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Sacred Sites of Korea

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The Republic of Korea (South Korea)

1. Sanbang-san
2. Halla-san
3. Hyangil-am
4. Bori-am
5. Songgwang-sa
6. Mudeung-san
7. Geumjeong-san
8. Haedong Yonggung-sa
9. Jiri-san
10. Tongdo-sa
11. Moak-san
12. Ma-i-san
13. Haein-sa
14. Nam-san
15. Bulguk-sa
16. Palgong-san
17. Gyeryong-san
18. Sogni-san
19. Dosan-seowon
20. Seosu-seowon
21. Buseok-sa
22. Taebaek-san
23. Cheonjin-am Seongji
24. Yeonju-dae
25. Jeoldu-san Seongji and Saenamteo Seongji
26. Inwang-san
27. Mun-myo
28. Samgak-san
29. Dobong-san
30. Mani-san Mountain
31. Bomun-sa
32. Odae-san
33. Ojuk-heon
34. Naksan-sa

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)

35. Song-ak-san
36. Guwol-san
37. Geumgang-san
38. Myohyang-san
39. Chilbo-san
40. Baekdu-san

1. Sanbang-san [Mountain-Room Mountain] (395m), Jeju-do Province & Island; Local Park. Dramatic-looking peak with a cave-temple dedicated to the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion (one of Korea's eight special shrines for Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of Compassion [Gwanse-eum Bosal in Korean], which are thought of as his “residence”, parallel to Putuo-shan of China); also 3 Buddhist temples.

2. Halla-san [Gigantic Mountain] (1950m), Jeju-do Province & Island; National Park. Long famous as a focus of Jeju-style Korean shamanism, White Deer Pond at its peak and the Yeong-shil [Spirit Room] boulder-outcropping area. There is a special stone altar for worship of its Mountain-Spirit, and several significant Buddhist temples.

3. Hyangil-am [Sunrise Hermitage] of Geum-o-sam [Golden Crow Mountain] (323m), Dol-san Island, Yeosu City. A seaside temple dramatically set amongst giant boulders, it’s one of Korea's 8 special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

4. Bori-am [Precious-Principle Hermitage] of Geum-san [Silk Mountain] (701m), SW South Gyeongsang Province, Namhae-do Island, in Hallyeo Oceanic National Park. On a dramatic rocky setting with a stupendous view, it’s one of Korea's 8 special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion; also the site of some legends of national history.

5. Songgwang-sa [Spreading Pines Monastery] of Jogye-san [the Sixth Zen Patriarch’s Mountain] (884m), in northern Suncheon City; Provincial Park of South Jeolla Province. Founded in 1200. Korean Buddhists make pilgrimages to the Sambo-sa or three temples that represent the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism: the Buddha himself, the Dharma (doctrines, teachings) and the Sangha (community of monks); Songgwang-sa is the Sangha-Jewel Temple.

6. Mudeung-san [Shamanic Lantern Mountain] (1187m), east of Gwangju City; Provincial Park. Famous for Shamanic powers, it has many shrines and temples, including the important Jeungshim-sa Monastery.

7. Geumjeong-san [Golden Well Mountain] (802m); City Parks. A huge sprawling mountainous area that dominates Busan, Korea's second-largest city. It contains the very important Beomeo-sa [Fish-swimming-in-Dharma Monastery] and dozens of other Buddhist temples, with dozens of shamanic shrines.

8. Haedong Yonggung-sa [East-Coast Dragon-Palace Temple], on the seaside just to the east of Busan City. One of Korea's 8 special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion; also a major site for worship of the Shamanic Dragon-King of the Waters.

9. Jiri-san [Exquisite Wisdom Mountain], one of South Korea's three holiest mountains and its largest National Park. It sprawls over counties of North and South Jeolla Provinces and South Gyeongsang Province, featuring its three sacred peaks Cheonhwang-bong [Heavenly-King Peak] (1915m), Banya-bong [Enlightening-Wisdom Peak] (1733m) and Nogo-dan [Crone-Altar Peak] (1507m). Jiri-san is host to innumerable Shamanic shrines and nine ancient temples which attract many Buddhist pilgrims, the most prominent of which are Hwaeom-sa [Flower-Garland-Sutra Monastery], Ssanggye-sa [Twin Streams Monastery] and Shilsang-sa [Realizing-Reality Monastery]. It is believed by some to be the secondary Korean residence of Manjusri the Bodhisattva of Wisdom [Munsu Bosal in Korean].

