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

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

Hello Again Everyone!!

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.

Geojoam Hermitage – 거조암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 246The walk under the bell pavilion and up to the ancient main hall at Geojoam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

It was just by chance that we even learned about Geojoam Hermitage. Before arriving at Eunhaesa  Temple, which is the main temple it’s associated with, I didn’t even know about this hermitage, let alone its long history. It was definitely a nice find.

It is believed that Geojoam Hermitage (거조암) dates back to 738 when the monk Woncham founded the temple. There is some dispute about whether it could potentially have been built during the reign of the Silla King Gyeongdeok; but either way, the hermitage is datable to the Silla Dynasty. The hermitage use to be called  Geojosa Temple, but in recent years it changed to Geojoam Hermitage and fell under the control of the neighbouring  Eunhaesa  Temple.

When you first approach the hermitage, which you can only get to by walking, you’ll come to an expansive parking lot. The colourless, yet stately, bell pavilion is the first thing to greet you at the hermitage. You’ll have to go under the bell pavilion, and climb up the stone stairs, to gain access to the hermitage’s courtyard. From this flight of stairs, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the unassuming, yet ancient, Yeongsanjeon main hall at the hermitage. According to calligraphic records found at the time of reconstructing the building, Yeongsan-jeon Hall dates back to 1375, which makes it one of the oldest wooden structures in all of  Korea. The exterior of this hall, much like the main hall at  Buseoksa Temple, is unadorned by any paintings. However, the interior of the hall is extremely unique. It’s so unique that I’ve never seen anything like it at any other main hall throughout Korea. On the main altar sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Accompanying the Buddha is a hall filled with 526 stone statues of the Nahan (The Buddha’s disciples). Each stone statue has a different facial expression and posture. And each one of them is painted a unique pastel colour. It really is something to see!

Other than Yeongsan-jeon Hall, there really isn’t all that much to see. There’s a study hall and dorm to the right and left of the main hall, and there’s also an ancient pagoda that was under renovation when we were there. There is a nice little San shin hall to the left of the main hall. The path that leads up to the shrine hall is under a canopy of curved metal rods. The shrine hall itself is compact, and the painting inside is rather unique.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: There is no bus connection directly to the hermitage. Instead, you’ll have to watch for the sign that leads up to the hermitage from the bus route that goes to the neighbouring  Eunhaesa  Temple. The hike in from the main road is about 4 km, but that’s better than the 7 kilometres you would have to hike from  Eunhaesa Temple. You can get to Eunhaesa Temple from Hayang about every hour:

06:00, 06:35, 07:40, 07:55, 08:55, 10:15, 11:05, 11:50, 12:45, 14:10, 14:55, 15:50, 16:55, 17:45, 18:30, 19:40, 20:15, 22:00.

View 거조암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. The reason this hermitage rates as high as it does is for one reason, and one reason only: Yeongsan-jeon. This main hall is perhaps the oldest wooden structure in Korea, even older than the much famed main hall at  Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. There are only three other buildings at the hermitage, only one of which is accessible to the general public: The San shin Hall. However, it must be noted that the hermitage is extremely difficult to get to, so go at your own discretion.

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A look at the bell pavilion as you first approach the hermitage.
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A look up from the parking lot at the monk’s dorm at Geojoam Hermitage.
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The long and stony walk up to the main courtyard at the hermitage with the ancient Yeongsan-jeon on the horizon.
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A look inside the beautiful bell pavilion that you pass under to gain admission to the courtyard at the hermitage.
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The expansive courtyard at the hermitage. The main hall is to the right and the monk’s dorm is straight ahead.
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The main hall, Yeongsan-jeon, at Geojoam Hermitage. Though unadorned on the exterior, the ancient hall has a unique interior.
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A long look inside Yeongsan-jeon with the 526 individual Nahan stone statues.
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The altar inside the main hall.
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A row of Nahan to the left of the altar inside the main hall.
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A serenely designed Nahan riding a blue tiger.
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Another Nahan that looks a little terrified for some unknown reason.
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One last look inside the main hall.
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As I exited the main hall, I noticed that the ancient pagoda was under renovation.
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The monk’s dorm to the left of the main hall.
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A look down the long main hall at Geojoam Hermitage.
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The San shin Hall at Geojoam Hermitage.
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And a look inside the shrine hall with the uniquely painted mural of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).