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


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

Hello Again Everyone!!

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.


The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 1933.


A closer look at Ssangbongsa Temple in 1933.


The amazing Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

Ssangbongsa8 - Hoseong-jeon

The uniquely designed Hoseong-jeon Hall.

Ssangbongsa11 - Geukrakjeon

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


The Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in 2014.


The Daeung-jeon main hall replica from 1986.


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


A look at the Hoseong-jeon Hall in 2014.


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

Ssangbongsa Temple – 쌍봉사 (Hwasun, Jeollanam-do)


The beautiful Ssangbongsa Temple grounds in Hwasun, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Ssangbongsa Temple, which is located in Hwasun Jeollanam-do, was first established in 868 A.D. by Cheolgam-seonsa. Cheonlgam-seonsa built the temple after he returned to Korea from China, where he had been studying. Ssangbongsa Temple means Twin Peaks Temple, in English, and it gets its name from the pair of twin peaks on the mountains behind the temple.

From the temple parking lot, which is situated in a bend in the neighbouring road, you’ll see the stately Iljumun Gate to your right. Between this gate and the Cheongwangmung Gate is a frozen pond with an island in the centre of it. As for the Cheonwangmun Gate, there are four eye-popping, and rather large in size, Heavenly Kings. Just to the left, as you emerge on the other side of this gate, is the temple’s bell pavilion.

Towering over the Cheonwangmun Gate, and even before you exit this gate, you’ll be able to see the three story Daeungjeon pagoda, which also acts as the temple’s main hall. This pagoda is an exact replica of a mid-Joseon Dynasty structure that burnt down in 1984. It was destroyed after a devotee accidentally burnt the pagoda down after tripping over a candle as she celebrated Buddha’s Birthday. In 1986, the present pagoda was rebuilt as an exact replica of the historic structure. And much like the ancient structure, the present one is gorgeous as the multitude of colours stretch into the sky. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, sits a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Anan-jonja and Gaseop-jonja, which were two Historical Disciples of the Buddha.

Directly behind the three story Daeung-jeon pagoda, and up the embankment, is the Geukrak-jeon, which is dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals adorn the exterior walls to this hall, while a large seated statue of Amita-bul sits in the centre of the main altar. He’s joined on either side by two standing statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the left of the Geukrak-jeon is the Jijang-jeon. The exterior is decorated with some highly elaborate, and scary, depictions of both the Ten Kings of the Underworld and the part of the underworld they rule over. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, sits a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal. Jijang-bosal is surrounded on both sides by statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. While their paint is fading, the craftsmanship behind their design still resonates.

To the right of the Geukrak-jeon sit two more halls. To the immediate right sits the Nahan-jeon. The exterior is painted with various depictions of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), while the interior have the Nahan; but this time, in statue form. In front of the Nahan-jeon lies the Hoseong-jeon Hall, which was off-limits to people when I visited the temple; however, there are some beautiful paintings and designs that adorn this atypical hall.

As for the rest of the grounds, the stupa of the founding monk, Cheolgam-seonsa lies in back of the main temple grounds in a sectioned off area. This ornate stupa is really something to enjoy. Also, when you exit the temple grounds, and as you make your way to the temple parking lot, you’ll notice an area for stupas for prominent monks at Ssangbongsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: You’ll need to get to the Intercity Bus Terminal in the city of Hwasun. From this terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #218 to get to Ssangbongsa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Unfortunately, the historic three story main hall pagoda no longer stands; instead, a beautiful new Daeung-jeon stands in its place. So while not the best of situations, at least we get an exact replica of Korea’s craftsmanship. In addition to this beautiful, and rare, main hall, you get the beautiful stupa that houses the earthly remains of Cheolgam-seonsa, as well as the atypical Hoseong-jeon Hall, and the historic and horrific sculptures and paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


The temple parking lot and Iljumun Gate.


The first view of the beautiful Ssangbongsa Temple.


The frozen pond outside the temple grounds.


The grounds that house the historic stupas at Ssangbongsa Temple.


The amazing view as you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A look from the outside in at a couple of the Four Heavenly Kings.


The bell pavilion to the left of the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A look up at the amazing Daeung-jeon pagoda replica at Ssangbongsa Temple.


The pagoda main hall before it burned to the ground in 1984.


The Geukrak-jeon behind the three story main hall.


The compact Nahan-jeon.


A monk praying inside the Nahan-jeon.


The unique looking Hoseong-jeon.


A closer look at the beautiful artwork adorning the Hoseong-jeon.


The Jijang-jeon to the left of the Geukrak-jeon.


One of the amazing, yet disturbing, paintings adorning the exterior walls on the Jijang-jeon.


The beautiful view from the Jijang-jeon.


One last look up at the stunning three story main hall.


And then it was time to go.