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Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries
Photo provided by Kyle Magnuson

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea are representative of the earliest era of Buddhism on the Korean peninsula and its distinctive practices.

It includes 7 remote temples from the 7th to 9th centuries which are in religious use until today. They prospered during the Goryeo Dynasty which established Buddhism as a state religion.

Map of Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Clyde Malta - 16-May-17 -

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries by Clyde

I visited this WHS in April 2017. I visited the Seonamsa Mountain Temple which is located in the Joyesan Provincial Park a few kilometres away from Suncheon.

This mountain temple has undergone several restorations from 1597 through to 1823 but is overall in quite a good state. It has a number of peculiar features such as a lavatory cottage a spiritual pond with an artificial island and a bridge with several Korean script inscriptions and a dragonhead carved in the middle (photo).

It is also possible to do a temple stay here and I'd recommend it even though I didn't stay myself. When I visited, the monks were practicing their drum and cymbal skills on a blackboard with wooden spoons and an empty gas cylinder! The sounds they created in the middle of the national park though were exactly similar to normal drums and cymbals!

The highlight of my visit were the lovely paintings or palsangdo enshrined in the Seonamsa Palsangjeon in which the entire life of Sakyamuni from former life to Nirvana is described in 8 scenes. The temple houses 24 of the most important national and state cultural properties and the Seonamsa Museum displays over 200 cultural properties.

Just before the temple entrance there's a lovely tea house with a very peaceful setting (just before the red wooden 'totems').

Kyle Magnuson California - United States of America - 17-Dec-13 -

Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries by Kyle Magnuson

Many visitors to Korea visit Bulguksa or Haeinsa. Both are Buddhist treasures and provide a great introduction to Korean temples. However, too often visitors only visit Bongeunsa temple in Seoul. Here is a great list for any traveler interested in Korean mountain temples.

Firstly, there are no "great" Buddhist temples in or around Seoul. This is because during the Joseon dynasty Confucianism was central to the state. Buddhism had not been the state religion since the time of Goryeo. This nomination is sensible in focusing on mountain temples in the more rural areas of Korea. These temples are well-preserved, highly authentic, and most (if not all) have more than one national treasure. Each one of these 7 temples has features or artifacts that make them unique.

I visited 3 mountain temples included in this nomination.

1) Beopjusa (Boeun), 2011

2) Buseoksa (Yeongju), 2016

3) Magoksa (Gongju), 2016

Beopjusa is located in the heart of South Korea. Most people visit the temple because it is the starting point for the trek to the summit of Songnisan National Park. The temple has several national treasures. The two most noteworthy is the only preserved 5-story wooden pagoda in Korea and the beautiful Goryeo era rock etching. I found both spectacular. Korea used to be filled with wooden pagodas from 3-9 stories. An incredible number of them were destroyed during the Samurai invasion in the 1590's. Some that survived into the modern age were lost during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War. This makes Beopjusa particularly special. The 5-story wooden pagoda dates from 1624 and is the only one of its kind left in Korea.

The location of the temple is just outside the town of Boeun. About 3 hrs from Seoul, this town is worth a visit for 3 reasons: Beopjusa temple, Samnyeonsanseong Fortress, and Songnisan National Park. The first 2 sites are part of tentative world heritage nominations.

Magoksa, which is conveniently located near Gongju (Baekje Historic Areas WHS) is quite unique in its layout, almost surrounded by a river. Another special quality of this temple is the Ocheung Stone pagoda, which is one of the few examples of Tibetan architectural elements in Korea.

Magoksa Temple (3)

Buseoksa Temple is known for its national treasures, one being a wooden main prayer hall built during the Goryeo Dynasty. Muryangsujeon is the second oldest wooden building in South Korea, dating back to 1376.

All three temples I visited are great, and each is active with practicing monks. The cultural heritage administration of Korea (CHA) will have to avoid the mistake from the Seowon dossier in 2016. The serial components need to be very clear why they were chosen. I still do not fully understand why Hwaeomsa was not included? I found the argument in the comparative analysis to be inadequate. Magoksa was the only temple I visited that mentioned the pursuit of world heritage status, in which banners asked for prayers for success in 2018.

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.

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Community Rating

Community Rating 3.07. Based on 7 votes.

Site Info

Full name: Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea

Unesco ID: 1562

Inscribed: 2018

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 3  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2018 - Advisory Body overruled ICOMOS advised to only inscribe 4 of the monasteries
  • 2018 - Inscribed 


The site has 7 locations.

  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Beopjusa. Boeun-gun. Chungcheongbuk-do Provinc
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Bongjeongsa. Yeongju-si. Gyeongsangbuk-do Province
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Buseoksa. Andong-si. Gyeongsangbuk-do Province
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Daeheungsa. Haenam-gun Jeollanam-do
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Magoksa. Gongju-si. Chungcheongnam-do Province
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Seonamsa. Suncheon-si. Jeollanam-do Province
  • Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries: Tongdosa. Yangsan-si. Gyeongsangnam-do Province


The site has 12 connections.


  • Wooden architecture: "The 13th century Hall of Infinite Life is one of the oldest buildings in Korea and an important example of East Asian wooden architecture. Beopjusa contains a large multi-story wooden pavilion which is the largest in Korea." - ICOMOS
  • Rock Cut Architecture: Rock-carved Seated Buddha, Treasure No. 216 (Beopjusa Temple) - Nomination File


  • Contains significant structures from the 20th Century: Beopjusa Temple "A large 20th century statue of Maitreya stands within the temple" - ICOMOS
  • Goryeo : "Despite their origins in the Silla period, much of the architecture of the nominated components represents developments in the later Goryeo and Joseon periods." – ICOMOS
  • Silk Road: "According to tradition, the Precepts Platform at Tongdosa temple contains a relic of the historical Buddha brought to Silla by Jajang as a gift from Tang China." - Advisory Body Evaluation

Human Activity

  • Tea: Seonamsa Temple "Tea fields are located at the rear of the temple complex." - Advisory Body Evaluation Daeheungsa Temple also has been renowned for Korean tea culture with Master Choui who revived Korean dado (“the way of tea”) in the 19th century. - Supplementary Information File

Religion and Belief

  • Pagoda: "Beopjusa contains a large multi-story wooden pavilion which is the largest in Korea. Although more common in other parts of East Asia, there are few extant examples of this kind of architecture in Korea." - ICOMOS; "Palsangjeon Pagoda of Beopjusa Temple is the tallest among the pagodas in Korea and only wooden pagoda remaining today, making it an invaluable part of Korean cultural and historical heritage." - Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea
  • Religious Relics: "Tongdosa Temple does not enshrine an image of the Buddha, because there are relics of the Buddha enshrined in the Diamond Precept Platform." - ICOMOS


WHS Hotspots

WHS on Other Lists

  • World Biosphere Reserves: Seonamsa Temple, which is one of the components of the Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea WHS is located within the Suncheon Biosphere Reserve Link

World Heritage Process