10. Tongdo-sa [Crossing-Over-Path Monastery] at Mt. Chuiseo-san (1081m), in Yangsan City of South Gyeongsang Province; part of Gaji-san Provincial Park. The Buddha-Jewel Temple of Korea’s Sambo-sa was founded in 646, and it features ancient Buddha-relics given by Manjusri the Bodhisattva of Wisdom to Great Master Jajang at China’s Wutai-shan enshrined in a special stupa. It is currently Korea's largest Buddhist temple, with hundreds of monks.

11. Moak-san [Mother-Crags Mountain] (794m), just south of Jeonju City in North Jeolla Province; Provincial Park. Famous for Shamanic powers, it has many shrines and temples, including the original headquarters-temple for the native Jeungsan-do Religion, and the important Buddhist Geumsan-sa [Golden Mountain Monastery] featuring a large ancient standing statue of Maitreya.

12. Ma-i-san [Horse Ears Mountain] (618m), south of Jinan Town in North Jeolla Province; Provincial Park. Strange-looking twin peaks of volcanic rock sticking up out of an otherwise level plain, famous for Shamanic energies and magnetic fields. Features Tap-sa [Pagoda Temple] with 108 stone towers and Eunsu-sa [Silver-Water Temple], the site of some legends of national history.

13. Haein-sa [Ocean-Reflection (or Ocean-Seal) Temple] at Gaya-san [Bodhgaya (site of Sakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment) Mountain] (1430m), in Hapcheon County of South Gyeongsang Province; National Park. The Dharma-Jewel Temple of Korea’s Sambo-sa was founded in 802, and is home to the 80,000 printing-woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana (the world's most complete ancient collection of Buddhist scriptures, carved in the 14th century, designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site). It is currently Korea's most influential Buddhist temple, and the second-largest.

14. Nam-san [South Mountain] (a.k.a. Geum-o-san or Golden Crow Mountain) (466m); National Park. Gyeongju City in North Gyeongsang Province was the capital of the Shilla Kingdom until 935, and is filled with stone Buddhist artworks and other relics. Nam-san is considered holiest of its five sacred mountains, and its many sites attract many Buddhist pilgrims. It is designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.

15. Bulguk-sa [Buddha-Realm Temple] and Seokkul-am [Stone-Cave Hermitage] at Toham-san [Earth-Offering Mountain] (745m), Gyeongju City; National Park. These are probably the most-visited Buddhist sites in Korea, and a great source of national pride. Built in 750, their granite monuments are some of the best Buddhist artworks in all of Asia. These two linked places are designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site. Many sincere Buddhist pilgrims worship at them, ignoring the daily crowds of tourists.

16. Palgong-san [Eight-Emptiness Mountain] (1187m), north of Daegu City; Provincial Park. A huge set of peaks and slopes that has long been the spiritual focus of Korea's fourth-largest city. There are several prominent Buddha statues carved out of its cliffs and peaks, and the important temples Eunhae-sa, Donghwa-sa, Buin-sa and Pagye-sa, with dozens of hermitages, are found in its foothills.

17. Gyeryong-san [Rooster-Dragon Mountain] (845m), west of Daejeon City and south of Gongju City (ancient capital of Baekje Kingdom. One of South Korea's three holiest mountains and a famous National Park heavily visited by Shamanists, Buddhists and hikers. It features more than 60 Shamanic shrines, some historic cultural sites and the important Gap-sa [Armour Temple], Donghak-sa [Eastern-Learning Temple], Shinwon-sa [Spirit-Garden Temple], and Shinheung-am [Spirit-Rising Hermitage].

18. Sogni-san [Remote-from-the-Mundane-World Mountains] (1058m), on the eastern edge of North Chungcheong Province; National Park. A very beautiful mountain with strong Shamanic powers, many shrines, hermitages and Buddhist cliff-carvings. It especially features Beobju-sa [Dharma-Teaching Monastery], one of Korea's largest and most important temples, attracting many Buddhist visitors with its gigantic bronze statue of Maitreya (the Bodhisattva of Future Salvation).

19. Dosan-seowon [Tao-Mountain Academy], north of Andong City on the Nakdong River, in North Gyeongsang Province. This remote private school was built by Korea's greatest Neo-Confucian philosopher, “Toegye” Yi Hwang in the 1500s, and then enlarged by successive governments. It contains the shrine of this Sage, and is visited by many Koreans and others who respect his teachings and exemplary life.

