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Bulguk Temple before restoration

In February of 2012 we ran a feature entitled, Not all is doom and gloom… on the restoration of Bulguk Temple in South Korea. With tension now lessening a little between North and South Korea we hope that this trend will continue and that one day this unique country will once again be peacefully reunited and its wonderful cultural heritage protected and preserved.

Not all is doom and gloom, as this early photo and recent video of Bulguk Temple, today, so eloquently illustrates – enjoy!

Bulguk Temple now. A production

One of the largest dolmens in the Jungnim-ri dolmen group in Maesan Village, Gochang County, North Jeolla Province, South Korea
Image credit Steve46814. Source Wikimedia Commons

The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen sites contain the highest density and greatest variety of dolmens in Korea, and indeed of any country. Dolmens are megalithic funerary monuments, which figured prominently in Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures across the world during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. Usually consisting of two or more undressed stone slabs supporting a huge capstone, it is generally accepted that they were simply burial chambers, erected over the bodies or bones of deceased worthies. They are usually found in cemeteries on elevated sites and are of great archaeological value for the information that they provide about the prehistoric people who built them and their social and political systems, beliefs and rituals, and arts and ceremonies.

Source UNESCO Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites.


Video Heritage Channel of Korea

According to Wikipedia –

Cheomseongdae (첨성대)  is an astronomical observatory in Gyeongju, South Korea. Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean. Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia. It dates to the 7th century to the time of kingdom of Silla, which had its capital in Gyeongju. Cheomseongdae was designated as the country’s 31st national treasure on December 20, 1962.

A Ten Won Korean banknote showing the 1,300 year-old Cheomseongdae observatory

Rummaging through some old papers this morning I came across the banknote above which I‘d saved from a trip to Korea some forty years ago. It jolted my memory of Cheomseongdae (shown on the left of the banknote) which I’d visited back then and thought the attached video might be of interest to some of your readers.


Buseoksa Temple. A production

As the head temple of Korea’s Hwaumjong sect, it was first erected by the High Priest Uisang during the reign of the Silla King Munmu.

Buseoksa Temple is a temple where one can experience the characteristics of traditional Korean architecture and it is also the home to five National Treasures and three Treasures. You can take a breathtaking view of the unique spatial structure, magnificent stone walls, and bold and graceful buildings.

Buseoksa Temple also contains, within its grounds, the Muryangsujeon (National Treasure Number 18). The Muryangsujeon is the oldest wooden building in Korea and was erected during the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392). The oldest wooden building in the world is thought to be the Hōryū-ji Temple in Japan – itself heavily influenced by Buddhist thought, architecture and culture transmitted to Japan from Korea.



Bulguk Temple before restoration

In February of this year we ran a feature entitled, Not all is doom and gloom… on the restoration of Bulguk Temple in South Korea. One of our Far Eastern correspondents has sent in this video of Bulguk Temple today – enjoy!


Bulguk Temple now. A production


Detail of one of the Koguryo Tombs murals. Pyongyang, North Korea
The Nihon Shinbun Kyokai announces that –
Kyodo News and the Japan Newspaper Museum will jointly hold a press photo exhibition featuring the Koguryo Tombs and their wall paintings. The Complex of Koguryo Tombs, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, offers a unique testimony to Koguryo culture, its burial customs, and religious practices as well as daily life and beliefs, especially through the mural paintings. The paintings notably include images of hunting, women in colorful clothes and the Four Deities.
These artworks that flourished in ancient East Asia are believed to have connections to Japan’s Takamatsuzuka Tumulus and Kitora Tumulus. Kyodo News in 2010 and 2011 exclusively covered five tombs in Pyongyang and its vicinity, shooting numerous photographs. On display at the exhibition will be photographs of the ”Four Guardian Deities” murals at the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb in Pyongyang which was excavated in 1936 by Japanese researchers, and recently-discovered images of people at the Okdori Tomb in Nampo. Kyodo News became the first foreign media organization to cover the Okdori Tomb. Other photos to be shown include those of the Tokhungri Tomb, the Anak No.3 Tomb and the Kangso Great Tombs and their mural paintings to introduce the essence of Koguryo culture. Life-size replicas of stone chambers of the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb and Takamatsuzuka Tomb will be on display as well.
Details here.

The 14th century Korean Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting before conservation

One of the best, and perhaps the largest Buddhist painting of Suwol-Gwaneum-do literally painting of the Water Moon Buddha (Avalokitevara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit) house in a Japanese shrine for nearly 600 years, returned to South Korean in 2009 for a special exhibition at a Buddhist temple.

The Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting after conservation

The Korean Times reports (updated and edited for clarity) that –

The Suwol-Gwaneum-do Buddhist painting from Kagami-jinja (Kagami Shinto Shrine) in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan, was created on the orders of Queen Kim, of the Korean Goryeo Dynasty, by eight court painters in 1310. The painting was then pillaged soon after by Japanese pirates who took it to Japan where it has remained for nearly 600 years. Queen Kim was the second wife of King Chungseon, the 26th monarch of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting during conservation in Japan

Dubbed ‘the largest and most beautiful Suwol-Gwaneum-do Buddhist painting’ by art historians, this Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva (executed on a single piece of silk) went on exhibition on 30 April 2009 at the Tongdosa Buddhist temple in Yangsan, south Gyeongsang Province. It is the second time for this great masterpiece of the Goyreo Dynasty to be exhibited in South Korea. In 1995 it was on displayed at Hoam Art Gallery south of Seoul.

