Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Some beautiful flowers enjoying a bit of springtime rain at Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Heugguksa Temple, which lies just north of the Yeosu city centre, is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Yeongchwisan (Vulture Peak Mountain). The name of the temple, Heungguksa Temple, means “Temple of Flourishing Kingdom Temple,” in English. Heungguksa Temple was first built in 1196 by the famed monk Jinul. The temple was built in this location to fulfill a former monk’s prophecy. The prophecy stated that if a temple was built on the grounds that Heungguksa Temple now occupies, the nation would flourish. The temple was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After some of the temple buildings were rebuilt after this invasion, they were destroyed once more during the Imjin War in 1592 and 1597. Heungguksa Temple was rebuilt once more in 1642 by the monk Gyeteuk.

You first approach the temple grounds past the stately Iljumun Gate. The first sign that you’re approaching the temple grounds is a grouping of twelve stupas that also include the earthly remains of Jinul, as well as other prominent monks from eastern Jeollanam-do. A little further along, and just before you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate, is a turtle-based stele that dates back to 1703. The history of the temple’s reconstruction is written on the body of the biseok.

Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four descriptive statues of the Four Heavenly Kings that stand on an elevated enclosure. To the left of this gate is the temple’s museum which houses an 18th century Gwaebul painting of Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The museum is joined by a weathered bell pavilion that houses an equally old looking collection of Buddhist percussion instruments.

Straight ahead of the Cheonwangmun Gate, and just before you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Beopwangmun Gate. Originally constructed in 1624, the interior of this gate is rather spacious.

Having stepped inside the main temple courtyard, and straight ahead, lays the Daeung-jeon main hall at Heungguksa Temple. The main hall dates back to 1624. Out in front of the main hall is some beautiful masonry, which includes a turtle based stone lantern (which now looks more like a demon than a turtle), as well as some decorative reliefs on the stairs that lead up to the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are pastoral paintings. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jaehwagara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues date back to 1628-1644. The masterful main altar painting that backs these statues dates back to 1693. In the back left corner is a historic all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) front and centre. These statues date back to the 17th century and are backed by elaborate paintings of the worlds that the Ten Kings rule over in the afterlife.

To the rear of the main hall is the Buljo-jeon, which houses some ancient artifacts from the temple. Unfortunately, this hall is locked at all times. To the rear of this hall, and slightly up an embankment, are a pair of halls. Passing under a low lying entry gate, the first of the two halls is the Palsang-jeon. This hall houses eight replica paintings from the Buddha’s Life (Palsang-do murals). To the left of the Palsang-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. Newly rebuilt, the hall houses replicas of original paintings of the Nahan.

The final pair of halls that visitors can enjoy at Heungguksa Temple lie to the rear of the temple grounds. The first is the Wontong-jeon, which houses a multi-arm and headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Purportedly, the hall was first constructed in 1633, but judging from the architecture, it’s probably closer to the 19th century because of the brackets holding up the hall. Just below the Wontong-jeon is an artificial cave that houses a dragon-spout well, as well as two stone reliefs dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang (The Dragon King).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #52 to get to Heungguksa Temple. The bus leaves every 40 minutes from the terminal, and the ride should take about an hour from the terminal to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Heungguksa Temple has a wide variety of shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring the temple grounds. Beautifully situated under Mt. Yeongchwisan on large grounds, the stone masonry in and around the main hall is something to enjoy at the temple. The ancient buildings, as well as the artwork that adorns the halls both inside and out, are something to take your time with, too. There’s a little of something for everyone at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you at Heungguksa Temple.

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The pathway that leads you towards the temple courtyard.

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Part of the set of twelve prominent stupas at the temple.

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The large commemorative stele at the entry of Heungguksa Temple.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The hollow Beopwangmun Gate.

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A look through the gate towards the main hall at Heungguksa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon.

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The turtle-based stone lantern out in front of the main hall.

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A closer look at the turtle-based stone lantern. Looks a little more like a goblin these days.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar and the 17th century statues.

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The uniquely supported dharma drum at Heungguksa Temple.

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A collection of dongja (attendants) that line the museum walls.

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The unpainted Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.

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A look inside at the 17th century statues of Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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A look past the Buljo-jeon towards the upper courtyard.

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The diminutive gate that welcomes you to the upper courtyard and the Palsang-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Palsang-jeon.

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And the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.

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The secluded Wontong-jeon at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Yongwang-dang at the temple.

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With a look inside the shaman shrine hall.

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Enjoying the rain and the view.