20. Seosu-seowon [Western-Water Academy], in Punggi Town of Yeongju City. This was the first Neo-Confucian private school built in Korea, founded by renowned scholar Toegye Yi Hwang in 1550; it contains the shrine and museum for the Sage An Hyang, who brought Neo-Confucianism from China to Korea in the 14th Century. Many people who value the ancient Confucian ideals visit here.

21. Buseok-sa [Floating-Rock Monastery] at Seondal-san [Meditation-Moon Mountain] (1236m), part of Sobaek-san [Lesser White Mountain] (1439m) National Park, in Yeongju City. Founded in 676 by Great Master Uisang, this is one of Korea's most important Buddhist temples. It's famous for its beautiful and geomantically-ideal setting and architecture, including its Main Hall, Korea's oldest large wooden building.

22. Taebaek-san [Grand White Mountain] (1567m), Taebaek City of Gangwon Province; Provincial Park. One of South Korea's three holiest mountains, famous for its nationalistically-oriented Shamanic energies. It is host to many important Shamanic shrines, grand annual ceremonies and several Buddhist temples. It shares the same name with the mythical mountain on which Korea's semi-divine founding-king was born.

23. Cheonjin-am Seongji [Heavenly Truth Hermitage Saints-site] in Toichon-myeon District of Gwangju City, Gyeonggi Province (just SE of Seoul). In this remote valley about 400m up, Korea's first Catholic Christian believers were baptized, and the first unofficial church was formed. The five leaders were later executed and have been declared Saints; their tombs are here. There are plans to construct a major cathedral in the wide alpine valley.

24. Yeonju-dae [Longing-for-Lord Platform], one of the 8 special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion, perched dramatically on top of a sheer cliff near the peak of Gwanak-san (629m), on the southern border of Seoul City. Part of the very popular Yeonju-am Hermitage.

25. Jeoldu-san Seongji and Saenamteo Seongji, on the northern bank of the Han River in Mapo-gu District of Seoul City. These are sites where thousands of Korean Catholics were martyred in the 19th Century. 103 of them were canonized as Saints by Pope John Paul II during his 1984 visit. They are the most important among the dozens of Korean Catholic pilgrimage sites, with several shrines and a historic church.

26. Inwang-san [Benevolent King Mountain] (388m), on the northwest corner of downtown Seoul City; Local Park. The most important Shamanic site in the nation, featuring the Guksa-dang [Shrine for the National Spirits], the Seon-bawi [Meditation Rock, or Immortal Rock] and many other shrines.

27. Mun-myo [Culture Shrine], on the northeast corner of downtown Seoul City. Located on the campus of Seonggyun-gwan University (600 years old, once the royal national Neo-Confucian College), this is the Royal and National Shrine to Confucius and the other Chinese and Korean Confucian Sages. Large-scale ceremonies with the ancient forms are still held here twice a year, attended by many scholars and other citizens.

28. Samgak-san [Three Peaks Mountain] (840m), in the Bukhan-san National Park, the northern edge of Seoul City. Seoul has been the capital of Korea for just over 600 years, and this very impressive mountain with many craggy peaks is visible from all its historic areas. Always considered quite sacred, it contains a huge fortress and about a hundred Buddhist temples and Shamanic shrines, heavily visited by many types of faithful. Most important is Doseon-sa [Tao-Gathering Monastery], founded in the 10th Century and featuring a 7-meter-tall boulder-carved-relief of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of the 8 special shrines.

29. Dobong-san [Tao-Peak Mountain] (740m)
Seoul City, in the Bukhan-san National Park, in the Bukhan-san National Park, the far-northeastern edge of Seoul City. Another very impressive mountain with many craggy peaks and long considered sacred, it contains many significant Buddhist temples and Shamanic shrines, especially Mangwol-sa [Viewing Moon Monastery].

30. Mani-san Mountain (469m), southern tip of Ganghwa Island of Incheon City; County Park. There is an ancient stone shrine on this peak, the Chamseong-dan [Truly Holy Altar] that commands a wide view of the Yellow Sea. Many Koreans believe it to be connected to ancient nationalistic myths; below it on the slopes a shrine for the national heroes has been built. Just east of this mountain is the historically important temple Jeondeung-sa.

