Colonial Korea: Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

Hwaeomsa - 1933

Hwaeomsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple was first established as a temple in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi (who may or may not have been an Indian missionary monk). The name of the temple means, in English, “Flower Garland Sutra Temple.” And it’s located just outside Gurye, Jeollanam-do in the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

After its foundation, and during the mid-600s, the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625-702) returned from Tang China after studying there for ten years. With him, he returned to the Korean peninsula with the Hwaeom sect of Buddhist teachings. It was through his efforts, as well as the state support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), that Hwaeomsa Temple was not only rebuilt, but it was expanded, as well.

Then, in the late 800s, Hwaeomsa Temple was further expanded, once more, under the guidance of Master Doseon-guksa (826-898). It was at this point in the temple’s history that most of the stone monuments that still stand to this day, like the stone lantern and stone pagodas in the main temple courtyard, were built.

Not surprisingly, and like so much of the rest of the Korean peninsula, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Just thirty years later, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt.

Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples throughout Korea. Not only that, but it’s also one of the most venerated, as well. In total, Hwaeomsa Temple houses four National Treasures like the Three-story Stone Pagoda, which is National Treasure #35, as well as the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67. In addition to these National Treasures, Hwaeomsa Temple also houses an additional eight Treasures.

Hwaeomsa1 - 1933 Iljumun

The Iljumun Gate from 1933 at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Hwaeomsa2 - 1933 Iljumun

Some of the intricate artistry adorning the Iljumun Gate.

Hwaeomsa7 - 1933 Daeungjeon

The smaller sized Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

Hwaeomsa8 - 1916 east pagoda

The East Pagoda out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall in 1916.

Hwaeomsa7 - 1916 West pagoda

As well as the West Pagoda in 1916 in the main temple courtyard.

Hwaeomsa8 - 1933 Daeungjeon

Some of the beautiful woodwork adorning the Daeung-jeon main hall.

Hwaeomsa9 - 1933 Daeungjeon

A look inside the main hall in 1933.

Hwaeomsa10 - 1933 Daeungjeon

A look up at the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon in 1933.

Hwaeomsa11 - 1933 Daeunjeon

A look around the main hall.

Hwaeomsa13 -1933 Wontongjeon

To the left of the main hall are the Wontong-jeon Hall and Nahan-jeon in 1933.

Hwaeomsa3 - 1933 Gakhwangjeon

The Gakhwang-jeon in 1933 with the massive, and historic, stone lantern out in front of it. The stone lantern also just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

Hwaeomsa4 - 1933 Gakhwangjeon

Outside the Gakhwang-jeon.

Hwaeomsa5 - 1933 Gakhwangjeon

A look inside the spacious Gakhwang-jeon.

Hwaeomsa6 - 1933 Gakhwangjeon

A look across the main altar inside the Gakhwang-jeon.

Hwaeomsa - 1916 lion pagoda

The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 1916.

Hwaeomsa1 - 1916 lion pagoda

A closer look at the lion base of the pagoda.

Hwaeomsa2 - 1916 lion pagoda

An up close and personal with just one of the ferocious lions.

Hwaeomsa4 - 1916 lion pagoda

The stone statue at the centre of the lion pagoda is believed to be Yeongi’s mother.

Hwaeomsa3 - 1916 lion pagoda

Doors carved into the body of the pagoda.

Hwaeomsa14 - 1933 Byeokamdae

A stupa found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.

Hwaeomsa15 - 1933 Byeokamdae

A large biseok found at Hwaeomsa Temple in 1933.


The same exact biseok from 2005.


The Iljumun Gate in 2013.


Daeung-jeon main hall in 2013.


The massive Gakhwang-jeon in 2013 with the West Pagoda out in front of it.


A look inside the Gakhwang-jeon hall in 2005.


The Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda in 2013.


And a closer look at the pagoda in 2013.

Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple

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Hwaeomsa Temple from 1920.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple is located in present day Gurye, Jeollanam-do, and it’s part of the famed Jirisan National Park. The name of the temple means “Flower Garland Sutra Temple,” and it relates to one of the temple’s most famous residents. The temple was first founded in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi, who may, or may not have, come from India as a missionary monk. Then, in the mid-600s, the famed Uisang returned from Tang China after ten years of study. With him, he returned with the Hwaeom sect teachings. So through his efforts, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt and expanded at this time with the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647).

