UNESCO lists Korean mountain Buddhist temples as World Heritage sites

Seonamsa 선암사 仙巖寺 www.sunamsa.or.kr

Daeheungsa 대흥사 大興寺 www.daeheungsa.co.kr

Beopjusa 법주사 法住寺 beopjusa.org

Magoksa 마곡사 麻谷寺 www.magoksa.or.kr

Tongdosa 통도사 通度寺 www.tongdosa.or.kr

Bongjeongsa 봉정사 鳳停寺 www.bongjeongsa.org

Buseoksa 부석사 浮石寺 www.pusoksa.org

Seven ancient Korean mountain temples, which typify the way Buddhism in the country has merged with Indigenous beliefs and styles, were listed as UNESCO world heritage sites on Saturday.

The seven mountain temples – Seonamsa, Daeheungsa, Beopjusa, Magoksa, Tongdosa, Bongjeongsa, Buseoksa – were all established during the Three Kingdoms period that lasted until the 7th century AD.

UNESCO made the announcement at a meeting in the Bahraini capital Manama.

Buddhism was imported to the Korean peninsula in the fourth century and accepted by the ancient kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, establishing it as the national religion for more than 1,000 years.

During the religion’s heyday in the fifth and sixth centuries many houses of worship were built under strong state patronage, accelerating the importation of Buddhist culture, architecture and style.

Over time elements of traditional Korean beliefs merged into the religion, forming the Tong Buddhist doctrine, meaning consolidation or integration, and temple architectural layouts followed suit.

Buildings were constructed in supposedly auspicious locations and many temples set up in hilly areas, in line with the traditional Korean reverence for mountains and the Zen focus on meditation in a calm environment.

Temples were built on high positions protected by hills and commanding an open view over other mountains.

A typical mountain temple has a long winding entrance path up the slope, buildings laid out in a square with an inner courtyard in the middle.

The most important hall is on the highest level at the back, and halls for meditation, everyday living areas for monks, and a pavilion form the other three sides.

But Buddhism’s influence began to wane after the Chosun dynasty, which took over in the 14th century, adopted Confucianism as its ideology and launched an extensive and enduring crackdown on the religion.

It forced many urban temples to close, leaving only those in remote hills to survive.

List of UNESCO World Heritage entries

  • Complex of Koguryo Tombs
  • Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong
  • Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks
  • Jongmyo Shrine
  • Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple
  • Changdeokgung Palace Complex
  • Hwaseong Fortress
  • Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
  • Gyeongju Historic Areas
  • Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
  • Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
  • Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong
  • Namhansanseong
  • Baekje Historic Areas
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea
  • Pusoksa


    Master Uisang was studying in China when secret information was revealed
    to him. T’ang warlords were planning to attack Shilla, Uisang’s beloved
    homeland. The information came to the young monk through the lovelorn daughter
    of a high-ranking T’ang official at whose home Uisang was staying. He immediately
    set out to warn his countrymen. The daughter rushed after him, but was
    too late, for the ship was disappearing over the horizon. In desperation,
    the girl flung herself into the sea and drowned. This supreme act of sacrifice
    transformed her into a dragon which guarded the ship all the way back to

    The attack averted, Uisang set himself to the task of searching for
    the ideal temple site. He found it on Mt. Ponghwangsan, but the villagers
    refused to vacate the chosen spot. Once again, the dragon appeared, threatening
    to hurl a massive rock on the village. The people fled and 
    view of temple
    the dragon came crashing to the earth and exhaled its last breath. This
    is the site of the Main Hall of Pusoksa today. To the west you can see
    a rock, a small portion of the one hurled by the dragon. Therefore, Pusoksa
    is called Temple of the Floating Stone.

    Pusoksa, constructed in 676 CE at the orders of Shilla King Munmu,
    is a temple which shows the transition period between those originally
    built in the plains during the period of the Three Kingdoms and those built
    in the mountains during the later Koryo and Choson periods.

    The Main Hall enshrines Amitabha. Originally built in 676, the present
    structure dates from 1358, one of the oldest wooden buildings in Korea.
    The foundation is of granite. The columns supporting the roof are fitted
    with brackets which seem complicated at first but which are actually amazingly
    simple. The hipped-and-gabled roof is in perfect proportion to the body
    of the building, giving the hall a unique feeling. Inside, the statue sits
    in the 
    image of buddha
    west facing east because it is an Amitabha, Buddha of the Western Paradise.
    It is the oldest clay statue in Korea.

    To the left of the Main Hall, at the bottom of a steep bluff, lies
    the legendary floating stone. To the right of the stone is a three-story
    pagoda behind which is a pavilion dedicated to the Chinese girl who, in
    the form of a dragon, helped Master Uisang.

    Chosadang, a hall for portraits of great masters, lies 100 meters to
    the northeast of the Main Hall. The building’s original frescoes of guardians
    and gods are the best exisiting examples of Koryo Dynasty wall paintings
    and are currently being kept in a separate place for safe-keeping. Just
    under the eaves of Chosadang, there is a tree which sprang from a stick
    that Uisang put there on his way to India. He is reputed to have foretold
    that if a tree grew it would never die. And so it is, ever green and blooming
    after 1,300 years!

    Pusoksa has many treasures: the flagpole supports; the Koryo wood-blocks;
    the pudo, conical stone objects in which the remains of famous monks are
    kept; the two stone pagodas; and the monument to Master Wonyung, are only
    some of the wonderful objects which have survived Korea’s turbulent history.
    The stone lantern, which dates from the Unified Shilla Period, is a masterpiece
    of proportion anddesign.