5. The Buddha Boulder (부처바위) of Tapgol Valley (탑골): Tucked behind the quaint beauty of Oknyeongam Hermitage (옥룡암) in Tapgol (pagoda) Valley is a large rock outcropping covered with Buddhist carvings. There are dozens of cryptic images including meditating Buddhas, flying Devas, pagodas, and even winged lions! The quiet magic of Oknyeongam Hermitage and the mystery of Buddha Boulder make Pagoda Valley one of my favorite spots on Namsan.
4. The Seven Buddhas of Chilbulam Hermitage (칠불암): And speaking of Mt. Namsan, coming in at number 4 is Chilbulam, or “7 Buddha Hermitage”. I’ve already talked about it in an earlier post. All I’ll say here is that Chilbulam is perhaps the most exquisite set of carved Buddhas on Namsan and an easy one and half hour hike from Namsan-dong village. Don’t forget to check out the beautiful Gwanseum Bosal (관슴보살), or Bodhisattva of Mercy, carved high on the cliff just above the hermitage.
3. The Miruk Grotto of Shinseonsa Temple (신선사): High on the west slope of legendary Mt. Danseoksan (단석산) is one of the true hidden gems of Gyeongju, the Miruk Grotto of Shinseonsa, or “Supernatural Being” Temple. Considered to be the oldest grotto-style temple in Korea, Miruk Grotto is home to a very impressive triad of stone relief Buddhas. Each Buddha is about 20 ft. tall and they’re surrounded by a dozen or so smaller carvings of sutras, saints, and shamans. At some point the roof of the cave fell in and has since been replaced with not-so-traditional roof of Plexiglas.
2. The Shakyamuni Buddha of Golgulsa Temple (골굴사): Again, I posted on Golgulsa back in January, but the Shakyamui Buddha of Golgulsa Temple comes in as 2nd on my list for its size (about 20 ft. tall) and its wicked nimbus (flaming halo). Not to mention, it’s perched atop a gnarly cliff pock-marked with about a dozen caves. These were once home to Buddhist hermits who’d meditate there for months or even years on end. Legend has it the original sculptor fell to his death from the cliff, leavening the Shakyamuni carving unfinished.
1. Seokkuram Buddha Grotto (석굴암): Seokkuram Grotto is a true artistic masterpiece of the Shilla Empire and is well worth the hike (or bus ride) up Mt. Tohamsan (토함산). The only glitch is, you can only look into Seokkuram through the glass at the entrance, which is really about as lame as only looking at Notre Dame through the front door. Luckily they do let you inside Seokkuram for one day out of the year: Buddha’s Birthday (석가탄신일), which falls on Friday, May 21st. Definitely something you shouldn’t miss, even in spite of the long lines.
If you’re interested visiting any of my top 10 ancient Buddhas yourself, they make great biking and hiking destinations. Here they are below on Google Maps, marked 10 to 1:
View Top 10 Ancient Buddhas of Gyeongju in a larger map