And then, once more, the temple was further expanded and refurbished by Master Doseon-guksa in the late 800s. It was at this time that most of the temple’s stone monuments like the massive stone lantern and the stone pagodas were built.

Then, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed. After thirty years, the temple was finally rebuilt. Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples in Korea, and it’s also one of the most respected. Hwaeomsa Temple houses some of the most recognizable features in all of Korea like the Gakhwangjeon Hall and the Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions. In total, the temple houses four National Treasures and eight additional Treasures.


Monks out in front of the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67.


 A monk next to the massive stone lantern, which just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

Hwaeomsa 1914

National Treasure #35, The Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple, from 1914.


Gakhwang-jeon Hall, today.


National Treasure #12, today.


And the unforgettable Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

The Story of…Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple


The parking lot on the mountain where my near death experience started at Mitaam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This will be my last posting on the website until early September. I’ll be headed out on vacation. It’s the first time in two and a half years that there won’t be a weekly posting, but hopefully there’s enough already up on the site to keep everyone busy. Have a great August, everyone!

So in this posting, I thought I would talk about the near death experience I had while visiting Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple in Yangsan (not to be confused with the much more famous one in Jirisan National Park).

A lot of the time I visit temples and hermitages way off the beaten trail. Not just a little, but waaaaay off. I’m so far off, sometimes, that Korean hikers have asked me how I even found the hermitage or temple in the first place. When I do visit these places, often the road can be quite hazardous in my two-wheel drive KIA Pride. Such was the case when I visited these two mountain temples.

The initial climb up in the car was rather smooth. Then I switched it over to low gear just to be sure. Eventually, I came to a parking lot that had quite a few vendors. At first, I was going to park my car here, but then I realized that the road continued and Mitaam Hermitage was a further kilometre away. At this point, I was completely ignorant of just how much the road conditions would change.

Continuing, the road’s gradient quickly change. No longer was it a respectable 15 degree angle; instead, it had become a 30 degree angle (at best). Finally, nearing the point where the road ends, there’s a narrow plateau where two or three cars can park. Unfortunately, all of these spots were taken up. This is also the place where the trail for Mitaam Hermitage begins. Having not found a place to park, I decided I would continue up the road and visit Hwaeomsa Temple first. Then, I would backtrack and have a look at Mitaam Hermitage later. The only problem with this plan is that the road abruptly becomes a 40 degree angle and it’s at a bend.


The trail that leads up to Mitaam Hermitage. It’s also on the neighbouring road that I skidded and slipped down the side of a guardrail-less mountain road.

So I revved up my car and attempted to take the angle and gradient with a bit of speed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take it with enough speed because my tires started to spin. Then, my car started to roll back because of the incline. I got to a point where I was nearing the edge of the road: a road that has no barriers or guard rails. Instead, all that awaits you is a steep kilometre long drop-off. I thought, so this is how it’s going to end. Fortunately, my wheels finally did gain traction and stop spinning, and my car eventually did stop rolling backwards. It was a bit touch and go as I turned my car around, but I was finally able to do it. With my emergency brake on, and my car parked at a 30 degree angle, I explored Mitaam Hermitage, which lies 400 metres up the trail.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally plucked up enough courage to make my way back up to Hwaeomsa Temple and the steep and dangerous mountainside road. It should be said that the second time did the charm and the beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple was nearly worth risking my life.

For more on Mitaam Hermitage, follow the link.

And for more on Hwaeomsa Temple, follow this link.


The beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

DSC_0241The beautifully spacious main hall that buttresses up against the sides of Cheonseongsan Mountain.

Hello Again Everyone!!

My first attempt to get to Hwaeomsa Temple (not to be confused with the much more famous one in Jiri-san) was thwarted. The burning of a bit of rubber from my car as it tried to ascend the mountainous road didn’t allow me to get to the temple. So instead, I visited the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage. This time, with a little preparation, I was able to see the beautifully situated Hwaeomsa Temple.

After making the long ascent up Cheonseongsan Mountain, along the east side of the mountain, you’ll come across the picturesque Hwaeomsa Temple. Hwaeomsa Temple is a very small temple with nothing more than the monks’ living quarters, the main hall, and the Samseong-gak shrine hall. However, the gorgeous views of the east side of Yangsan below, and the beautiful grays of Cheonseongsan Mountain all around it, allow the scenery to nearly outshine the temple.

