Nawonsa Temple – 나원사 (Gyeongju)


The five tier pagoda, which is also National Treasure #39, at Nawonsa Temple in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the northern part of Gyeongju, and on the former site of a much older temple, is Nawonsa Temple. This newer temple points to a much older and glorious past in Korean history.

Along a few country roads and past the scenic Hyeongsan River is the well hidden Nawonsa Temple. When first approaching the temple, you’ll pass through the temple parking lot, which appears to be situated out in front of the old temple site. Passing through this clearing, you’ll notice an elevated pagoda to the rear. This nearly ten metre tall white pagoda, which dates back to the 8th century, is National Treasure #39. In the past, this pagoda appeared to the rear of the main temple building during the Unified Silla Period. Now, with the original temple no longer in existence, the historic pagoda stands alone. The body of the pagoda consists of one solid stone and stands five tiers in height. The most remarkable thing about the pagoda is that it’s retained its pure white colour for over a thousand years.

In a bend in the road to the left of the elevated pagoda, and at the base of a small mountain, is Nawonsa Temple. Straight ahead, and past a collection of temple facilities to your left, is the diminutive concrete main hall. The exterior of the main hall is unpainted, but there are a pair of stone lanterns out in front of the elevated main hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll notice a collection of white statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of the seven statues is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the far left wall is the temple’s guardian mural as well as a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The only other hall to be enjoyed at Nawonsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall. Up a set of innumerable stairs, you’ll finally arrive at this little hall. Housed inside the unadorned exterior are three paintings. Resting on the main altar is a simple Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the left of Chilseong rests a mural of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and to the right is a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you need to take Bus #232. After 21 stops, or 30 minutes, get off at the Nawonsa Temple entrance stop (나원사 입구).

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. By far, the main highlight to Nawonsa Temple is the ancient five tier pagoda that also acts as National Treasure #39. The interior to the Daeung-jeon main hall is rather inviting, as well.


The five tier pagoda as you first approach it.


The picture does no justice to just how massive this pagoda truly is.


The bend in the road to the left where the newer Nawonsa Temple is located.


The Daeung-jeon main hall at Nawonsa Temple.


Some little trinkets that people have left behind out in front of the main hall.


A paper Dragon Ship of Wisdom that hangs out in front of the main hall entrance.


A look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar.


To the rear of the main hall.


Where this long flight of stairs rests on your way up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


A look at the underwhelming Samseong-gak.


The Chilseong mural that rests on the main altar.


With a mural dedicated to Yongwang to the left.

Seongjuam Hermitage – 성주암 (Gyeongju)


The 8th century Amita-bul rock statue at Seongjuam Hermitage in south-western Gyeongju.

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Seongjuam Hermitage is located in south-western Gyeongju near the Yuldong train station. More specifically, the small hermitage is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Byeokdosan (437m).

You first approach the hermitage up some very rural roads in Gyeongju and eventually up a mountainside road. Standing in the remote hermitage parking lot, which has the feel that no one’s parked there for decades, you’ll find the head of the trail that leads up to the hermitage to the right of the parking lot retaining wall. Through a bend in the trail to the left and then to the right, you’ll see a sign that is the surest indication that Seongjuam Hermitage is up ahead. The sign describes the history behind what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.

Up the mountain trail for one hundred metres, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage. Uniquely, the first thing to greet you to the right is the hermitage’s Sanshin-gak. The diminutive shrine hall has a beautiful signboard that denotes the name of the hall above the entry. Stepping inside the Sanshin-gak, you’ll see that Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is making a mudra with his left hand, while the psychedelic eyes of his tiger companion stare out at you.

To the left of the Sanshin-gak, and up a set of uneven stone stairs, is the hermitage’s main hall. Both the main hall and the monks’ dorms are one. The L-shaped building houses the monks’ dorms to the far left, while the main hall is to the right. Inside this extremely small main hall are a set of red paintings that illustrate the guardian mural as well as the Sermon on Vulture Peak.

But it’s to the right rear of this L-shaped building that you come across what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad. This triad, which also acts as Korea’s Treasure #122, was first created in the 8th century during the Unified Silla Dynasty. The triad looks out towards the west and has a slightly smiling Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. This image is flanked 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. The triad is reminiscent of the images found at Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site in central Gyeongju.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yuldong Train Station in Gyeongju, you need to exit the train station to the south. Along the way, follow the signs that read “경주두대리마애석불입상.” These signs are leading you towards the famed Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad at Seongjuam Hermitage. The trek is about one kilometre long.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While the temple buildings at Seongjuam Hermitage are largely disappointing outside of the beautiful painting housed inside the Sanshin-gak, a bit of the luster that is lost from them is regained by standing in front of the amazing 8th century Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.


