One of the cool things about Gyeongu is that it’s literally covered with ancient stone Buddhas from the Unified Shilla Dynasty (통일 신라), most dating back to around the 7th or 8th centuries C.E. Very little is generally known about the sculptors who chiseled out these masterpieces way back when, though they were probably carved as a form of Buddhist meditation practice. Heck, every mountain around here has at least one ancient Buddha on it and Mt. Namsan (남산) has at least a few dozen.
If you’re a history junky like me, or you’re just looking to do some hiking or sight-seeing, here are my personal top 10 ancient stone Buddhas of Gyeongju. As this post has snowballed into something bigger than I’d planned, so I’m splitting it into 2 parts. Here are 10 through 6 on my list. I’ll be posting my top 5 here in a day or two.
10. The “Granny Buddha” of Mt. Namsan (감실석불좌상): Tucked in a stone niche amidst a bamboo grove on Mt. Namsan is a carving of a Shakyamuni Buddha that’s been nicknamed the “Granny Buddha” by the locals. It’s earned this curious moniker for the sweet grandmotherly expression on its face, though possibly also because it’s reputed to be the oldest Buddha on Namsan.
9. The Shakyamuni Buddha (미라곡석불) of Borisa Temple (보리사): Just a few valleys down from the Granny Buddha is Borisa temple, home to another Shakyamuni Buddha statue. No nicknames this time, but this Buddha makes my list for being one of the best preserved Buddhas on Namsan. Plus it’s got a very cool halo.
8. The Buddha Triad of Dudaeri (두대리): Watching over the rustic hermitage of Seongju-am (성주암) on Mt. Byeokdosan (벽도산) is this well preserved triad of Amitaba Buddha (아미타불), joined by the Bhoddisatva of Mercy (관세음) and the Bodhisattva of Power. I’ve already said a fair bit about these guys back in November, but the fact that it ranks #8 on my list says a lot about the competition.
7. The Maitreya Buddha of Samneung Valley (삼릉골): Perched atop a cliff overlooking Samneung (3 tombs) Valley on Mt. Namsan is a stunning carving of a Maitreya (or Future) Buddha. At 20 feet, he’s one of the tallest Buddhas on Namsan and the hour hong hike to get there is pretty awesome as you pass 5 or 6 more Buddha statues on the way up.
6. The Four-sided Buddha (사면석불) of Gulbulsa Temple (굴불사): Just a stone’s throw from City Hall in Dongcheon-dong at the foot of Mt. Geumgangsan (금강산) is a huge boulder carved with Buddhas. I’ve already posted about Gulbulsa before, but it makes #6 on my list especially for its carving of Medicine Buddha (약사여래). The legend about how this boulder was found is pretty wacky too.