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

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

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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.

Colonial Korea: Gwanryongsa Temple – 관룡사 (Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The early Joseon Dynasty era Yaksa-jeon Hall at Gwanryongsa Temple in 1933.

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Just south of the 753 metre peak of Mt. Gwanryongsan in the scenic city of Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do lies the historic Gwanryongsa Temple. The name of the temple harkens back to the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.). One day while Wonhyo-daesa was praying with one of his disciples, Songpa, during a one hundred day prayer session, they saw nine dragons appear from a neighbouring pond and soar up to the sky around the peaks of Mt. Hwawangsan. With this in mind, “Gwan” means “see” in Chinese characters, while “ryong” means “dragon.” So the name of the temple, Gwanryongsa Temple, literally means “See Dragon Temple,” in English.

While Gwanryongsa Temple was considered one of the eight most important temples of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.E to 935 A.D), the exact date of the temples creation is unknown; however, this hasn’t prevented scholars from speculating. One foundation myth states that Gwanryongsa Temple was first established in 349 A.D., while another states that the temple was first built in 583 A.D. by Jeungbeop-guksa.

In total, Gwanryongsa Temple houses six Korean Treasures. Of special note is the Yaksa-jeon Hall, which dates back to the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the Stone Seated Buddha at Yongseondae Cliff that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668 A.D. to 935 A.D.), as well as the large mural of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the back side of the Daeung-jeon Hall’s main altar.

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The Woneum-ru Pavilion from 1933.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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Inside the Daeung-jeon main hall at Gwanryongsa Temple.

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Another look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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A look towards the large canopy that hangs over the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look at the historic Yaksa-jeon Hall, which also just so happens to be Gwanryongsa Temple’s oldest building.

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Another look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The Woneum-ru Pavilion in 2012.

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A scenic mountainside look at the Daeung-jeon Hall in 2012.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar’s colourful canopy.

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The backside of the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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Approaching the Yaksa-jeon Hall.

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A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall in 2012.

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: Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site – 굴불사지 (Gyeongju)

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The west side of the four sided sculpture at Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site in Gyeongju from 1917.

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Located on the western slopes of Mt. Sogeumgangsan in the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, Gyeongju, Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site is home to one of the most uniquely crafted four-sided sculptures in all of Korea.

According to the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), the 35th king of the Silla Dynasty, King Gyeongdeok (r. 742 A.D. – 765 A.D.) was making a short trek up to the neighbouring Baeknyulsa Temple, which lays a little further up Mt. Sogeumgangsan. During his walk, he heard a noise coming from beneath the ground. For some reason, King Gyeongdeok believed the noise to be the sound of a Buddhist monk reading Buddhist sutras. Immediately, the king ordered his servants to dig up the spot where he had heard these sounds. As they dug, the stone image of the four-sided sculpture appeared. So moved by this incident, the king decided to call the future temple grounds Gulbulsa Temple. Regrettably, the temple no longer stands; instead, all that remains is the four-sided sculpture that King Gyeongdeok discovered. As for the name of the temple, Gulbulsa Temple, it literally means “To Dig Up an Image of the Buddha Temple,” in English.

Each side of the four-sided statue has a different Buddha or triad. On the west side, you’ll see a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul) to the left. On the east side of the sculpture is Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), who has his legs crossed. An image of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) is found on the north side, while on the south is an image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

Surprisingly, this four-sided stone sculpture isn’t a national treasure; instead, it’s Korea’s Treasure #121.

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The stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal from 1917.

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The severely damaged image of Daesaeji-bosal from 1917, as well.

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The folded legs of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

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The north side relief of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

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The Gulbulsa-ji in 2013.

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A modern look at Gwanseeum-bosal.

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And a better look at the severely damaged Daesaeji-bosal.

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A fuller look at Yaksayore-bul in 2013.

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As well as Mireuk-bul in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Muryangsa Temple – 무량사 (Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do)

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Flag pole supports in 1916 at Muryangsa Temple in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do.

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On the far western side of the Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do city limits is Muryangsa Temple. Scenically situated in a long valley at the base of Mt. Mansusan, Muryangsa Temple has a long history that stretches back to the 9th century.

Muryangsa Temple was first built during the reign of King Munseong (r. 839-856) by the National Preceptor, Beomil. Later, and during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the temple was later repaired. And in 1592, during the Imjin War (1592-98), Muryangsa Temple was destroyed by the invading Japanese. A half century later, and during the reign of King Injo (r. 1623-49), the temple was rebuilt by the monk Jinmuk.

