Now and Then: Bulguksa Temple

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Bulguksa Temple from the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I thought I would start up an all new series. It’s been a while since I have, and I thought there was no better way than to explore the history of Korean temples through historical pictures. Throughout the years, I’ve collected my fair share of historical Korean temple pictures, and I thought I would reveal a few of them through a now and then perspective. So I hope you enjoy this all new series.

The first temple I thought I would reveal through pictures is the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Before Bulguksa Temple was first constructed, a smaller sized temple first occupied the exact same grounds. Later, in 751 A.D., Prime Minister Kim Daeseong decided to build Bulguksa Temple to replace the former. It was built to soothe the spirits of his parents. Finally, in 774 A.D., after Kim’s death, the temple was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, or “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations was during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But during the Imjin War (1592-98), all the wooden buildings at Bulguksa Temple were completely destroyed. Only a few years later, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and expanded. This was followed by forty more renovations over the course of the next 200 years.

After 1805, the temple fell into disrepair, and Bulguksa Temple was often the target of looting. It was during colonial rule by the Japanese, from 1910-1945, that the Japanese started the restoration process. After the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II and the Korean War, did the Korean government start to restore the temple to its past glory. Under the orders of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969 to 1973, extensive archaeological investigation, restoration, and repair were conducted on the temple. Finally, after almost two hundred years of neglect, Bulguksa Temple was rebuilt to its past glory. And with all of the stonework and pagodas of the temple dating back to the original construction date, as well as the beautiful wooden artistry and paintings, Bulguksa Temple is nearly unrivaled for its beauty among Korean Temples. In addition to all this artistry, the temple also houses six national treasures and three additional treasures!

Now, Bulguksa Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in Korea. Also, with its front façade that sports two national treasures, which include the first set of stairs that are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); while the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”), it’s perhaps the most recognizable temple in all of Korea for international visitors. Two additional national treasures that people can enjoy are Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas that stand stoically in the main temple courtyard. In addition to all this stone masonry, there are over a dozen temple buildings visitors can explore and enjoy. And in 1995, in combination with the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without a doubt, Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju is one of the most beautiful Korean temples on the peninsula.

Now, enjoy a look into Bulguksa Temple’s past through pictures!

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The neglected front facade of Bulguksa Temple from the early 20th century.

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Another vantage point of the two national treasures.

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One more look at what 200 years of neglect looks like.

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National Treasure #22 : Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

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The front facade of the temple from 1919.

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A look at two more national treasures from the turn of the last century: Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas.

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A closer look at National Treasure #20: Dabo-tap pagoda.

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What Bulguksa Temple’s main hall used to look like.

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A better look at more of the temple grounds from 1914.

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Park Chung Hee inspecting the newly renovated temple grounds in 1973.

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And a look at Bulguksa Temple today.

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A closer look at Dabo-tap pagoda today.

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And now, a better look at the entire renovated temple grounds.

2 thoughts on “Now and Then: Bulguksa Temple

  1. Hi Dale,
    What a fantastic idea for a new series. How fascinating to see ‘what 200 years of neglect’ does to even a sacred place and what a great example of cultural resilience in the face of adversity when you see how Bulguksa looks today.
    Do you know of any similar ‘before’ photos of the palaces in Seoul? I need to find some for my book on Korean gardens.
    Cheers, Jill

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. Hopefully people will like it. And unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures for palaces in Seoul.

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