Silluk-sa: Korea's Only Riverside Temple

By Jeffrey Miller, The Korea Times Feature Writer, Nov 17, 2004

YEOJU, Kyonggi Province (South Korea) -- At almost any Buddhist temple in Korea, you'll have to do some climbing. That's because most of Korea's more famous temples are located in the mountains or at the foothills. While these temples are great for some healthy exploration of the body and soul, there's at least one famous in temple in Korea that doesn't require a healthy set of lungs and strong legs to reach.

Silluk-sa Temple, located just a little over an hour southeast of Seoul, is the only temple along a river that doesn't demand any serious climbing to arrive to. Like most temples in Korea, it is immersed in the beauty of nature and is rich in history. Legend has it the temple was founded by Saint Wonhyo during the reign of King Jinpyeong of the Silla Kingdom (688-935). The name Silluk-sa is said to have come from the legend that the King's advisor Naonghwasang caught a dragon using a magic bridle.

Often called the ``wall temple'' because of an impressive brick pagoda towering high above, the temple became famous with the death of Buddhist monk Naongseonsa in 1376, during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392). Later, when the tomb of King Sejong was moved to Yeoju, the temple became the praying temple for the Yeongreung Royal Tomb.

Compared to other temples in Korea, Silluk-sa Temple is rather small. While many people come to enjoy its beautiful surroundings year-round, the temple is home to some important cultural treasures. One of its more famous cultural artifacts is a multi-storied brick pagoda, or ``joentap,'' on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Namhan River on the southeast side of Silluk-sa Temple. Made from piled-up bricks, the pagoda is one of the first things visitors see when they enter the temple.

With a style representative of pagodas built during the Silla Kingdom, this pagoda, judging from its unique construction, was more likely built in the Goryeo Period. While bricks are densely packed in Silla brick pagodas, the bricks of this pagoda are loosely arranged with lotus flowers engraved in half-circles on the bricks. The well-preserved top part of the pagoda includes decorations made with bricks and granite. Even though this pagoda has lost its original shape due to repairs, it is still quite impressive.

The view from the top of the rocky outcrop where the pagoda is located is stunning, especially that of the Namhan River. There is also a smaller three-story pagoda (erected to mark the site Naongseonsa was cremated) beneath the top of the rock, as well as a small pavilion.

Unfortunately, the pagoda is currently undergoing repairs and is closed to the public. If you are planning to visit the temple in the near future, it might be better to postpone the trip until the pagoda is repaired because it is definitely one cultural treasure you don't want to miss.

Another cultural artifact of the temple is a smaller multistory marble pagoda in front of the main Buddhist hall. Engraved with lotus flowers, dragons and clouds, the pagoda is a very important Buddhist artifact in studying the detailed engraving arts of the early Choson Kingdom. Of special interest is the detail of the dragon's face and feet. Although the top of the pagoda has been lost, it is believed that there used to be one or two more stories on top.

One of the oldest buildings in the temple is Josadong Hall, constructed in the early Choson Period to pay tribute to three great Buddhist priests, Jigongseonsa, Naongseonsa and Muhakdaesa, who were the hopes for a declining Buddhism in the late Goryeo Period. A portrait of Naongseonsa is enshrined in the center and portraits of Jigongseonsa and Muhakdaesa are on the left and right side. A wooden statue of Naongseonsa was installed in the shrine.

Located near the shrine is a 500-year-old Chinese juniper tree that makes for a nice backdrop for photos. There's also a 600-year-old gingko tree near the entrance to the temple.

If you climb a small pine-tree dotted hill behind Josadong Hall, there's another smaller, uniquely-shaped pagoda where the relic bones of two other priests, Bojejonja and Naonghwasang, are kept. This peaceful spot within the temple is suitable for such a treasure amid the natural surroundings of towering pine trees and the commanding view of the temple with the Namhan River in the distance.

Called the ``Stone Bell Pagoda'' because of its unique bell shape, this pagoda was erected on a small foundation, unlike most Indian-style pagodas that are generally erected on larger foundations. This octagonal pagoda style, first seen in the Silla Kingdom, later became more decorative and splendid in the Goryeo Period.

Located in front of the pagoda is a beautiful stone lantern. Made entirely of granite, the lantern, which has a style indicative of the late Goryeo Period, is ornately detailed with engravings of dragons. Interestingly, while the Stone Bell can be compared to a man with its simple shape and lack detailed engravings, the Stone Lantern can be compared to a woman because of its beautiful and detailed engravings.

The area in front of the temple is currently being developed into a resort area, making Silluk-sa Temple and the surrounding area a popular tourist destination. Near the main entrance to the temple is the site of the 2005 Yeoju Ceramic Expo (April 23-June 19) and for those with more time to explore the region, there are other historical sites worth checking out including the Royal Tomb of King Sejong and the birthplace of Empress Myeongseong. For more information on these sites as well as other attractions in the area, visit the province's helpful Web site at (in Chinese, English and Japanese).

On the other hand, if you are just looking to visit a temple outside Seoul without expending too much energy and perspiration, Silluk-sa Temple along the picturesque Namhan River is definitely worth the trip.

Silluk-sa Temple at a Glance

How to Get There: The quickest and easiest way to get to Silluk-sa Temple is by bus. From the Express Bus Terminal in Kangman, take the bus bound for Yeoju. Buses leave the terminal every 40 minutes for the 70-minute ride to Yeoju. Fare is 4,300 won. Once in Yeoju, you can take a local bus or taxi to the temple.

Hours: The temple is open from sunrise to sunset.

Admission: Adults, 1,500 won; Teenagers, 1,200 won; Children, 800 won.

Nearby Attractions: Empress Myeongseong's Birthplace, King Sejong's Tomb, King Hyojong's Tomb, Godalsa Temple, Pasansanseong Fortress, Mok-A Museum, Hanul Theme Museum and Hyundai Ceramic Gallery.

Restaurants: Near the entrance to the temple and the World Ceramic Expo site, there is a cluster of restaurants and teahouses. Most offer a variety of Korean dishes at reasonable prices.


Telephone: (031) 885-2505