Experts say that this Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting is one of 38 extant Buddhist paintings of the Goryeo Dynasty depicting Suwol-Gwaneum, or The Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva. It was during Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty that Buddhist paintings of such quality were produced and there are still some 160 Goryeo Buddhist paintings existing worldwide. There are no more than 10 such paintings remaining in South Korea however; the rest are in Japan, along with 20 more scattered throughout Europe and America. The remaining paintings, over 130, were taken by force or sold illegally to Japan a long time ago, with most pillaged by Japanese invaders during Korea’s history. Experts agree that this Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting is the most beautiful, the oldest, and the largest that exists anywhere.

Detail from the Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting before conservation in Japan

Some critics have compared this Buddhist masterpiece to the Mona Lisa; others argue that it is even better. For conservation reasons the painting is on public display in Japan for only 38 days of the year. Tongdosa Buddhist temple sources in South Korea said that they started negotiations with the Japanese Kagami Shinto shrine one year ago to arrange this exhibition. In 2003 the Suwol-Gwaneum-do painting was exhibited for 20 days at a San Francisco museum under the tile Goryeo Dynasty: Korea’s Age of Enlightenment (918 to 1392). The exhibition period this time was double that of the San Francisco one, and the painting was on show at Tongdosa temple for 40 days.

Original article here.


A guest feature by Littlestone.

The Seokguram Buddha (석굴암) prior to its restoration

Another rummage through some old photographs today threw up this one of the Seokguram Buddha (석굴암) in South Korea prior to its restoration some forty years ago. Part of the Wikipedia entry for the Seokguram Buddha reads –

The Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It lies four kilometers east of the temple on Mt. Tohamsan, in Gyeongju, South Korea. It is classified as National Treasure No. 24 by the South Korean government and is located at 994, Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsanbuk-do. The grotto overlooks the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and rests 750 meters above sea level. In 1962, it was designated the 24th national treasure of Korea. In 1995, Seokguram was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Bulguksa Temple. It exemplifies some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.

The Seokguram Buddha now. Source Wikipedia. Image credit Richardfabi

 See also Part I of Not all is doom and gloom…


A guest feature by Littlestone.

Bulguksa Temple (불국사) South Korea

Rummaging through some old photographs yesterday I came across this one of Bulguksa Temple (불국사) in South Korea (which I visited some forty years ago, and where the photo was bought).

The Wikipedia entry for Bulguksa reads –

Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is home to seven National treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. The temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government. In 1995, Bulguksa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Seokguram Grotto, which lies four kilometers to the east.

How things can change; not all is doom and gloom in the field of cultural preservation. Everywhere in the world archaeologists, conservators, restorers and others work tirelessly to understand, protect and preserve our shared heritage. Today Bulguksa Temple looks like this –


Source Wikipedia. Image credit Tae Hoon Kang
Korean onigawara roof tile from the Silla-Koryō Period. Approximately 17cm wide, 12cm high and 6cm thick
Onigawara (鬼瓦) is a Japanese word meaning a ‘demon’ or ‘goblin’ roof tile; they are found throughout the Far East, usually on Buddhist temples or,  in Japan, on Shintō shrines. Although fearsome in appearance they are intended to ward off evil spirits.
Onigawara are decorative roof tiles typically placed at the ends of the main ridge on temple structures, shrines, and residences. As an ornamental architectural element, Onigawara (literally “goblin tile”) came to prominence in Japan’s Kamakura period (1185 -1332), but the term is also used for decorative roof tiles in the shape of flowers or animals that were already used in the earlier Nara and Heian periods to prevent leaks and general weathering. The goblin-faced Onigawara is one of many decorative elements found in Japanese religious architecture.
If you have a favourite object of your own that you’d like to share with us, please email a high resolution image, along with a brief description and any other relevant information about the object, to

Volume 1 in the Early Korea: Reconsidering early Korean history through archaeology series by Mark E Byington, Harvard University. Korea Institute

Korean roof tile from the Silla-Koryō Period. Approximately 12cm in diameter 

Early Korea is dedicated to developing the fields of early Korean history and archaeology in the English language. The present volume consists of six scholarly works by specialists active in these fields. Three studies focus on the topic of recent advances in historical archaeology on the Korean peninsula and adjacent regions and how this is changing the ways historians understand the history of the earliest states on the peninsula. Another study surveys the origins and development of ceramic traditions in Korea based on recently recovered archaeological data. Finally, two studies discuss the practice of heritage management in Korea, focusing on rescue archaeology and heritage protection.
Early Korea Project, Korea Institute, Harvard University, 2008.


May 2022
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