When you first arrive at the temple, up the long steep road, you’ll be greeted by a twin set of temple buildings. The smaller one to the right is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities. Straight ahead is the rather large, but precariously placed, main hall. And to the far left, and a little further down the mountainous road is the monks’ dorms and kitchen. There is very little to see in this area except a beautiful spot to take pictures of the city and valley below and the mountains around you.

First, the Samseong-gak shrine hall is placed slightly ahead of the main hall, which is a unique feature to this temple. As you approach the entrance to this hall, you’ll notice the Korean writing –삼성각 – which helps you identify this hall. Around this hall are murals dedicated to the three shaman deities inside the hall. And inside this hall are three good examples of the fine shaman artistry that can be found at Korean temples. The best of the set is the golden and black mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre upon the main altar of this hall.

The main hall has a rather unique interior. The exterior, on the other hand, is adorned with some rather simplistic Palsang-do paintings that depict the eight stages of the Buddha’s life. The most alluring is the painting dedicated to the temptation of the Buddha by the three daughters of Mara. As you enter around back on the right side of the main hall, it almost seems as though you’re entering a cave. Instead, the mountainous walls of Cheonseongsan Mountain are so close in proximity to the main hall, that appearances can be deceiving.

As for when you enter into the main hall, the first thing to greet you is a spacious main hall. On the far right is a beautifully large guardian painting. It isn’t until you pass this painting that you realize just how unique the main altar of the hall truly is. Behind the triad of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right, and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, is an ornately designed pagoda. The pagoda is backed by a golden sun painting, and it’s surrounded by paintings of dragons and Nahan (The disciples of the Historical Buddha). As for the pagoda itself, it is a three-tiered pagoda that is highly original in its design. It’s adorned with various guardians, Biseon, and Bodhisattvas. Even more surprising than the main altar pagoda was the triangle window above the stone pagoda that looks out onto the neighbouring mountainside. I’m not sure why this window is there, other than to saw that it looks out onto a cluster of large granite rocks. And to the far left is a copy of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom from the neighbouring Tongdosa Temple. This is the surest indication that the head monk at the temple is a former student at Tongdosa Temple.

For more information on Hwaeomsa Temple, please follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Hwaeomsa Temple in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or 301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Wherever it is you get off, follow the sign markers leading you to the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage, which are well placed. But instead of heading right towards the trail that leads towards Mitaam Hermitage, follow the road left for another 400 metres. Again, make sure you pack a good pair of hiking boots, because you’ll need them.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While not as picturesque as the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage, nor as amazing with what it has to show both inside and outside of the temple halls, it is beautiful and original in its own right. From the beautiful views from Cheonseongsan Mountain, to the beautiful Chilseong painting, or the pagoda that sits in the middle of the main hall, Hwaeomsa Temple has a lot to offer both the casual and more die-hard temple adventurer.

The beautiful view from the eastern side of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
The long narrow road that leads up to the temple.
The first look you’ll get of the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple as you approach.
A look at just one of the Palsang-do paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
The fierce looking Nathwi.
The spacious interior of the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple.
The beautiful guardian painting to the right of the main altar.
The unique and gorgeous main altar at Hwaeomsa Temple.
A better look at the main altar pagoda with golden sunlight at its back.
A unique look at the triad upon the main altar from behind.
A look across the front facade of the main hall.
And a look at the forward protruding Samseong-gak shrine hall.
A look at the beautiful San shin (Mountain Spirit) painting inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
And a look at the golden Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
The trail that leads left of the main hall towards the peak of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
And a look up at the cluster of boulders that the window inside the main hall looks out upon.

Updated: Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)


The beautiful Three-Story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple, which means “Flower Garland Sutra,” in English, was first founded by Yeon-gi Josa in 544 C.E. The temple was continuously expanded until its total destruction during the Imjin War of 1592. Fortunately for us, it was rebuilt three decades later. And today, it’s one of Korea’s largest and most well respected temples. In total, the temple houses four national treasures.

You first make your way up to the temple along the Hwaeomsa Temple Valley, which neighbours the stunning Masan River. When you finally do arrive at the temple, you’ll be greeted by the two-pillared Iljumun Gate. Stepping through this gate, you’ll next be greeted by Geumgangmun Gate and the Cheonwangmun Gate. Both typify the splendour of these Korean entry gates.

