif murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of white and gold statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This triad is backed by a stunning gold leaf painting of the Buddha. To the left of the main altar are two paintings. The first is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural, while the other is the temple’s guardian mural. And to the right of the main altar is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The entire main hall lies under a beautiful, and colourful, canopy of paper lotus flowers.

To the right rear of the main hall is another compact shrine hall. This hall is the Sanshin-gak, which is dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). While the exterior walls to this hall are all unadorned all but for the traditional dancheong colours, the interior houses a large Sanshin mural that is masterfully executed.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to the remote Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do is to take a taxi from the Cheongsong Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take about 20 minutes and cost 15,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While there isn’t just one feature at Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do that will blow you away, there are several highlights to keep an eye out for like the Sanshin Taenghwa mural housed inside the Sanshin-gak. The other main highlight is the Daeung-jeon Hall and main altar housed inside it.

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The view from the temple parking lot.

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The view as you enter the temple courtyard.

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One of the floral murals that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And another more peculiar painting that adorns the main hall.

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

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The guardian mural inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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As well as the Chilseong mural.

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And the Jijang-bosal mural.

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All of which is housed under a beautiful rainbow of paper lotus flowers.

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A closer look at the main altar and the gold leaf mural.

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The view from the Daeung-jeon Hall towards Mt. Bibongsan.

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The Sanshin-gak at Sujeongsa Temple.

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And the descriptive Sanshin mural housed inside it.

Gyeongheungsa Temple – 경흥사 (Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the Sanhin-gak at Gyeongheungsa Temple in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just south of the Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do city centre and east of Mt. Byeongpungsan lies Gyeongheungsa Temple. As you approach the temple grounds, and enter the temple parking lot, you’ll first notice the temple stupa field to the right of the temple shrine halls. Slightly elevated, there are a row of six stupas of varying shape that first greet you.

A little further to the left and past the monks’ facilities, are a cluster of some four temple shrine halls. The first of the four is beautifully adorned with various Buddhist motif murals like Wonhyo-daesa’s enlightenment and the Bodhidharma. Housed inside this hall is a triad centred by a uniquely designed Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) statue. He’s joined on either side by a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the far right of the main altar hangs a guardian mural.

Between the monks’ dorms and the first temple shrine hall, and up a set of wooden stairs, is the temple’s main hall, the Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with Palsang-do murals that depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. As for inside this hall, there are a triad of historic statues resting on the main altar. Centred by Seokgamoni-bul and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), these statues date back to 1644. Combined, these three statues make up Korea’s Treasure #1750. Also housed inside this shrine hall is a beautiful mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

To the rear of these two halls, and slightly up an embankment, are two smaller sized shrine halls at Gyeongheungsa Temple. Twisting to the left and then to the right, you’ll make your way towards these shrine halls up a forested pathway. The first of the two is the Chilseong-Dokseong-gak. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are a pair of original murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and the blue backdrop for Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And a little further to the right is the Sanshin-gak that also houses a blue background for Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a tiger with a nearly human-like face.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to walk about 5 minutes (300 metres) to get to the Gyeongsan Shijang (market) bus stop. From this stop, you’ll need to board the Namcheon bus. After 15 stops, or 18 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Sinseok (Cheongdo) stop. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll need to walk about 3 kilometres to Gyeongheungsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. The one major highlight to this temple is the triad of 17th century statues housed inside the Daeung-jeon main hall at Gyeongheungsa Temple. Other points of interest at this temple are all three of the shaman murals and the collection of stupas at the temple stupa field.

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The first of four shrine halls at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The Wonhyo-daesa enlightenment painting.

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The Bodhidharma mural, as well.

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The main altar inside the first of the four shrine halls.

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The stairs that lead up to the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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One of the eight paintings from the Palsang-do set that make up the exterior wall murals on the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The historic 17th century statues on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Jijang-bosal painting inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Chilseong-Dokseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The Chilseong mural housed inside the first shaman shrine hall.

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As well as the Dokseong mural.

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The Sanshin-gak at the temple.

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The unique blue backed Sanshin mural at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The stupa field at the temple.

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With a closer look at one of the individual stupas.

Bongseosa Temple – 봉서사 (Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The quaint Sanshin-gak at Bongseosa Temple in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Southwest of Mt. Bongsusan in northern Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do is the remote Bongseosa Temple. Bongseosa Temple lies up a long valley and at the base of one of the peaks for Mt. Bongsusan.

Up a long stone stairway, you’ll arrive at the edge of the temple courtyard. The first thing to greet you is the compact Manse-ru Pavilion that also acts as the temple entry gate. To the left and right, as you enter the main temple courtyard, are a pair of nuns’ dorms.

Straight ahead, and just beyond the diminutive three tier stone pagoda, is the temple’s equally smaller sized main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned simply with the traditional dancheong colour scheme. Watch your head as you step inside the main hall. Sitting all alone on the main altar sits a solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Joining Seokgamoni-bul inside the main hall are a pair of paintings. The first is the temple’s guardian mural, while the other is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

To the right of both the nuns’ dorms and the main hall, and up an embankment, is the Sanshin-gak. Framed by a ridge of twisted red pines, the yellow and red exterior houses an older mural of the shaman deity, Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Bongseosa Temple from Andong is to take a taxi from the Andong Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take about 30 minutes and cost 27,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. This quaint temple located in one of the lesser travelled parts of Korea makes for a nice little retreat from the everyday with its beautiful views and smaller sized shrine halls. Additionally, the nuns at Bongseosa Temple are quite gracious and might even invite you in for coffee.

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The view from Bongseosa Temple.

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The Manse-ru Pavilion that welcomes you to the temple.

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One of the older looking nuns’ dorms.

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The diminutive main hall and pagoda at Bongseosa Temple.

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A look inside the main hall.

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Which also houses this guardian mural.

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As well as this Chilseong mural.

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The beautiful view from the main hall.

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A look towards the Sanshin-gak between the main hall and the nuns’ dorms.

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A better look at the temple grounds.

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And the older looking Sanshin mural at Bongseosa Temple.