Hyangiram Hermitage – 향일암 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do on a rainy day.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the very southern tip of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, and perched in and around the crags and crevices of Mt. Geumosan, is Hyangiram Hermitage. The hermitage was first founded in 644 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa. It was here that Wonhyo-daesa had a vision of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Originally, the temple was known as Wontongam Hermitage, until the High Priest Yun Pil changed the name of the hermitage to Geumoam Hermitage in 950 A.D. while studying there. In 1592, the entire hermitage was burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War. In 1715, the hermitage was rebuilt by the monk Inmuk-daesa. It was also at this time that the hermitage was renamed with its present name of Hyangiram Hermitage, which means “Looking Out at the Sun Hermitage,” in English. On December 20th, 2009, the main hall at the hermitage, as well as the bell tower, was completely destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the rest of the hermitage was spared from this fire, and both the main hall and the bell tower have been rebuilt in recent years. Hyangiram Hermitage, alongside three other hermitages like neighbouring Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, are four holy sites for the worship of Gwanseeum-bosal.

You first approach the hermitage grounds past a large collection of stores and restaurants. About half way up the mountain, you’ll come to the hermitage’s admission booth. After paying your 2,000 won entry fee, you can either head left towards the stately Iljumun Gate and large turtle-based stele, or you can head right up the road that monks use for their vehicles at the hermitage. I would suggest the much more beautiful, and scenic, left pathway.

The aforementioned trail will zig-and-zag its way up the mountain, until you arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage grounds. Just outside the temple grounds, once again, you can either head right towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or head left towards the main hall. Again, I would recommend heading left and making your way through a narrow opening in the rocks and up a flight of stairs sculpted from the mountain’s rock face.

It’s only after appearing on the other side of these naturally occurring obstacles that you get a great view of the South Sea from the hermitage’s main courtyard. You also get to see some islands that dot the horizon, as well as a neighbouring harbour.

Behind you stands the newly rebuilt Daeung-jeon main hall at Hyangiram Hermitage. Lining the exterior walls are a set of Palsang-do murals, as well as a collection of phoenixes and zodiac animals that line the eaves of the hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall, and up a set of stone stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Again, and from this elevated vantage point, you get an amazing view of the South Sea. Inside the main hall are a pair of haunting murals dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). As for the exterior walls, there are a pair of tigers, one of which has its ferocious mouth wide open.

To the left of the main hall, and past the newly rebuilt bell pavilion, are a set of stairs that lead you to the rear of the Daeung-jeon. It’s through an opening in the mountain’s face, and up a set of stairs situated in a crevice on the mountain, that you’ll finally come to the Gwaneeum-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar, and backed by a simplistic black mural, is a rather small seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of this hall stands a three metre tall stone statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Yet another great view of the seaside landscape awaits you from the heights of the Gwaneeum-jeon. It’s also from this vantage point, and if you look down towards the greenery that lies at your feet past the arm rail, you’ll notice a rock outcropping with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it. It’s from here that Wonhyo-daesa also enjoyed the amazing view way back in the 7th century.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hyangiram Hermitage from Yeosu and back, it will probably take you the better part of the day to do. From the Yeosu Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the road and take either Bus #111 or Bus #113 to get to the Impo bus stop (임포 향일암). The bus ride should take about an hour and a half to do. From the bus stop, go 100 metres up the road with the ocean to your left. At the GS 25 convenience store, turn right and start the ascent up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to the entry gate where you have to pay. After that, just follow the signs the rest of the way towards Hyangiram Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For the view alone, this hermitage rates as high as it does. But when you add into the mix the narrow crevices and cracks that link all the halls together, as well as the beautiful artwork all around Hyangiram Hermitage, and you know why this remote hermitage is a must see for any temple adventure seeker.

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The stairs that lead up to Hyangiram Hermitage.

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A large stele along the way.

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A closer look at the Iljumun Gate as the rain continues to fall.

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One of the crevices you’ll have to pass through on your way up to the hermitage courtyard.

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A flight of stairs and you’ll finally see all that Hyangiram Hermitage has to offer.

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The foggy view of the South Sea with an obscured island off in the distance.

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A foggy harbour down below.

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A look up towards the Daeung-jeon and Mt. Geumosan.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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As well as some amazing eaves’ work on the Daeung-jeon.

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Both the bell pavilion and Daeung-jeon roof close together.

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A cave entryway at the hermitage.

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The flight of stairs that lead through another large crevice and up towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon through the rain.

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The front facade of the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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The meditative stone that Wonhyo-daesa prayed upon, as well as a foggy South Sea off in the distance.

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A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the main altar inside.

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To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Hyangiram Hermitage.

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The obscured view from the rolling fog from the Samseong-gak towards the Daeung-jeon.

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A decorative, and ferociously posed, tiger on one of the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.

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The view from the Samseong-gak.

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The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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And a look out onto the rain from the shaman shrine hall.