In total, the temple houses five Korean Treasures, which notably includes Treasure #356, the Geukrak-jeon Hall at Muryangsa Temple, as well as Treasure #185, the Five Story Stone Pagoda of Muryangsa Temple. The temple was also the last home to the Joseon Korean scholar and author, Kim Siseup.

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The five tier pagoda in 1916 that also just so happens to be Treasure #185.

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The stone lantern at Muryangsa Temple from 1916. It’s also Treasure #233.

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The Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1933. The main hall is also Treasure #356.

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The exterior to the main hall  from 1933.

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A look inside the main hall from 1933. The triad inside this hall is Treasure #1565.

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The Geukrak-jeon main hall with the five tier pagoda and stone lantern from 2015.

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A closer look at the main all, which also just so happens to be Treasure #356.

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The large triad on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall. This triad is Treasure #1565.

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One more look at Korean Treasure #356.

Colonial Korea: Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju)

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The Three Tier Stone Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, in Gyeongju, in 1916.

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Just east of the Gyeongju city centre, which was the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.) lays the beautiful Bunhwangsa Temple. Bunhwangsa Temple means “Fragrant Emperor Temple,” in English, and it was first constructed in 634 A.D. under the patronage of the famed Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D.).

During the height of the Silla Dynasty, and alongside the expansive Hwangnyongsa-ji Temple Site, Bunhwangsa Temple covered a large swath of land. In fact, Bunhwangsa Temple was one of the four major temples of the Silla Dynasty. During this time, Bunhwangsa Temple was only used by the state to ask the Buddha’s blessing on the nation. So unlike today, the average citizen wasn’t welcomed at the temple.

Such famed monks as Wonhyo-daesa (617-686) and Jajang-yulsa (590-658) called Bunhwangsa Temple home at one time or another. Then, during the 1200s, the invading Mongols completely destroyed Bunhwangsa Temple. It nearly took until the 1700s, a full five hundred years after its destruction, to be rebuilt.

In 1915, during Japanese Colonial rule, the Japanese decided to repair and rebuild the famed pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple. At this time, numerous relics were found housed inside the pagoda like a box that contained sari (crystallized remains). The remains appeared to once belong to a monk. In addition to the sari box, relics like gold, scissors, coins and a needle case was found inside the pagoda. Who these relics specifically belong to are unknown; however, because they are a woman’s items, some people speculate that they once belonged to a royal woman.

By far, the main highlight at Bunhwangsa Temple is the three-story brick pagoda. The Stone Brick Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, as it’s known in English, also just so happens to be National Treasure #30. Like the temple, the pagoda dates back to 634 A.D. The age of the pagoda makes it the oldest datable Silla stone pagoda still in existence. The black bricks are made from andesite stone. Missionaries returning from Tang China described the beauty of their pagodas, so the queen decided to replicate the popular pagodas of that time. In its current form, the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda stands three stories in height. However, it’s believed that the pagoda once stood nine stories in height and was hallow inside. Just like its height, the centre of the pagoda is now solid. Before, the interior of the pagoda was so large that Buddhist scriptures were housed inside. At each of the four corners of the pagoda there were four lion statues. Of the four, only one still remained in the 1970s. So at that time, the three were replaced with all new ones.

While considerably smaller in size, Bunhwangsa Temple reveals small glimpses back into its past. In total, Bunhwangsa Temple houses one National Treasure and three additional provincial Tangible Cultural Properties, as well.

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The flag supports at Bunhwangsa Temple in 1916. In the background, you can see the three tier brick pagoda.

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Some of the stone work around the temple in 1917.

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What the Three Tier Stone pagoda looked like before being renovated by the Japanese in 1916

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The blueprints behind the architectural rebuild in 1916.

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A closer look at how dilapidated and in disrepair the pagoda had fallen into.

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A closer look at the pagoda after being repaired.

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The only original tiger that remained to adorn the ancient pagoda.

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How the pagoda looked after being repaired by the Japanese in 1916.

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And how National Treasure #30 looked in 2011.

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A closer look from 2011, as well.

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One of the remade lions that adorns one of the pagoda’s four corners in 2011.

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A closer look at one of the four openings around the base of the brick pagoda in 2006.

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And another look at the ancient pagoda in 2006.

Colonial Korea: Geojoam Hermitage – 거조암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The hermitage grounds at Geojoam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do in 1933.