The head of the trail that leads up to Seongjuam Hermitage.


The actual trail that leads towards the hermitage grounds.


The Sanshin-gak at Seongjuam Hermitage.


The unique signboard that is placed above the entry of the Sanshin-gak.


The amazing Sanshin mural housed inside the shaman shrine hall.


A look towards the monks’ dorms and the main hall at the hermitage.


A closer look at the L-shaped building.


The plateau where the 8th century triad is located.


A look at the amazing triad!


A closer look at Amita-bul.




And Gwanseeum-bosal.


The view from the stone platform out towards the Sanshin-gak.


As well as some of the beautiful flowers that line that side of the hermitage trail.

Daeheungsa Temple – 대흥사 (Gyeongju)


The main temple courtyard at Daeheungsa Temple in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daeheungsa Temple is located in the northern part of Gyeongju and just south east of the towering Mt. Jioksan (569m). You first approach Daeheungsa Temple past several farmers’ fields. The temple in fact seems out of place surrounded by agriculture on all sides.

Standing in the centre of the temple parking lot, you face a large retaining wall, past which lays the temple grounds. Climbing the large set of stairs, you’ll finally pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Daeheungsa Temple to enter the lower temple courtyard. Housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four rather underwhelming statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Finally standing inside the lower courtyard, you’ll first notice the ornateness of the temple. To your immediate left is a statue of Podae-hwasang. And a little further left is the temple’s bell pavilion which houses a beautiful bronze bell. Straight ahead, on the other hand, is a large granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who stands in a shallow flowing pond. To the left rear of this pond is an elevated altar that houses a statue of the Eight Spoke Buddhist Wheel, and it’s backed by a seated stone image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). While to the right rear of the pond is another elevated altar. This time, the altar is fronted by a large metal Geumgang-jeo (Diamond Pounder) and backed by another stone image of Seokgamoni-bul.

Climbing a flight of stairs directly to the rear of the pond and Gwanseeum-bosal, you’ll come to the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas. Just outside this hall are large paintings of the sixteen Nahan, as well as smaller stone statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. As for inside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas, and resting on the main altar, is triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And this triad is surrounded on all sides, as you might have guessed it, by one thousand smaller images of Amita-bul.

Up another flight of stairs, and passing through the beautiful dragon adorned entry gate, you’ll be welcomed by a large concrete main hall. While the exterior of the hall is all but unadorned except for the traditional dancheong colours, you’ll notice a large triad resting on the main altar. Again, Amita-bul is front and centre in this triad. And he’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

To the left of the main hall, besides the monks’ dorms and a training centre for the monks, is a large statue to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). But it’s to the right of the main hall which probably draws most of your attention. The all white shrine hall, which looks to be Indian-inspired, houses sari (crystallized remains) inside. But before stepping inside this elevated hall, you’ll first have to pass by two intimidating stone Vajra warrior statues. Once you step inside the circular hall, you’ll notice that the wall’s to the hall are painted with the Palsang-do murals that recreate Seokgamoni-bul’s life. And resting on the main altar is a sari.

Just behind the white circular shrine hall, and to the right of the main hall, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hidden hall are three rather common paintings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Yongwang (The Dragon King), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus #203 for 45 stops., which will last one hour and twenty minutes. Get off at Oksan 2-ri and walk 850 metres towards Daeheungsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While a bit out of the way from the usual tourist trappings of Gyeongju, Daeheungsa Temple is well worth the visit to the northern part of the ancient city. With all its stone statues and altars, the trip is worth it alone. But when you add into the mix the white circular sari hall, as well as the massive main hall that’s ornately adorned inside, and you’ll have to find a way to get to the newer Daeheungsa Temple.


The entrance to Daeheungsa Temple.


Rather uniquely designed stupas at the base of the temple entrance.


A walk towards the beautiful Daeheungsa Temple.


One of the Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The lower courtyard at Daeheungsa Temple.


The Podae-hwasang statue at the entry of the temple.


