By Kim Jong Chol, section chief at the World Heritage Laboratory of the Korea National Heritage Preservation Agency
Mt Kumgang in Korea abounds with wooden structures and stonework pieces that showcase the time-honoured history of Korea and the outstanding architectural techniques of its people.
Up until the early 20th century, there used to be over 180 temples in the area of Mt Kumgang, among which Yujom and Jangan temples were numbered as the biggest temples in Korea. But many of them were destroyed by the enemies during the Fatherland Liberation War (1950-1953).
Although they are rather small in size, the temples in the mountain such as Phyohun, Singye and Jongyang temples are characterized by elaborate and splendid architecture and magnificently-decorated bays.
The Yaksa Hall of Jongyang Temple which was built in 600 is a pavilion-type building with a hexagonal horn-shaped roof on a hexagonal plane surface. What is noteworthy here is the fact that the ceiling is made up of multiple layers of bays of a special type, without using any beams. The length of a side of hexagonal ceiling is about 3 metres.
The roof is formed with very high bays, each side of which is made up of seven layers on the outside and 13 layers on the inside, making the eaves look spreading like wings. The roof is topped off with a monolithic lotus-shaped granite weighing about one ton.
Such an architectural style cannot be found in any other temples in Korea.
In the Buddhist sanctum is a statue of Bhaisajyaraja which was made in the 9th century.
Podok Hermitage which was built in 627 is Korea’s only hermitage in which the cave (Podok cave) on the breast of a cliff and wooden building are combined. The 7.3-metre-high pillar is the only supporter of the hermitage. A single-storeyed building though it is, it looks as if it were three-storeyed because its roof is in three tiers. The lowest tier is of the overlaid gable type, the middle one, of the gable ridge type and the highest one, of the ujingak type.
In other words, all the roof styles peculiar to the Korean architecture are applied in that small hermitage. This original and novel architectural style found only in Mt Kumgang fully illustrates the level of Korea’s development of the Buddhist architecture of mountain temples.
Myogil statue, created in the 14th century and 15 metres high and 9.4 metres wide, is one of the biggest stone images of Buddha in Korea.
Sambul Rock is inscribed with the images of three Buddhist saints, that is, Shakyamuni at the centre, Amitabha on the left and Maitreya on the right. Also created in the 14th century, it is regarded as one of the most famous stone Buddhist sculptures in Korea for its extraordinary level of depiction. The steles and stupas in Mt Kumgang, including the Stele for Abbot Sosan and Chonghodang Stupa made in the first half of the 17th century, can be said to represent Korea’s stonework in the latter period of the feudal Joson dynasty.
Called a mountain of legends, Mt Kumgang comes first among all mountains in Korea in terms of the number of legendary tales related to it. Among them is the Tale of Eight Fairies of Mt Kumgang which is widely known around the world.
Also, there are many poems and songs in praise of Mt Kumgang. Typical examples are the “Song of Hyesong” at Yungchon Temple which was created in the early 7th century and regarded as the oldest poem written in Korean language and “Kwandongbyolgok” created by Jong Chol (1536-1593) in the 16th century.
Literature written in Chinese characters was developed in Korea since the 9th century. According to a rough statistics of old records, such poems about Mt Kumgang created up to the 19th century and relevant poets number over 500 and 300, respectively.
Famous poets were Ri Je Hyon (1287-1367) and An Chuk (1282-1348) in the 14th century, Kim Si Sup (1435-1493) in the 15th century, Ri I (1536-1584), Ri Hwang (1501-1570), Jong Chol (1536-1593), Abbot Sosan (1520-1604) in the 16th century, Ho Kyun (1569-1618) in the 17th century, Pak Je Ga (1750-1805) in the 18th century, and Kim Sat Gat (1807-1863, original name Kim Pyong Yon) and Choe Ik Hyon (1833-1906) in the 19th century.
Mt Kumgang was the theme for the landscape painting since ancient times in Korea. However, few of masterpieces have been handed down up to now.
They all belong to the period between the 17th century and the early years of the 20th century.
Among the painters were Jong Son (1676-1759) who pioneered a new painting style in landscape painting in the second half of the feudal Joson dynasty. Realistic painters Sim Sa Jong (1707-1769), Kang Se Hwang (1713-1791), Ri Rin Sang (1710-1760), Choe Puk (1720-1770) and Kim Ung Hwan (1742-1789) and Kim Hong Do (1745-?), who succeeded to the Jong’s painting style.
Among their works are “Landscape of Mt Kumgang” by Jong Son who painted it at the age of 58 in the winter of 1734, “Landscape of Mt Kumgang” by Choe Puk in May 1779, “Holsong Pavilion” by Kim Ung Hwan who painted it together with his disciple Kim Hong Do according to King’s order in 1788 and “Kuryong Falls” by Kim Hong Do.
Between the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, landscape paintings were created by such talented realistic painters as Jo Sok Jin (1853-1920), An Jung Sik (1861-1919) and Ri To Yong (1884-1933).