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Geojoam Hermitage, which is located on the eastern slopes of Mt. Palgongsan in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, is directly associated with the much larger Eunhaesa Temple. While the exact date of Geojoam Hermitage isn’t exactly known, it’s believed that Geojoam Hermitage predates Eunhaesa Temple, which was first founded in 809 A.D. by the monk Hycheol. Some think that Geojoam Hermitage was first founded in 738 A.D. by the monk Woncham. Others believe that the temple might have first been constructed during the reign of the Silla king, King Gyeongdeok (r. 742-765). Originally, the hermitage was known as Haeansa Temple.

Throughout the years, Geojoam Hermitage has been destroyed numerous times by fire. And in recent years, the hermitage has fallen under the administrative lead of the neighbouring Eunhaesa Temple.

Geojoam Hermitage’s greatest claim to fame, and in fact one of only two temple shrine halls at the hermitage, is the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, or the “Vulture Peak Hall,” in English. According to records found during one of the shrine halls reconstructions, the Yeongsan-jeon Hall dates back to 1375. This makes it one of the oldest wooden structures behind Sudeoksa Temple’s Daeung-jeon Hall, which dates back to 1308; but older than the Muryangsu-jeon main hall at Buseoksa Temple, which dates back to 1376. Inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall are 526 stone statues of the Nahan.

The Yeongsan-jeon Hall at Geojoam Hermitage is Korea’s National Treasure #14. With only a handful of mid-Goryeo Dynasty buildings still in existence in Korea, it’s no wonder that the main hall at Geojoam Hermitage is a national treasure.

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The 14th century Yeongsan-jeon main hall at Geojoam Hermitage. The picture dates back to 1933.

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The front facade to one of the oldest wooden structures in Korea: The Yeongsan-jeon Hall.

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A closer look at the 1375 structure.

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As well as the simplistic Goryeo architecture on display at Geojoam Hermitage.

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Inside the amazing main hall at Geojoam Hermitage.

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The main altar and some of the Nahan statues on display inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall. This picture, also, dates back to 1933.

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A more modern look at the Yeongsan-jeon main hall. This picture dates back to 2011.

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The front view towards the 1375 building.

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The Goryeo architecture, which is rarely on display in Korea, is in sharp contrast to the Joseon Dynasty designs.

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A look up at the wooden eaves of the main hall.

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Inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall with a look around its interior at some of the stone Nahan statues.

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One more expansive look from 2011 inside Korean National Treasure #14.

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: Donghwasa Temple – 동화사 (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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An overview of Donghwasa Temple in Daegu in 1932.

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Donghwasa Temple, which means Paulownia Blossom Temple,” in English, was first established in northern Daegu on the southern slopes of Mt. Palgongsan in 493 A.D. The temple was first constructed through the efforts of monk Geukdal-jonja. The name of the temple is linked to the temple’s creation story. According to legend, the name of the temple comes from Donghwasa Temple’s reconstruction in 832 A.D. At that time, and during the middle of winter, the wild paulownia trees bloomed all around the temple grounds. So it was at this time that the temple changed its name from Yugasa Temple to Donghwasa Temple. The reconstruction of the temple occurred because of the efforts of the monk Simji-wangsa. And all of this happened during the reign of King Heungdeok (r. 826-836).

The last of Donghwasa Temple’s major rebuilds took place in 1732. And the last major addition to Donghwasa Temple took place in the fall of 1992 with the addition of the thirty metre tall statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the south of the main temple courtyard. This statue of Yaksayore-bul was constructed in hopes of having the Korean peninsula one day reunified.

From the day of its reconstruction in 832 A.D., and throughout its long storied history, Donghwasa Temple remains one of the most important temples throughout the Korean peninsula. In fact, Donghwasa Temple was one of only four temples during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) to administer the civil service exam for monks. And even during the highly restrictive, Confucian led, Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Donghwasa Temple not only continued to flourish but it also continued to grow in size, as well. In total, Donghwasa Temple and its associated hermitages house nine Korean Treasures.

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The flagpole supports at Donghwasa Temple in 1916, which are Treasure #254.

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The Iljumun Gate at the temple.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall in 1932, which is Treasure #1563.

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A look around its exterior walls.

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And a look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1932.

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And a look around its exterior walls.

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The Donghwasa Temple grounds from 2005.

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A look up at the main hall during Buddha’s birthday in 2013.

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Buddha’s birthday in 2013.

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The 1992 extension as seen in 2013.

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A closer look at Yaksayore-bul during Buddha’s birthday.

Colonial Korea: Buseoksa Temple – 부석사 (Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The flag supports out in front of Buseoksa Temple in 1916.