The bell pavilion to the left of the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The Eight Spoke Buddhist Wheel platform at Daeheungsa Temple.


And to the right is another platform backed by Seokgamoni-bul and fronted by a large metal Geumgang-jeo (Diamond Pounder).


The stairs leading up to the main hall at Daeheungsa Temple.


Inside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.


One of the Nahan paintings outside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.


The entry gate to the upper courtyard.


One of the ornamental dragons that hangs from the upper courtyard gate.


The unique hall that houses sari inside.


One of the stone guardians that protects the entry to the sari hall.


The main altar inside the sari hall.


A closer look at the main altar with the sari in the centre.


A look back at the entry.


The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Daeheungsa Temple.


The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


The large concrete main hall at Daeheungsa Temple.


The main altar inside the main hall at Daeheungsa Temple with Amita-bul front and centre.


The Mireuk-bul statue to the left of the main hall.


The view from the upper courtyard down towards the lower courtyard.

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

Wolseong Fortress

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

Hello Again Everyone!!

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.


The view from Mt. Namsan from 2013.


Another scenic look down from Mt. Namsan in 2013.


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: 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.

Hello Again Everyone!!

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.


The stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal from 1917.


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


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


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


The Gulbulsa-ji in 2013.


A modern look at Gwanseeum-bosal.


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


A fuller look at Yaksayore-bul in 2013.


As well as Mireuk-bul in 2013.

Colonial Korea: Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju)

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

Hello Again Everyone!!

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: Seokguram Hermitage – 석굴암 (Gyeongju)


The Seokgamoni-bul statue inside the Seokguram Grotto in 1917.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. alongside neighbouring Bulguksa Temple. The construction of both religious sites started under the guidance of Prime Minister Kim Daeseong. Seokguram Hermitage would be completed in 774 A.D. just shortly after the death of Kim Daeseong. Initially, Seokguram Hermitage was called Seokbulsa Temple (Stone Buddha Temple, in English). The hermitage was constructed, according to legend, to appease Kim’s parents from his previous life.

Seokguram Hermitage is best known for the artificial grotto housed at the hermitage. Inside the grotto is a 3.5 metre tall stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The statue, which is the most beautiful Buddhist statue in all of Korea, sits underneath the seven metre tall grotto dome. The statue, with a serene smile, looks out towards the East Sea. The large Buddha statue is backed by an equally beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The statue is fronted at the entrance of the cave by stone reliefs of Vajra warriors and the Four Heavenly Kings. And the central statue of Seokgamoni-bul is also surrounded on all sides by the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas.

For the first thousand years of its existence, Seokguram Hermitage largely remained unchanged. It wasn’t until the 18th century, and under Korean Confucian religious rule from 1703 to 1758, that this started to change. This was then followed up by the serious damage that the Japanese inflicted on Seokguram Grotto from 1910-45. First discovered by the Japanese by a Japanese postman, the hermitage underwent three large scale restorations. From 1913 to 1915, the grotto was completely disassembled and reassembled. In addition, a one metre thick outer wall was added to surround the artificial grotto for protection.

Then, in 1917, another renovation took place. Because of the damage originally incurred after the earlier renovations, moss started to form in the grotto from moisture that couldn’t escape the artificial cave. So the Japanese decided to install a drainage pipe system inside the Seokguram Grotto. Additionally, the concrete shell that was added from 1913-15 was covered in lime mortar and clay.

Finally from 1920-23, a third round of renovations took place. This time, in order to correct their former mistakes, waterproof asphalt was added to the top of the concrete dome. But this seemed to only compound the problem of moisture inside the grotto.

After their liberation from Japan, Korea and Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto that had been created over three decades. It was in 1966 that an air handling unit was installed inside the Seokguram Grotto, which seemed to stem the problem. And in 1971 a glass partition was installed inside the grotto to protect the sculptures and statues from any potential future damage.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The path that leads up to the grotto in 1917.

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A pagoda at Seokguram Hermitage in 1916.


The entrance of the grotto in 1917.


The blueprints of the grotto from 1917.


Another angle for the inner chamber of the grotto.


One of the outer guardians at the entrance of the Seokguram Grotto from 1917.


One of the Vajra warriors at the entry of the inner chamber from 1917.


Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at Seokguram Hermitage.


The walls of the inner chamber with the Nahan and Buddhas on the wall.


A look at the serenely smiling Seokgamoni-bul from 1917.


