Updated: Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 (Gyeongju)

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A look at Dabo-tap Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bulguksa Temple means “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Alongside the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, Bulguksa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Bulguksa Temple was first constructed in 528 A.D. during the Silla Kingdom. Originally, the temple was known as Hwaeom Bulguksa Temple and/or Beopryusa Temple. It was later rebuilt in 751 by Kim Daeseong. It was finally completed in 774, during King Hyegong’s reign, and it was simply renamed Bulguksa Temple. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous repairs, renovations, and damage. During the Imjin War of 1592-98, the temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. It was quickly reconstructed in 1604. From that time, it was renovated and repaired about 40 times until 1805. After this period in time, the temple fell into a bit of disrepair and was often the target of robbers. Finally, in 1972, the temple was restored to its past splendour with 24 buildings being reconstructed over a three year period.

After paying your 4,000 won entrance fee at the southern ticket booth, you’ll make your way towards the main temple grounds. The first structure to greet you, besides the Iljumun Gate you pass through at the entry, is the Cheonwangmun Gate. The gate houses some of the more refined incarnations of the Four Heavenly Kings. Along the way, you’ll pass by a beautiful pond.

Finally arriving just outside the temple, you’ll be greeted by one of the most beautiful (and recognizable) front façades to any temple in Korea. To the right stands a set of stairs that leads up to the main temple courtyard. These stairs symbolize the ascension from the worldly to the spiritual. The first set of stairs are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); whereas the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”). These bridges are considered National Treasure #22 and #23. Unfortunately, you can no longer climb these stairs, as they’re protected; however, there is a trail to the right that leads up towards the temple courtyard and the main hall.

Once you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll instantly notice the two pagodas towering over the grounds. The first is known as Dabo-tap, or “The Pagoda of Many Treasures.” The other, to the  left, is known as Seokga-tap, or ““Pagoda of Seokgamoni” (which is named after the Historical Buddha: Seokgamoni-bul). Dabo-tap stands 10.4 metres in octagonal height. With its intricate design, it’s meant to represent the feminine. Seokga-tap, on the other hand, stands 8.2 metres in height. It is three-tiers of symmetric simplicity, and it’s meant to represent the masculine. These 8th century pagodas are designated National Treasure #20 and 21, respectively.

Behind these two imposing pagodas is the Daeung-jeon, or the temple’s main hall. The hall was reconstructed in 1765 after it was destroyed in 1593 by the Japanese. In front of the main hall, and past the two pagodas, is the Jahamun Gate. From this vantage point, you can look down on the stairs and across at the amazing front façade.

Behind the main hall lies the Museol-jeon Hall. The word “museol” literally means “non-lecturing hall,” in English; however, the hall is used as a lecture hall and it has a beautiful bronze statue of a regally crowned Jijang-bosal, with staff in hand, on the right side of the hall.

Up a set of steep stairs, and behind the Museol-jeon Hall, is the Gwaneum-jeon hall that houses a slender statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Gwanseeum-bosal is then backed by a highly elaborate mural of herself with a thousand hands reaching out for those in need. It’s also from this vantage point that you get a great view over the rest of the temple grounds.

Through a door, and down a flight of stairs, you’ll come face-to-face with the Biro-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). This statue is striking the Diamond Fist mudra, and it’s designated National Treasure #26. This statue is believed to date back to the 9th century. Next to this hall, and slightly to the left, is the Bulguksa Sari-tap. While damaged by the Japanese, it was eventually retrieved in the 1930s. Dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the Sari-tap is beautiful in its lotus design and Buddha and Bodhisattva reliefs around its body.

The final building in the upper courtyard is the Nahan-jeon. Housed inside this hall are 16 wooden statues dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Surrounding the hall are hundreds of stone cairns left behind by visitors to the temple.

Finally back in the lower courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Geukrak-jeon Hall. Out in front of the hall is a golden boar that you can rub for good luck. And housed inside this hall is a statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is designated National Treasure #27, and it dates back to the 9th century. Surrounding this statue, and if you look close enough around the interior, you can see an older style Dragon Ship of Wisdom painting, as well as a wooden carving of a golden pig, as well.

For more on Bulguksa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, make your way to the main road and the bus stop that’s just out in front of it. From there, take either bus #10 or #11. Either one of these buses will take you directly to the Bulguksa Temple stop. The bus ride will last about one hour in length.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10.  With a half-dozen National Treasures, as well as being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, its reputation kind of speaks for itself. But if you need any more convincing, the stately pagodas, the amazing architecture, and the stunning halls and views are more than enough to keep you busy for the better part of a day. This temple is a must!!

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Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at Bulguksa Temple.
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 The  Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge.”
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As you approach the temple courtyard.
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An up-close of Dabo-tap Pagoda.
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And a look over at Seokga-tap Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple.
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The long corridors at the temple.
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Some of the intricate artwork at Bulguksa Temple.
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The main hall at Bulguksa Temple.
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A look inside the main hall at Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
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Just a seat.
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The stairway leading to the upper courtyard.
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The Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
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The highly elaborate mural of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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The view from the upper courtyard.
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A look towards the cloaked Nahan-jeon.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon.
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The view as you make your way towards the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
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The golden pig that brings good luck.
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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at Amita-bul, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #27.
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 The Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

8 thoughts on “Updated: Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 (Gyeongju)

  1. Your pictures are inspiring. Dale! I enlisted for a trip to Gyeongyu on April, 26-27, this year. I can’t wait to see the wonders! Thanks for sharing the photos.

    Greetings from Romanai!

  2. Your website has great information and your pictures are fabulous! We will be taking back-to-back cruises in June & July which each have a stop in Busan. We have already planned a shore excursion to Bulguksa Temple. On our second trip we can either go to Beomeosa Temple (along with a cultural performance), or to Tongdosa Temple (along with the UN Memorial Cemetery). Both look wonderful. Any advice as to which to choose? Thanks

    • I would definitely see Tongdosa Temple over Beomeosa Temple. It sounds like you’ll have a great time in and around Busan.

  3. Pingback: My First Temple - Bulguksa Temple | The Korea Blog

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