Posted by: Matt Kelley | 17 October 2008

Gimje’s Gold Mountain Temple


Geumsansa Temple’s (금산사) main courtyard features the impressive 3-story high Maitreya Hall, Goryeo-era stone sculptures, and gorgeous trees.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never visited North Jeolla Province. So when a friend of mine invited me to come along with her on a weekend trip, I jumped at the chance. North Jeolla-do has long been Korea’s rice bowl, and its terraced rice paddies and natural areas are famed for their beauty. During my travels there, one of my favorite places was Geumsansa, or Gold Mountain Temple, which is located between the cities of Jeonju and Gimje (김제).

Geumsansa Temple is located on the slopes of Moak Mountain. Founded over 14 centuries years ago during the first year of King Beop (법왕) of the Baekje Kingdom, the temple is best known for its Maitreya Hall, which houses the massive Mireuksa Buddha, and is Korea’s only remaining 3-story pre-modern building. The gorgeous structure features dozens of colorful paintings. And each corner of its three roofs requires a supporting column, due to the weight of the ornate eaves.


A map of the physical plant of the current Geumsansa Temple complex.

Legend has it that the temple was built after Master Jinpyo 진표 had a vision of a Maitreya Buddha upon returning from China. After the vision, he met a dragon king who presented him with a jade robe and led him into the forest. Suddenly, men and women appeared and came together to build the temple in just a few days.


Beautifully ornate doors, painted in the dapo style of the Joseon Dynasty.

By the year 1097 during Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty, the Geumsansa Temple District had grown to 86 shrine halls and 43 hermitages. This golden age for the Gold Mountain Temple ended, however, during the Hideyoshi invasions of the late 16th century. During the Japanese invasions, Geumsansa was a training ground for over 1,000 monks who volunteered to fight against the intruders. But tragically, the entire complex was razed by fire in response.


Sokryeondae’s (석련대) intricate detail is made all the more remarkable as it’s over 1,000 years old.

Many of the present buildings date from 1635, although there are a number of stone treasures that predate them. Sokryeondae (석련대), a detailed lotus-shaped pedestal cut from a solid piece of stone, is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.


The majestic Maitreya Hall is Korea’s only remaining 3-story pre-modern structure. Note the pillars necessary to support the heavy roof.

The pedestal, the 3-story hall, a number of other buildings, stone treasures and even a few ancient trees surround a large peach-colored courtyard. When I visited early one Saturday morning, I was struck by the temple’s peaceful setting. The beautiful buildings amongst forested hills and between two streams felt perfect.


The 7.2-meter tall Ochungseoktap (오충석탑) is a stupa erected in front of the main Buddhist hall and dates from the Goryeo Dynasty. The style is reminiscent of Unified Silla, but the eaves separating the central segments turn up slightly, which is a Goryeo trademark. In a 1972 restoration, several treasures were found hidden inside.

There’s no doubt that this is why Geumsansa has a popular temple stay program. Guests help with chores, practice sitting and walking meditation, and even participate in formal monastic meal and tea ceremonies. If you plan on spending the night, however, you should know that the pre-dawn morning service begins at 3:00 am, when the rhythmic sounds of a mokt’ak and chanting signal it’s time to file into the Main Buddha Hall. For you late sleepers out there, please note that participation is not optional.


Striking red spider lilies (lycordis radiata) were scattered outside Geumsan Temple’s main gates.

When it was time to leave and I had passed through the last of the four gates leading into Geumsansa, I saw a number of red flowers that had popped up near the gate’s base. The best way I can describe them is a thin stalk topped off with what resembles a dozen bright red, tiny Asiatic lilies. It turns out these are hurricane or red spider lilies, and they’re one of the most colorful blossoms of Fall.

Getting There:
→ Express buses depart Seoul for Jeonju every 10 minutes. Trip duration is 3 hours. cost: 8,500 won. Once beside the Pungnam Gate (풍남문) outside Jeonju’s Hanok Village, take bus #79. The 40-minute ride will cost just 1,400 won.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on October 11, 2008.)

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Responses

  1. So beautiful!!! Wow nice..
    i didn’t know Korea has so many beautiful
    places~i think u r the korean!!
    i’m foreigner the lol
    Let’s go together~kk

  2. I think foreigners are often the people who are most likely to take the time to go sightseeing… I’m American, but have never visited the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty or Niagara Falls but most of my Korean friends who have traveled in the U.S. have… I guess some of us are just less apt to travel when we’re in our home countries!

    RE: traveling together, sure! I’d love to.

  3. Hi! I’m the Community Manager of Ruba.com. We’re building a website to highlight some of the most interesting places travelers around the world have discovered. We’ve read hundreds of blogs about Korea, and we think that yours is awesome! We’d love to highlight excerpts from blogs like yours (assuming it’s OK with you of course) and to discuss other ways of tapping into your expertise if you are interested. I’m at erin@ruba.com.
    Thanks! :)

  4. Hi Erin,
    Thanks for your note. I’ve been in touch with Mike, as well, and we’re discussing the best ways to work together. Good luck!

  5. […] I’m more of a fan of the faded murals of temples like North Jeolla Province’s Geumsansa or North Chungcheong Province’s Beopjusa, Yakcheonsa’s freshly painted frescoes do a […]

  6. Thanks for taking me back to a favorite place. I lived in Jeonju 15 yrs ago and still vividly remember the bus ride and the to walk to the temple.

  7. Hi Ken,

    15 years ago? I’m so curious to know what Korea looked like then… especially somewhere like Jeonju with all its cultural and historical significance. Although Korea has seen remarkable wealth over a short period of time, it’s sad to think about what’s also been lost in the rush to industrialize. Anyhow, thanks for your note!

    Best, Matt


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