Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for ... (UNESCO/NHK)

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for ... (UNESCO/NHK)



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The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248 A.D. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century A.D., were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art. As the oldest depository of the Tripitaka , they reveal an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai
URL: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/737/


Haeinsa Temple

The Haein-sa (temple) is one of the three main temples in South-Korea. Its name means "Reflection on a calm sea". It belongs to the Chogye Order, a Zen school of Buddhism.

Haein-sa houses all the Buddhist texts carved on wooden blocks, symbols of the teachings. The blocks, known as Tripitaka Koreana, number 81.340 in total. Inscribed are the rules for monks, the teachings of the Buddha and the commentaries added down the ages.

The entire Tripitaka has been carved twice. The first one was completed in 1087, but it was burnt in the invasion of the Mongolians. So the monks started carving again, and that one (that now can be seen) dates from 1251.


Changdeokgung Palace [Seoul]

Located in the heart of Seoul, this palace is the most original of the ‘Grand Palaces’ in the city and served as the court of the Joseon Dynasty. It was badly damaged during the Japanese occupation with only 30% of the buildings remaining from the area before colonization. Of special note is the blue-tiled room to the east of the throne, which served as a study for the king and the inspiration for the Blue House, the formal residence of the President of Korea. Another part worth checking out is Geumcheongyo Bridge, one of the oldest structures of the complex, built in 1411. If you have time, make sure to take a stroll on the guided tour to the royal gardens.

Pro Tip – The absolute best time to visit is in late-March / early-April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. While you may have competition from other photographers, it is worth the hassle.

Here’s a more extensive review and pictures of Changdeokgung Palace


2006, Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon
2006. 7. 15-16.

The Janggyeong Panjeon in the Temple of Haeinsa, on the slopes of Mount Gayasan, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The Haeinsa Tripitaka woodblocks were carved in an appeal to the authority of the Buddha in the defense of Korea against the Mongol invasions. They are recognized by Buddhist scholars around the world for their outstanding accuracy and superior quality. The woodblocks are also valuable for the delicate carvings of the Chinese characters, so regular as to suggest that they are the work of a single hand.

The Janggyeong Panjeon depositories comprise two long and two smaller buildings, which are arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard. As the most important buildings in the Haeinsa Temple complex, they are located at a higher level than the hall housing the main Buddha of the complex. Constructed in the 15th century in the traditional style of the early Joseon period, their design is characterized by its simplicity of detailing and harmony of layout, size, balance and rhythm.

The four buildings are considered to be unique both in terms of their antiquity with respect to this specialized type of structure, and for the remarkably effective conservation solutions that were employed in their design to protect the woodblocks from deterioration, while providing for easy access and storage. They were specially designed to provide natural ventilation and to modulate temperature and humidity, adapted to climatic conditions, thus preserving the woodblocks for some 500 years from rodent and insect infestation. The Haeinsa Temple complex is a famous destination for pilgrimages, not only among Korean Buddhists, but Buddhists and scholars from all over the world. - UNESCO


World Heritage List UNESCO Republic of Korea

The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century, were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art. As the oldest depository of the Tripitaka , they reveal an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks.

738 Jongmyo Shrine – 1995

Jongmyo is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. Dedicated to the forefathers of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), the shrine has existed in its present form since the 16th century and houses tablets bearing the teachings of members of the former royal family. Ritual ceremonies linking music, song and dance still take place there, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the 14th century.

736 Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple – 1995

Established in the 8th century on the slopes of Mount Toham, the Seokguram Grotto contains a monumental statue of the Buddha looking at the sea in the bhumisparsha mudra position. With the surrounding portrayals of gods, Bodhisattvas and disciples, all realistically and delicately sculpted in high and low relief, it is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East. The Temple of Bulguksa (built in 774) and the Seokguram Grotto form a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance.

