Magoksa Temple in Gongju: A Visitor’s Guide
Visiting a temple in Korea is like traveling back in time to a place of peace and tranquility. Magoksa Temple in Gongju is no exception. If you are visiting the city of Gongju, be sure to drop by Magoksa Temple while you are there. You won’t regret it.
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How To Get There
Address: 966 Magoksa-ro, Sagok-myeon, Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도 곡주시 사곡면 마곡사로 966)
By Bus: Take bus 770 from Gongju Bus Terminal to Magoksa Temple. This trip takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Where to stay in Gongju
Great Hotels in Gongju
If you are planning to stay overnight in Gongju, there are a couple of great options to choose from.
This beautiful designer hanok cluster is ideal for those wanting to experience traditional Korean accommodation with modern amenities. Comprised of five individual hanok buildings created by a group up of architects, designers, curators, and chefs, who wanted to have a place to relax and escape from their busy lives. All rooms are missing purposely missing a TV in order to fully let go and relax in a neutral environment.
Address: 81-2, Jemincheon 1-gil, Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do
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Ein Haus 2
Another great place to stay in Gongju is Gongju Ein Haus 2. This hotel has a shared lounge and kitchen, a vast garden and rooftop terrace with great views of the city. Gongju Ein Haus 2 is located close to Gongsanseong Mountain Fortress. All rooms are air-conditioned and feature a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a fridge, a kettle, a shower, a hairdryer and a desk. American breakfast is served in the morning.
Address: 5, Meokja 1-gil, 32547 Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do
History of Magoksa Temple
Magoksa Temple is one of six main temples of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The temple is located in a valley next to Taehwa Mountain in Chungcheongnamdo Province.
The name Magoksa consists of the three parts ma, gok and sa. Ma translates to hemp, gok is valley and sa refers to temples in Korean. This makes Magoksa the Temple of Hemp Valley.
According to historic records, the temple was founded by a high Monk during the Shilla Dynasty in 640 A.D.
Magoksa is also nicknamed “Choon-Magok”, meaning Spring Magok. This goes back to the 1700s when geographer Yi Chung-Hwan wrote a book about the ten most beautiful places in the country. Magoksa Temple and the surrounding valley were part of the list because of the many spring flowers blooming here in spring.
Magoksa also played an important role in recent Korean history. Kim Gu, the sixth president of the Republic of Korea, practiced Buddhism and was ordained at Magoksa before moving on to a career in politics.
Most recently, Magoksa was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2018 along with seven other Buddhist temples in South Korea.
What You’ll See
Magoksa Temple is divided into a northern and a southern section separated by a brook. The most important buildings are the central Daegwangbojeon and Yeonsangjeon halls, which have their axes intersect each other. This layout allows the maximum use of the available space, as well as a positive “flow” with the natural surroundings. The two gates Haetalmun and Cheonwangmun situated between these two areas also facilitate the natural flow of movement between all of the temple buildings.
Five-story Stone Pagoda
One of the first things you’ll see upon entering the temple grounds is this beautiful five-story stone pagoda. It was built during the Goryeo Dynasty and stands in front of Daegwangbojeon Hall.
The pagoda stands on a two-story pedestal that supports the five-story main section. The top is crowned with a decorative bronze ornament, reminding of the Lama pagoda-style from the Yuan Dynasty in China. This leads historians to believe that the pagoda at Magoksa Temple dates back to the end of the Goryeo Dynasty when Korean architecture was heavily influenced by the Yuan Dynasty.
Buddha images are engraved on the body stone. While there used to be four wind bells on each level of the pagoda, only one of them remains on the fifth roof stone today.
Many of the temple’s treasures were lost during the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592. However, during repair work on the pagoda in 1972, an incense burner and a door handle were discovered.
Yeongsanjeon Hall is the oldest building in Magoksa, which becomes immediately clear when you take a closer look at the old wooden facades. It is a sacred hall housing a painting of Buddha’s life (The Eight Great Events) and a grand Sakyamuni statue, depicting the moment of Buddha’s enlightenment.
It is said that King Sejo, the seventh king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, inscribed calligraphy on the hanging board of the main entrance of the building.
The ceiling of the hall is adorned with the pattern of the Chinese character 井 (jeong), meaning a well or spring.
Due to its solid structure and elaborate use of calligraphy, the hall is regarded as one of the most important cultural assets in Korea and a source for the study of Joseon architectural history.
Daeungbojeon Hall houses three golden Buddha statues; the buddha of the past, the present, and the future.
The lotus flower pattern engraved on the outside extensions of the building is a good example of the typical decoration style of the mid and late Joseon Dynasty.
Kim Saeng, a master of calligraphy art of the Shilla Dynasty, inscribed the calligraphy on the hanging board on the second floor of this building.
Just like in the Yeongsanjeon Hall of Magoksa Temple, this hall also features elaborate decorations with the Chinese character 井 (jeong) on the ceiling.
Daegwangbojeon Hall is the main Buddha Hall of Magoksa Temple and enshrined with a Vairocana Buddha, the Buddha of Enlightenment.
While no written records of when the hall was built remain, the building burnt down and rebuilt again during the Joseon Dynasty in 1813.
What is most impressive in this hall, besides the elaborate Buddha statue, is the engraved head of a dragon on a pillar in the center partition of the hall.
As with the other halls at Magoksa Temple, the ceiling here is also decorated with patterns of the Chinese character 井 (jeong).
The hall is regarded as an important cultural and architectural asset of the late Joseon period for its structure, elaborate decorations, and architectural style.
Hanging Painting of Magoksa Temple
Magoksa Temple in Gongju also houses one of the largest Buddhist hanging scrolls, known as gwaebul (掛佛) in Korea. This incredible piece of art with a height of 10.79 m and a width of 7.16 m is national treasure no. 1260.
Historic records of the painting show that monks together with lay people produced the painting for outdoor ceremonies on the Buddha’s birthday holiday. For this purpose, it was hung in the courtyard of a temple hall at open-air sermon sessions or rituals.
When outdoor processions became more popular in the 17th century, large hanging paintings of Buddha appeared and were created at the center of Korea around Magoksa Temple. From there, the art spread to the southeastern region which is currently Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do Province.
The canvas is filled with images of different Buddha forms, as well as the ten Buddha disciples surrounding the Buddha of Enlightenment in the center.
The painting has a somber atmosphere and exquisite vibrant colors, both characteristic of Buddhist art in the 17th century.
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