A look above the central statue at the cracked dome.


The relief of Gwanseeum-bosal that backs Seokgamoni-bul inside the inner chamber from 1917.


A renovated Seokguram Hermitage from Colonial Rule.


How the grotto looked in 2012.


A closer look at the outer shrine hall to the grotto from 2006.


A closer look at the image of Seokgamoni-bul from inside the grotto from 2012.


And a black and white image of the Historical Buddha from 2012, as well.

Colonial Korea: Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 (Gyeongju)


The front facade to Bulguksa Temple in 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Before there ever was a Bulguksa Temple on the Bulguksa Temple grounds, there was a much smaller temple occupying the grounds. However, in 751 A.D., and under the guidance of Prime Minister Kim Daeseong, Bulguksa Temple was built to replace the earlier, and smaller, temple. Bulguksa Temple was first built to help pacify the spirits of Kim Daeseong’s parents. Twenty-three years later, Bulguksa Temple was completed in 774 A.D. after the death of Kim. It was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point, in 774, that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, which means “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English.

Throughout its long history, Bulguksa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations took place during the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Tragically, all the wooden buildings were completely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98). In a decade, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and further expanded. And over the next two hundred years, Bulguksa Temple would undergo a further forty renovations.

In the late Joseon Dynasty, and after 1805, Bulguksa Temple fell into disrepair. In fact, the temple was often the target of looting. It was during Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945 that the Japanese started the restoration of Bulguksa Temple. It was only after the defeat of the Japanese in World War Two that the restoration process was completed by Korea. Under the orders and watchful eye of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969-73, extensive investigation, restoration, and repair were completed at Bulguksa Temple.

Bulguksa Temple is nearly unmatched as a temple on the Korean peninsula. In total, because of its architectural and artistic beauty, Bulguksa Temple houses some six national treasures and three additional treasures.


Another look at the famed front facade of Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


And yet another of Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


The left side of the front facade has Yeonhwa-gyo (Lotus Bridge) and Chilbo-gyo (Seven Treasures Bridge) from 1916.


To the right of the front facade is Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 1916.


A closer look at Baekun-gyo and  Cheogun-gyo in 1916.


A look at Cheongun-gyo with Seokga-tap pagoda in the background from 1916.


A closer look at Cheongun-gyo in 1916.


The near collapse of the Hamyeong-ru Pavilion on the front facade in 1916.


The elevated Seokga-tap pagoda in the main courtyard in 1916.


The blueprints to the front facade from 1916.


The Daeung-jeon main hall at Bulguksa Temple in 1932.


A look around the inside of the Daeung-jeon from 1932.


The intricate Dabo-tap in 1916.


A closer look at the finial of Dabo-tap in 1916.


And a look at the body of Dabo-tap in 1916.


A neglected Seokga-tap in 1916 with the main hall in the background.


The stone lantern in front of the main hall in 1916.


One of the stupas at Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


And another stupa near the rear of the temple grounds in 1916.


Birojana-bul from 1917. It’s National Treasure #26.


Amita-bul from 1917. It’s also National Treasure #27.


Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 2006


And Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 2011.


A look across the famed front facade at Bulguksa Temple in 2011. In the foreground stands Yeonhwa-gyo (Lotus Bridge) and Chilbo-gyo (Seven Treasures Bridge).


Dabo-tap Pagoda from 2012.


Seokga-tap Pagoda circa 2011.


One of the ornate stupdas next to the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 2011.


Birojana-bul from 2012. It’s National Treasure #26.


One more picture of the front facade but from 2014.

Now and Then: The City of Gyeongju


Anapji, in Gyeongju, during the 1950s.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The city of Gyeongju, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, has a long and storied past that is closely tied to the Silla Kingdom. From 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., for nearly a thousand years of history, Gyeongju was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom. Formerly, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol and Gyerim. It wasn’t until 935 A.D. that the town became known as Gyeongju. During the 992 years that the Silla Kingdom reigned, it was the longest period of rule by a single dynasty in Korean history. During this period in Korean history, the Silla Kingdom would rise from a small tribal nation to unify the entire Korean peninsula.