816 Changdeokgung Palace Complex – 1997

In the early 15th century, the King Taejong ordered the construction of a new palace at an auspicious site. A Bureau of Palace Construction was set up to create the complex, consisting of a number of official and residential buildings set in a garden that was cleverly adapted to the uneven topography of the 58-ha site. The result is an exceptional example of Far Eastern palace architecture and design, blending harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.

817 Hwaseong Fortress – 1997

When the Joseon King Jeongjo moved his father’s tomb to Suwon at the end of the 18th century, he surrounded it with strong defensive works, laid out according to the precepts of an influential military architect of the period, who brought together the latest developments in the field from both East and West. The massive walls, extending for nearly 6 km, still survive they are pierced by four gates and equipped with bastions, artillery towers and other features.

977 Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites – 2000

The prehistoric cemeteries at Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa contain many hundreds of examples of dolmens – tombs from the 1st millennium BC constructed of large stone slabs. They form part of the Megalithic culture, found in many parts of the world, but nowhere in such a concentrated form.

976 Gyeongju Historic Areas – 2000

The contain a remarkable concentration of outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, in the form of sculptures, reliefs, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces from the flowering, in particular between the 7th and 10th centuries, of this form of unique artistic expression.

1264 Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes – 2007

together comprise three sites that make up 18,846 ha. It includes Geomunoreum, regarded as the finest lava tube system of caves anywhere, with its multicoloured carbonate roofs and floors, and dark-coloured lava walls the fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, rising out of the ocean, a dramatic landscape and Mount Halla, the highest in Korea, with its waterfalls, multi-shaped rock formations, and lake-filled crater. The site, of outstanding aesthetic beauty, also bears testimony to the history of the planet, its features and processes.

1319 Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty – 2009

The form a collection of 40 tombs scattered over 18 locations. Built over five centuries, from 1408 to 1966, the tombs honoured the memory of ancestors, showed respect for their achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and provided protection from vandalism. Spots of outstanding natural beauty were chosen for the tombs which typically have their back protected by a hill as they face south toward water and, ideally, layers of mountain ridges in the distance. Alongside the burial area, the royal tombs feature a ceremonial area and an entrance. In addition to the burial mounds, associated buildings that are an integral part of the tombs include a T-shaped wooden shrine, a shed for stele, a royal kitchen and a guards’ house, a red-spiked gate and the tomb keeper’s house. The grounds are adorned on the outside with a range of stone objects including figures of people and animals. The Joseon Tombs completes the 5,000 year history of royal tombs architecture in the Korean peninsula.

1324 Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong – 2010

Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, Hahoe and Yangdong are seen as the two most representative historic clan villages in the Republic of Korea. Their layout and location – sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto a river and open agricultural fields – reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The villages were located to provide both physical and spiritual nourishment from their surrounding landscapes. They include residences of the head families, together with substantial timber framed houses of other clan members, also pavilions, study halls, Confucian academies for learning, and clusters of one story mud-walled, thatched-roofed houses, formerly for commoners. The landscapes of mountains, trees and water around the village, framed in views from pavilions and retreats, were celebrated for their beauty by 17th and 18th century poets.

1439 Namhansanseong – 2014

was designed as an emergency capital for the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), in a mountainous site 25 km south-east of Seoul. Built and defended by Buddhist monk-soldiers, it could accommodate 4,000 people and fulfilled important administrative and military functions. Its earliest remains date from the 7th century, but it was rebuilt several times, notably in the early 17th century in anticipation of an attack from the Sino-Manchu Qing dynasty. The city embodies a synthesis of the defensive military engineering concepts of the period, based on Chinese and Japanese influences, and changes in the art of fortification following the introduction from the West of weapons using gunpowder. A city that has always been inhabited, and which was the provincial capital over a long period, it contains evidence of a variety of military, civil and religious buildings and has become a symbol of Korean sovereignty.