After skirting the Boje-ru Pavilion to the right, you’ll finally enter the temple courtyard. To the far left stand both the Jong-gak, bell pavilion, that has fierce lions surrounding all four corners of the pavilion. It’s joined to the left by the Yeongsan-jeon, which houses eight stunning murals dedicated to the Buddha’s life. In this courtyard, and just before you mount the stares that lead up to the main hall, are two ancient pagodas: Seo-ocheung Pagoda (west-five-story pagoda) and Dongocheung Pagoda (east-five-story pagoda).

Finally climbing the stairs, you’ll come face to face with the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple, the Daeung-jeon. The weather-worn main hall houses a large triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He is joined on either side by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the left and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha) to the right. These three Buddhas form the different incarnations of the Buddha. The interior to this hall, including the canopy that hangs above the triad of statues on the main altar, is highly elaborate in both its colour and craftsmanship.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon, which houses a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Jijang-bosal is accompanied by ten seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as masterful representations of these kings in painted form. To the left of the main hall, and between the Daeung-jeon and the massive Gakhwang-jeon, are the Wontong-jeon and the Nahan-jeon. The Wontong-jeon houses Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The Nahan-jeon houses both paintings and statues dedicated to the Historical Disciples of the Buddha (The Nahan). And the final shrine hall of the set is the Samseong-gak, which displays a collection of shaman murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

But it’s the Gakhwang-jeon hall that truly stands out architecturally at Hwaeomsa Temple. The two-storied hall dates back to 1699, and it’s one of the largest historic halls in all of Korea. Housed inside this cavernous hall are a set of seven statues along the main hall. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside this hall. The massive 6.4 metre tall stone lantern out in front of this hall is designated National Treasure #12.

Another highlight to this temple lies just to the left of the Gakhwang-jeon hall and up a steep set 108 uneven stairs on the hillside. At the top of these stairs lays the Sasaja Samcheung (or the Three-Story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions, in English). This most magnificent, and highly original, pagoda is designated National Treasure #35 for very obvious reasons. The five metre tall granite pagoda has three-tiers on top and four lion-shaped supports at its base. Each lion represents the four primary human emotions: love, sorrow, anger, and joy. At the centre of these lions stands a human figure with hands held to his chest. There are numerous other designs etched onto this pagoda, so take your time and enjoy the intricacies of this pagoda. And just in front of this pagoda is the equally unique stone lantern with a squatting figure at the centre of its base. Some have suggested that this is the founder of the temple kneeling in obedience to his mother.

Admission to the temple is 3,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Gurye Bus Terminal, you can take a direct bus bound for Hwaeomsa Temple. This bus leaves every ten to twenty minutes, and the first bus leaves at 8 a.m. The final bus to the temple leaves at 8:10 p.m. From where the bus lets you off, it’s another 15 to 20 minutes to Hwaeomsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10.  For its historical significance alone, Hwaeomsa Temple rates highly amongst Korean temples. But if you add the giant splendor that is Gakhwang-jeon, and the temple rates that much higher. And to top it all off, on the hill stands two of the most uniquely designed pagodas and lanterns in all of Korea.  So if you couldn’t tell already, I highly, highly recommend a visit to Hwaeomsa Temple for both its cultural significance and artistic beauty!

Part of the Hwaeomsa Temple Valley.
The beautiful mountains that surround Hwaeomsa Temple.
The Iljumun Gate that first welcomes you to the temple.
A look inside the Geumgangmun Gate.
 A look towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.
A look inside the Cheonwangmun Gate at just one of the Heavenly Kings.
Both the Jong-gak and Boje-ru Pavilion.
A look towards the main hall and the Nahan-jeon.
Inside the Daeung-jeon during morning prayers.
The elaborate interior to the Myeongbu-jeon.
A look at the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.
The Chilseong mural inside the Samseong-gak.
And a look at Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), as well, inside the Samseong-gak.
A look towards the massive, and historic, Gakhwang-jeon.
The massive 6.4 metre tall stone lantern that is National Treasure #12.
A look inside the cavernous Gakhwang-jeon.
One more look before climbing the 108 stairs.
The awe-inspiring Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions.
A closer look inside the base of the pagoda.
And finally, playful tiling adorning the roof of the monks’ living quarters.