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Destination: Seonamsa (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

February 13, 2012 - Chris Backe

THE bus ride and walk are worth it.

Located within Jogyesan Provincial Park, 선암사 (Seon-am-sa, or heavenly rock temple) offers Seung-seon-gyo (the bridge seen above) as one of the temple’s National Treasures (Treasure #400). The scholars aren’t sure whether the temple started in either the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC-AD 676) or the Unified Silla Period (676-935) – either way, it’s pretty old. While the first known name, Haecheonsa, was given in the 6th century, it was changed to the current name Seonamsa by Tosun Kuksa (the highest ranking priest) by the 11th century. He also consolidated several Buddhist sects into two – a Zen-based practice and a Kyo (or religion) based practice.

Things changed quickly during the 정유재란 (Jeong-yu-jae-ran) war, better known as the Japanese invasions in the late 16th century. Along with much of the country, many of Seonamsa’s buildings were destroyed during the war. Restoration came after the war, and a new plan to restore the temples to the original 11th century plans have been underway since 1992. With 18 National Cultural Properties, there aren’t too many Buddhist temples with more.With all that said, Seonamsa seems to play second fiddle to the nearby and more visited Songgwangsa. If you’re up for a three-to-four hour hike, it’s a 6.6km hike through Jogyesan to the other side of the mountain.

One of the engraved stones along the way – if anyone can read the Chinese, please comment!

Looking up at the front entrance at 일주문 (il-ju-mun), Cultural Treasure #96 dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.

This isn’t what you think – they’re tea leaves, I suspect. They serve as a reminder that while the Buddhist temples do serve as tourist attractions, they also serve as homes to the faithful monks.

The colors in this ceiling piece were a little too faded to make for a good shot, but I liked how the black-and-white contrast brought out the patterns.

Looking inside the 대웅전 (dae-ung-jeon), or the main hall.

One way to remember the temple’s history – treasure the pictures of the monks who helped create it.

Two stones remarking on the lives of a couple ancient monks.


Taken from the bus – the ride clocks in at about 45 minutes each way.

While not the largest or most interesting temple in Jeollanam-do, Seonamsa offers enough walking and sights to fill a half-day. It’s also close enough to the larger Songgwangsa. If you’re an intrepid hiker, you can see both in the same day. Alternatively, catch one of the two daily buses to the nearby folk village to enjoy another scenic area of Suncheon.

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Directions to Seonamsa (선암사): from Suncheon station, walk straight to the main road and turn left. Head to the bus station, then wait for bus 1. It comes every 30-40 minutes, and takes about 45-50 minutes to arrive at the temple. It’s the last stop the bus makes. 1,100 won to ride the bus, and 1,500 won lets you into the temple. Note that from the bus stop to the ticket office is about a 10 minute walk, while the walk from the ticket office to the temple itself is another 20 minutes.

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