1477 Baekje Historic Areas – 2015

Located in the mountainous mid-western region of the Republic of Korea, this property comprises eight archaeological sites dating from 475 to 660 CE, including the Gongsanseong fortress and royal tombs at Songsan-ri related to the capital, Ungjin (present day Gongju), the Busosanseong Fortress and Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings, the Jeongnimsa Temple, the royal tombs in Neungsan-ri and the Naseong city wall related to the capital, Sabi (now Buyeo), the royal palace at Wanggung-ri and the Mireuksa Temple in Iksan related to the secondary Sabi capital. Together, these sites represent the later period of the Baekje Kingdom – one of the three earliest kingdoms on the Korean peninsula (18 BCE to 660 CE) – during which time they were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious (Buddhist), cultural and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan.

1562 Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea – 2018

The Sansa are Buddhist mountain monasteries located throughout the southern provinces of the Korean Peninsula. The spatial arrangement of the seven temples that comprise the property, established from the 7th to 9th centuries, present common characteristics that are specific to Korea – the ‘madang’ (open courtyard) flanked by four buildings (Buddha Hall, pavilion, lecture hall and dormitory). They contain a large number of individually remarkable structures, objects, documents and shrines. These mountain monasteries are sacred places, which have survived as living centres of faith and daily religious practice to the present.

1498 Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies – 2019

The property is located in central and southern parts of the Republic of Korea, and comprises nine seowon, representing a type of Neo-Confucian academy of the Joseon dynasty (15th -19th centuries CE). Learning, veneration of scholars and interaction with the environment were the essential functions of the seowons, expressed in their design. Situated near mountains and water sources, they favoured the appreciation of nature and cultivation of mind and body. The pavilion-style buildings were intended to facilitate connections to the landscape. The seowons illustrate a historical process in which Neo-Confucianism from China was adapted to Korean conditions.


Haeinsa Temple & Tripitaka Koreana

Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon-gun, within the Mt. Gaya scenic area (Photo: Jan Haenraets, 2012).
The Tripitaka Koreana is one of the most complete Buddhist scriptures and are housed at the Haensa Temple. They consist of 81,258 printing woodblocks of about 70x24cm. It took the craftsmen 16 years, from 1236 to 1251 to complete the carving.

The depository building, the ‘Janggyeong Panjeon’ consists of two main buildings and while simple in plan, it has the most meticulous technical knowhow for perfect air flow and humidity.

More information can be found on the Haeinsa UNESCO World Heritage page. Haeinsa Temple also has an excellent Temple Stay programme for visitors.

Text and Photographs by Jan Haenraets

Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada

The Janggyeong Panjeon at Haeinsa, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana (Photo: Jan Haenraets, 2012). The printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana in the Janggyong Panjeon at Haeinsa Temple (Photo source: Haeinsa Temple).


Brief synthesis

The Janggyeong Panjeon in the Temple of Haeinsa, on the slopes of Mount Gayasan, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The Haeinsa Tripitaka woodblocks were carved in an appeal to the authority of the Buddha in the defense of Korea against the Mongol invasions. They are recognized by Buddhist scholars around the world for their outstanding accuracy and superior quality. The woodblocks are also valuable for the delicate carvings of the Chinese characters, so regular as to suggest that they are the work of a single hand.

The Janggyeong Panjeon depositories comprise two long and two smaller buildings, which are arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard. As the most important buildings in the Haeinsa Temple complex, they are located at a higher level than the hall housing the main Buddha of the complex. Constructed in the 15th century in the traditional style of the early Joseon period, their design is characterized by its simplicity of detailing and harmony of layout, size, balance and rhythm.

The four buildings are considered to be unique both in terms of their antiquity with respect to this specialized type of structure, and for the remarkably effective conservation solutions that were employed in their design to protect the woodblocks from deterioration, while providing for easy access and storage. They were specially designed to provide natural ventilation and to modulate temperature and humidity, adapted to climatic conditions, thus preserving the woodblocks for some 500 years from rodent and insect infestation. The Haeinsa Temple complex is a famous destination for pilgrimages, not only among Korean Buddhists, but Buddhists and scholars from all over the world.


Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for ... (UNESCO/NHK) - History

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“Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea” Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

1. At its 42nd session (June 24-July 4, Manama, Bahrain), the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe “Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea” on the World Heritage List on June 30 (local time).

o “Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea” is composed of seven temples established from the 7th to 9th centuries: Tongdosa Temple (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do), Buseoksa Temple (Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do), Bongjeongsa Temple (Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do), Beopjusa Temple (Boeun, Chungcheongbuk-do), Magoksa Temple (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do), Seonamsa Temple (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do), and Daeheungsa Temple (Haenam, Jeollanam-do).

2. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee, initially recommended inscribing only four temples (Tongdosa Temple, Buseoksa Temple, Beopjusa Temple, and Daeheungsa Temple) out of the seven temples for which the ROK side applied for World Heritage Site designation. However, as a result of active diplomatic efforts of the ROK delegation, including the Permanent Delegation to UNESCO (Ambassador Lee Byong-hyun), in the World Heritage Center and the members of the World Heritage Committee, all of the seven temples successfully made it onto the World Heritage List in the discussion on inscription held on June 30 (local time) after 17 of the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee jointly signed and 20 members voiced support for the proposal made by China, a member of the Committee, on inscription of all of the seven temples on the List.

o The head of the ROK delegation to the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee*, and other members of the delegation from the Foreign Ministry, and the Cultural Heritage Administration, as well as experts from the private sector actively engaged in activities to garner support on the ground to make sure that all of the seven temples are inscribed on the World Heritage List.

* The ROK delegation to the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee is led by Ambassador to UNESCO Lee Byong-hyun from June 24 to 28, and by Administrator of the Cultural Heritage Administration Kim Jong-jin from June 29 to July 1.

o Since the ROK submitted its application for inscription in January 2017, Ambassador Lee Byong-hyun has made efforts to give related information to the members of the World Heritage Committee and its specialized agency. In particular, as chair of the Executive Board of UNESCO (2017-2019), Ambassador Lee has overseen activities to garner support since May, contributing to the successful inscription of the seven temples on the World Heritage List.

3. The inscription of “Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea” on the World Heritage List is seen as a result of the international community’s recognition of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)* that the “seven temples’ continuity to the present since establishment in the 7th-9th centuries, and a long history of Korean Buddhism” have, as well as close collaboration between relevant government agencies, including the Foreign Ministry and the Cultural Heritage Administration, and experts in the private sector.

* OUV (Outstanding Universal Value): criteria that need to be met to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

4. The inscription of “Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea” on the World Heritage List brings the number of World Heritage Sites in the ROK to 13 (12 cultural sites, and 1 natural site). The ROK will continue efforts to let the world know the excellence of its heritage, and as a country leading international discussions in the world heritage area, it will continue to increase its contributions in the area.

o The ROK has held international meetings on world heritage interpretation, including an international conference on the 30th anniversary of the ROK’s accession to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (May 2, 2018, Seoul), every year since 2016, building and strengthening networks with the members of the World Heritage Committee and experts.

※ World Heritage Sites in the ROK: Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple (1995), Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks (1995), Jongmyo Shrine (1995), Changdeokgung Palace Complex (1997), Hwaseong Fortress (1997), Gyeongju Historic Areas (2000), Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (2000), Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007), Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty (2009), Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong (2010), Namhansanseong (2014), Baekje Historic Areas (2015), and Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea (2018)


Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for ... (UNESCO/NHK) - History

the World Heritage Committee has inscribed 890 properties on the World Heritage List

The following are some I have visited:

At 2,430 metres above sea level, on a mountain site of extraordinary beauty, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height, with its giant walls, terraces and ramps, which appear as though they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting on the eastern slope of the Andes encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of species.

