Asia South Korea Travel Destinations

Korea and Unjusa Temple – Legendary Origins

Written by Duke Stewart

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. – Albert Einstein

Korea and Unjusa Temple – Legendary Origins

A walk around Hwasun’s Unjusa Temple gives me that all-important perspective into a temple lacking the fanfare surrounding Gyeongju and Korea’s other hotspots. The obscurity might be intentional but its history and legend are too interesting to leave out. Built during the Silla Dynasty and a once unified Korea, this particular temple furthers Jeolla’s “against the grain” attitude. Standing out among the rest with a collection too rare to find throughout Korea, Unjusa houses the most stone pagodas found within temples here.

Stone Buddhas at Unjusa Temple in Korea

But that’s not all. Upon entering typical temples here, visitors usually pass through a Diamond Gate followed by another, which houses guardian gods. Quite important to those who construct temples here but for some reason, these two crucial pieces are missing from Unjusa. No explanation. Just not there. Tons of stone carvings make up for anything missing but open up more questions around Unjusa’s origins. Theories run amok as to how this all came to be but really, nobody knows. One monk’s name (Doseon) gets thrown around but still, there’s nothing exact.

Overlooking Stone Pagodas at Unjusa in Hwasun, Korea

Was it built to balance the Korean peninsula before it sank into the sea? This region is less mountainous than the southeast so adding more weight might’ve helped. Were the statues’ carvers sent from the heavens? Looking at the beautiful remains makes one think that experts were certainly involved, but gods. Maybe not but legends are more interesting than what actually happened. The most reliable story states that Unjusa served as a school for stonemasons, intent on chiseling beautiful pieces of art. Over 1,000 creations once lived here but all that remains are roughly 100 Buddhas and 23 pagodas. One thing is certain when visiting. It’s a beautiful walk around this mysterious temple.

Mrs.-Stewart-Shooting-Unjusa-Buddhas

Missing gates and unexplainable origins surround this palace of mystery. Why? Aren’t the best places those with unanswerable questions? Leaving Unjusa leads to one last look at statues smiling north and south. The pagodas. Finally, the line of Buddhas. Smiling on visitors. Keeping and eye out for those coming in and out. Over Unjusa. Wishing for a peaceful visit and safe return home. Will we ever learn of Unjusa’s true origins? Maybe. Maybe not. One answer is certain. This temple is continuing on a most interesting yet still unknown path.

Prayer Room at Unjusa Temple in Hwasun, Korea

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Getting to Unjusa Temple

Directions Courtesy of Korea Tourism

You get to Unjusa Temple by bus from Gwangju Bus Terminal via city bus No. 318 (1 hour, 20 min) or 218 (only take 218 buses with “Unjusa Temple” sign, 1 1/2 hours).

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Korea and Unjusa Temple - Legendary Origins

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About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

23 Comments

  • I have no idea where this is, but your pictures are incredible. I don’t think my eyes would see naturally what you’ve captured on the lenses.

    The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious” Albert Einstein. I don’t know enough about Einstein. Love that guy… Something about tolerating uncertainty.

  • Thanks for writing about this temple- it looks beautiful! I love wandering around areas like this to soak up some proper Korean culture. Your pictures are amazing, you’ve definitely made me want to visit!

  • Yet another Korean temple that I didn’t make it to and should! I really enjoy temples there, the settings are so serene and the sense of history so pervasive. This place seems like it would be ideal for a long, slow stroll through the grounds.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Lovely photos once again!! I really like the look of this small temple and wish it wasn’t so far away from me! I love Korean temples. My mom thinks “once you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all” but I strongly disagree!

  • It’s always nice to find a temple in Korea that has a little something to separate it from the rest. So many of them share so many similarities so the unique ones are always cool. Unjusa definitely seems like one of those from your portrayal. I’ve never heard of it until now but you’ve got my attention! I agree that the best places might be the ones with unanswerable questions, like our universe for instance.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments. It’s in a small part of Jeollanam-do so easy to overlook. This area has lots of places like this. Check one out if you get a chance.

  • Nice! Love the sense of mystery swirling around this place. You have successfully intrigued me! I am in awe of the sheer number of temples found around the peninsula, and often wonder at their unique stories and histories…It sounds like Unjusa might remain a puzzle.

  • Ooouuu very mysterious? How do you even discover such a cool place? I’ve been really bad about visiting temples and other historic sites, and often opt for a hike instead. Maybe it’s time I brush up on my history a bit more!

    • We had this in mind on a random weekend and it not being far to reach by car, just drove out there and checked Unjusa out. It’s a pretty cool place so if you’re ever in the Gwangju area, I certainly recommend it:)

  • Beautiful and mysterious, I love it. I have been so fascinated by temples and the history around Korea. I know almost nothing about it (compared to other historical places around the world). My goal this year is to explore and learn as much as possible, this country is so cool! Thanks for teaching me something today!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Katie! The temples here might start to look the same but I think each one has something distinct to offer. Get out and see as many as you can! I’d love to see your thoughts on them.

    • Thank you so much. This place was pretty awesome and not too hard to reach. Though I understand that not many people can visit all the places in Jeollanam-do. It’s not as well-laid out as other parts of Korea.

    • Thanks Tom. I hope you enjoyed reading this. There are so many awesome places, as you know, to see in Jeollanam-do. Gotta keep finding them, is the only trick.

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