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Buseoksa Temple is located in the southwest portion of Mt. Bonghwangsan in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The name of the temple means “Floating Rock Temple,” in English, and relates to the creation myth that surrounds the temple (more on that later). The temple was first established in 676 A.D. by the famed monk Uisang-daesa, who also had the nickname of “Temple Builder” for all the temples he helped construct like Hwaeomsa Temple, Naksansa Temple and Beomeosa Temple.

After living in China for ten years, where he furthered his Buddhist studies, Uisang-daesa returned to the Korean peninsula. Uisang-daesa built Buseoksa Temple under the orders of the Silla king, King Munmu (r. 661-681 A.D.). Uisang-daesa used Buseoksa Temple as a base to help spread the message of Hwaeom Buddhism (Flower Garland Buddhism) for which he is famous.

As for the myth that surrounds Uisang-daesa and Buseoksa Temple, it pertains to a love story that’s recorded in the Samguk-Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). As a teenager in the Silla capital of Gyeongju, Uisang fell in love with Seonmyo (Virtuous Mystery). They fell in love, but Seonmyo was chosen as a part of a tribute mission to Tang China. During her absence, Uisang became a Buddhist monk to help his broken heart. After learning this news, Seonmyo threw herself from the boat that was carrying her up the Yellow River. She was to survive this attempted suicide, and she was adopted by a wealthy merchant.

Uisang also used the Yellow River on his journey towards furthering his studies in China. Briefly, he was reunited with Seonmyo. And while their passion still burned for each other, Uisang refused to betray his monastic vows. Before departing, he promised to see her one more time, which he eventually did seven years later. During that time, Seonmyo had embroidered a beautiful silk monk gown as a gift for him. Not wanting to falsely lead her on, he refused this gift. The next morning, without saying good-bye, Uisang boarded a boat that would bring him back to the Korean peninsula. Heart-broken, Seonmyo threw the silk gift into the river. Following her gift into the river, she drowned herself out of despair. It was from this love story that Seonmyo was reborn as a dragon that would protectively look over Uisang.

As a dragon, Seommyo followed Uisang back to Korea to protect him. And Uisang would need her help when he attempted to build Buseoksa Temple. Instead of being inviting, the locals violently tried to stop Uisang from building the new temple because of their local shamanic belief in Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Seonmyo, as a dragon, lifted a boulder in the air three times to make the locals cower submissively. This worked. The boulder came to rest behind the main hall, the Muryangsu-jeon Hall, which is also the second oldest building in Korea (dating back to 1376). After this, Seonmyo the dragon died and her bones were used as the foundation for the creation of the Muryangsu-jeon Hall. So that’s how the temple gets its name: Floating Rock Temple.

With the main hall, the Muryangsu-jeon Hall is the second oldest wooden building in Korea, dating back to 1376, after being destroyed after a rebel army destroyed it in 1358. The expansion and rebuilding of the temple dates back to this period in history. Under the guidance of Woneung, and under the patronage of the Goryeo king, King Gongmin (r. 1351-74), which lasted from 1372-77, Buseoksa Temple was rebuilt. Amazingly, Buseoksa Temple was spared any damage during the destructive Imjin War (1592-98), which saw almost all major temples completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. Next to Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, Buseoksa Temple houses the second most National Treasures at a single temple site. In total, and including the Muryangsu-jeon main hall, Buseoksa Temple houses five National Treasures and five additional Treasures.

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Buseoksa Temple in 1916.

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A closer look at National Treasure #17, the Stone Lantern at Muryangsu-jeon Hall.

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A closer look at the Stone Lantern at the Muryangsu-jeon Hall.

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Treasure #249, the Three Story Stone Pagoda at Buseoksa Temple.

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An auxiliary building at Buseoksa Temple in 1932.

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Buseoksa Temple grounds in 2011.

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From the foundation myth of Buseoksa Temple. This painting is from Naksansa Temple and was taken in 2014.

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A painting from the creation myth that surrounds Buseoksa Temple. Lady Seonmyo is to the right with Uisang riding in his dragon-guided boat. This picture was also taken at Naksansa Temple.

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The beautiful Buseoksa Temple in 2011.

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Muryangsu-jeon Hall that dates back to 1376 and is National Treasure #18.

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The clay seated statue of Amita-bul inside the Muryangsu-jeon Hall. The statue is National Treasure #45.

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The floating rock from the creation myth story that surrounds Buseoksa Temple. It lies to the left rear of the Muryangsu-jeon Hall.

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The shrine dedicated to Lady Seonmyo to the right rear of the Muryangsu-jeon Hall.

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The gift bearing painting of Lady Seonmyo.