Exploring Gyeongju: Bulguksa

Written by on June 4, 2013 in Travel

Since first arriving to Korea in 2008, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to every corner of the peninsula and Jeju. This month on the The Korea Blog, I’m venturing down to the southeastern coastal city of Gyeongju (경주). The city is often referred to as the “museum without walls” because of the large number of historical relics unearthed during archaeological excavations. In this first installment of the series, I visit one of the best known sites in the city and the definitive religious asset: Bulguksa (불국사).

Bulguksa

Bulguksa is located on the magical slopes of Tohamsan (Toham Mountain) and is the 11th district head temple within the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Bulguksa is considered to be the best example of temple architecture dating back to the Silla Kingdom. The temple was built in 528 and underwent numerous revisions throughout the Silla era until the Joseon Dynasty when it was destroyed during the Imjin war. It was rebuilt in 1604 and revised until the beginning of the 19th century. Bulguksa was partially cared for during the Japanese Colonial Period, but following the Korean War, a major effort was made to fully restore the temple to its original glory.

Those visiting the temple are treated to a number of special features that are not typically found at other Korean temples. The main entrance to Bulguksa (Sokgyemun) has a two-tiered staircase leading to it. The thirty-three steps refer to the thirty-three steps to enlightenment. The lower portion, or Cheongungyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), measures 6.3m with seventeen steps. The upper portion, Baegungyo (White Cloud Bridge) is 5.4m in length and completes the journey into the temple compound through Jahamun (Mauve Mist Gate).

Image created by Rémi Cormier.

Walking though Jahamun, visitors are treated to a spectacular view. To the right is the Dabotap (Many Treasure Pagoda). To the left originally stood the Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda); however, it is currently undergoing restoration. Usually temples only have one pagoda. Bulguksa is a rare exception since it has two. Both are fine examples of stone workmanship and testaments to those that diligently created them. Left exposed to the elements, they do show signs of aging, but the stunning intricate details are still visible. Daeungjeon, or main worship hall, lies just beyond and houses the Sakyamuni Buddha.

Behind the Daeungjeon are two more National Treasures. Yeonhwagyo and Chilbogyo (Lotus Flower Bridge and Seven Treasures Bridge, respectively) are a pair of staircases that rise up at a 45 degree angle. At the top of the stairs is Anyangmun (Peace Enhancing Gate) granting access to another courtyard. Here, visitors will see Geuknakjeon (The Hall of Pure Land). Inside this hall is the Amitabha Buddha. This gilt-bronze statue has broad shoulders and a large lap to promote harmony and stability.

In total, seven National Treasures are located on the main grounds of Bulguksa. Visiting the temple any time of year will provide a memorable experience. To get to the temple from the city, take bus 10 or 11 from the bus terminals or train station. Get off the bus at Bulguksa.

Information

Address

385, Bulguk-ro, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
경상북도 경주시 불국로 385 (진현동)

Phone: +82-54-746-9933 / 54-1330 Tourism Line

Web pages

www.bulguksa.or.kr (Korean only)

www.jikimi.cha.go.kr/english

Hours: 7am – 6pm (Ticket booth closes at 5:30pm)

Fees:

Adults (ages over 19): 4,000 won
Youths (ages 13-18): 3,000 won / Group (over 30): 2,500 won
Children (ages 7-12): 2,000 won / Group (over 30): 1,500 won
Children (ages under 7): Free (Individual) / Group (over 10): 1,000 won

Seokguram Grotto

Located a few kilometers to the east and higher on the mountain is the Seokguram Grotto. This artificial cave was built in conjunction with Bulguksa as a hermitage. Visitors can reach the grotto either by hiking the 2.2km trail from the temple grounds or by taking bus 12 from the temple bus stop. Once there, you’ll need to walk a short distance, past the ticket booth to the hermitage.

The outer area of the shrine appears like most others in Korea; however, its rear wall opens to the constructed underground area. Inside the circular shaped room is the Seokgamoni Buddha – the Buddha of enlightenment. The statue rests on a pedestal shaped like a lotus flower.  In addition, the grotto houses several other figures, such as the Buddha’s disciples and saints. Stepping inside this remote sanctuary is an experience one cannot forget.

Information

Address

999, Jinhyeon-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
경북 경주시 진현동 999번지

Phone: +82-54-746-9933 / 54-1330 Tourism Line

Website

www.sukgulam.org (Korean only)
jikimi.cha.go.kr/english

Hours: 7am – 5pm

Fees

Adults (ages over 19): 4,000 won
Youths (ages 13-18): 3,000 won / Group (over 30): 2,500 won
Children (ages 7-12): 2,000 won / Group (over 30): 1,500 won
Children (ages under 7): Free (individual) / Group (over 10): 1,000 won

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About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.