31. Bomun-sa [Treasure-Gate Temple] on Seokmo-do [Stone Mother Island] (just west of Ganghwa-do Island). This temple is one of Korea's 8 special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion, due to a large carving of him on the “Eyebrow Cliff” above it.

32. Odae-san [Five Platforms Mountains] (1563m), on the border of
Pyeongchang County and Gangneung City in Gangwon Province; National Park. Believed by Korean Buddhists to be the primary Korean residence of Manjusri the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Great Master Jajang returned from studying at China’s Wutai-shan in 646, bearing relics of the Buddha. He enshrined some of those relics near the highest peak of these mountains, which he named after Wutai-shan. He founded the great Woljeong-sa [Moon-Vitality Monastery] and Sangwon-sa [Above the Ordinary Monastery] here, dedicated to Manjusri.

33. Ojuk-heon [Black Bamboo Pavilion], Gangneung City in Gangwon Province, birthplace of and Shrine to Korea's second-greatest Neo-Confucian scholar “Yulgok” Yi I (1536-1584). Many visitors come here not only to honor him but also his mother, Shim Saimdang, who is considered an ideal traditional Korean woman, widely accomplished in the arts.

34. Naksan-sa [Potalaka Temple], on the northern east coast in Yangyang County of Gangwon Province; Provincial Park. Founded in 678 by Great Master Uisang, this temple and the 108m hill it sits on are named after the Indian residence of Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It features a large stone statue of Avalokitesvara, and contains Hongryeon-am [Red Lotus Hermitage], one of Korea's 8 special shrines for that Bodhisattva, and also a major site for worship of the Shamanic Dragon-King of the Waters. Most buildings of Naksan-sa were tragically burnt down in 2005, but they will be rebuilt.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea):

35. Song-ak-san [Pine-Crags Mountain] (489m), north of Gaeseong City in Gyeonggi Province (the capital of Korea's Goryeo Dynasty 935-1390), just across the DMZ. This was the most sacred mountain of the Goryeo capital region; some temple and shrine sites remain.

36. Guwol-san [Nine Moons Mountain] (954m), west coast of Hwanghae-do Province, just south of the mouth of the Daedong River; National Park. This has been one of northern Korea's sacred mountains since ancient times. It is host to Woljeong-sa [Moon-Vitality Temple] and several other Buddhist temples, and two famous shrines for Korea's legendary Founding-King.

37. Geumgang-san [Diamond Mountains] (1638m), east coast of Gangwon Province, just across the DMZ; National Park. Spectacularly beautiful craggy peaks and valleys that were once a major center of Korean Buddhism; named after the highly important Diamond Sutra. Host to many famous Buddhist temples including Pyohun-sa, Jangan-sa, Sambul-am, Shingye-sa and Bodeok-am. It has been opened for strictly-secular international tourism from South Korea for a few years now.

38. Myohyang-san [Mysterious Fragrance Mountain] (1909m), in
Pyeongan Province; National Park. One of the three holiest peaks of all Korea during the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties (10th ~ 19th Centuries); thought to possibly be the mythical Mt. Taebaek-san on which Korea's semi-divine founding-king was born. It is believed by Korean Buddhists to be the primary Korean residence of Bohyeon Bosal [Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Bountiful Truth and Practice of Dharma]. It is host to many Buddhist temples and Shamanic shrines, most famous of which is Bohyeon-sa.

39. Chilbo-san [Seven Treasures Mountain] (906m), on the east coast of Hamgyeong Province; National Park. A sacred Buddhist peak renowned for its beauty since ancient times, it hosts Gaeshim-sa Temple and other shrines. There is a plan to open it for strictly-secular international tourism soon.

40. Baekdu-san [White-Head Mountain] (2850m), DPRK and China border (75% in China); National Park. An extinct volcano with a gigantic deep crater-lake at its summit, surrounded by peaks covered year-round by snow & ice. Very sacred in a nationalist-Shamanic way to the Jurchen, Manchu and Korean peoples, but not part of Korean territory for most of unified Korea's history. In the 20th Century, became associated with the mythical Mt. Taebaek-san, where Korea's semi-divine founding-king was born. No significant Buddhist sites. North Korea sponsors limited tourism to its quarter; some South Koreans now travel to the top on nationalistic-spiritual pilgrimages from the Chinese side.

 

Written and contributed by David A. Mason
Professor of Korean Tourism, KyungHee University, Seoul

For further information on sacred sites in Korea,
consult his website www.san-shin.org

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