Dotted throughout the Gyeongju cityscape are some thirty-five national treasures and a countless amount of treasures. When Buddhism came to the Silla Kingdom in the early 6th century, it reached its zenith with the establishment of Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Hermitage in the late 8th century. In addition to these internationally famed sites, there are a countless amount of lesser known sites spread throughout the entire city including Anapji and Cheonseongdae. Additionally, there’s Chilbulam Hermitage, Sambulsa Temple, Samneung-gol Valley, and Bucheobawi on Mt. Namsan. There’s also Baeknyulsa Temple and Gulbulsa-ji on Mt. Sogeumgangsan that visitors can see when enjoying Gyeongju. There really are an amazing amount of sites to experience when visiting the thousand year old capital of the Silla Kingdom.

More recently, Gyeongju is the second largest city by area in all of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province next to Andong. And as of 2008, it had a population of nearly 270,000 people whose major source of income revolves around the tourist trade. So by promoting their past, people of today can prosper from nearly a thousand years of history.

Anapji 1970s

Anapji in the early 1970s.

Anapji 1975

Anapji during the 1975 excavation.


Cheonseongdae Observatory


Bucheobawi from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.


Another image of Bucheobawi.

Chilbulam Gyeongju

The amazing Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.


The three Buddhas from Sambulsa Temple on the western side of Mt. Namsan.


Yep, that’s someone standing on the shoulders of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan.


The turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong on Mt. Seondosan.


An older image of the stone sculpture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site on Mt. Sogeumgangsan.


The stark landscape from Mt. Sogeumgangsan, and a look towards Baeknyulsa Temple.


Anapji as it appears today.


An up close of Bucheobawi.


The three Buddhas at Sambulsa Temple. Now, they’re sheltered under a wooden pavilion.


The seven stone Buddhas at Chilbulam Hermitage.


The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul as it appears today.


The better protected Taejong stele from Mt. Seondosan.


A more recent picture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.


And a look over top the main hall at Baeknyulsa Temple.

Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage


Seokguram Hermitage in 1930.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Alongside Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. by then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The hermitage was completed in 774 A.D. not long after Kim Daeseong’s death. Originally, the temple was called Seokbulsa Temple, which means “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English. The reason that the hermitage was first constructed, at least according to legend, was to pacify Kim’s parents in his previous life.

The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage houses the most beautiful Buddhist sculpture in all of Korea. Underneath the nearly seven metre tall man-made dome, and measuring nearly 3.5 metres in height, is the serenely smiling Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Seokgamoni-bul looks out towards the East Sea and he is surrounded on all sides by equally beautiful sculptures of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Nahan, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Throughout its history, the hermitage largely remained untouched for the first one thousand years of its design. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this changed under Confucian religious rule in 1703 and 1758. It was left seriously damaged before colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The hermitage was first discovered by a visiting Japanese postman. From its discovery, Seokguram Hermitage underwent three rounds of full-scale restoration. The first of these restorations started in 1913 and lasted until 1915. Under the efforts of leading Japanese architect and scholar, Tei Sekino, Seokguram Hermitage was completely disassembled and reassembled. It was at this time that a one metre thick outer concrete dome was formed around the artificial grotto. With the addition of 200 stones, the original grotto was irrevocably damaged.

Compounding these mistakes was the renovation that took place in 1917. Because of the moisture forming in the grotto from the concrete shell formerly installed by the Japanese, moss was collecting inside the grotto. So to alleviate this problem, the Japanese installed a drainage pipe. Additionally, the concrete was covered in lime mortar and clay.

And finally, from 1920 to 1923, a third round of renovations was conducted. This time, once more, the renovations were conducted to lessen the mistakes from the first time around. This time, waterproof asphalt was added on top of the formerly applied concrete. However, this still didn’t help the moisture problem inside the grotto.

Through their efforts, and after being liberated from the Japanese, Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto. It wasn’t until 1966, with the installation of an air handling unit, that the problem was finally fixed. And in 1971, the glass partition was installed to protect the sculptures and statues from any damage that visitors might do to the historical grounds, as well as control the moisture level inside the grotto.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The path that formerly led up to the grotto in 1912.


A look at the grotto before Japanese repairs.


A better look at the extensive damage and neglect.

Seokguram 10

Japanese restoration.


The dismantling of the grotto.

Seokguram 11

Seokguram Hermitage stripped down.


The landscaping at Seokguram Hermitage after Japanese restoration efforts.


Some Japanese posing in front of the grotto during its occupation of Korea.


How the grotto looks today.


A look inside the grotto at the amazing statue of the Buddha in 2014.