interior of cathedral, Lima

Although severely damaged by earthquakes (in 1940, 1966, 1970 and 1974), this "City of Kings" was, until the middle of the 18th century, the capital and most important city of the Spanish dominions in South America. Many of its buildings, such as the San Francisco Convent (the biggest in this part of the world) are the result of joint creations between local craftsmen and masters from the Old Continent.

the famous NAZCA lines
(as seen from a small aircraft)

Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain, some 400 km south of Lima, the geoglyphs of Nasca and the Pampas of Jumana cover about 450 square km. These lines, which were drawn between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., are among the most impenetrable enigmas of archaeology by virtue of their quantity, nature and size, as well as their continuity. Some of the geoglyphs depict living creatures, plants or imaginary figures, as well as geometric figures several kilometres long. They are believed to have had ritual functions connected with astronomy.

Located at the foot of the Wawel, 250 km south-east of Warsaw, Cracow, the former capital of Poland, has a rich historic centre made up of the medieval site of Kazimierz in the southern part of the town with remnants of the 14th-century fortifications, the 13th-century site of Cracow with the largest market square in Europe, the City Hall, the Jagellonian University, the Royal Castle and the Cathedral of San Waclaw where the kings of Poland are buried.

Entrance with "Archie", a survivor of Auschwitz.

The fortified walls, the barbed wire, the platforms, the barracks, the gallows, the gas chambers and the cremation ovens all bear witness to the conditions within which the Hitlerian genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most extensive of the Third Reich. Four million persons, among them a great number of Jews, were systematically starved, tortured and assassinated in this camp, symbol of the cruelty of man to his fellow- men in the 20th century.

In August 1944, during World War II, more than 85 per cent of Warsaw's 18th-century historic centre was destroyed by Nazi occupation troops. After the war, a five-year reconstruction campaign by its citizens resulted in today's meticulous reproduction of the churches, palaces and the market-place. It is an exceptional example of a total reconstruction of a span of history from the 13th to the 20th century.

Torun owes its origins to the Teutonic Order, which built a castle there in the mid 13th century as a base for the conquest and evangelization of Prussia. It quickly developed a commercial role as part of the Hanseatic League, and many of the imposing public and private buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries that survive in its Old and New Towns are striking testimony to its importance.

Marienburg, German Teutonic Fortress now located in Poland.

When the seat of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order moved from Venice to what was then known as Marienburg, the earlier castle was greatly enlarged and embellished. It became the supreme example of the medieval brick castle. It fell into decay later, but in the 19th and early 20th century was meticulously restored it was here that many of the conservation techniques now accepted as standard were evolved. Following severe damage in World War II it was once again restored, using the detailed documentation prepared by the earlier conservators.

Standing at the entrance to Lisbon's harbour, the Monastery of the Hieronymites - construction of which began in 1502 - exemplifies Portuguese art at its best, while the nearby Tower of Belem, built to commemorate Vasco de Gama's expedition, is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.

In the 19th century Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle where this new sensitivity was displayed in the use of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements and in the creation of a park blending local and exotic species of trees. Other prestigious homes built along the same lines in the surrounding Serra created a unique combination of parks and gardens which influenced the development of landscapes in Europe.

The city of Oporto, built along the hillsides which overlook the mouth of the Douro river, forms an exceptional urban landscape with a thousand-year history. It continuous growth, linked to the sea (the Romans gave it the name Portus, or port), can be seen in its many and varied monuments -- from the Cathedral with its Roman choir, via the neo-Classical Stock Exchange to the typically Portuguese Manueline-style church of Santa Clara.

views of the mountainous area

The Laurisilva of Madeira is an outstanding relict of a previously widespread laurel forest type. It is the largest area of laurel forest surviving and is believed to be 90% primary forest, containing a unique suite of plants and animals including many endemic species such as the Madeiran long-toed pigeon.

Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro region for some 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, its main product, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution.

Tripitaka Koreana
(80,000 wood blocks of Buddhist Text)

The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Kaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1249. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century, were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as an exceptional work of art. As the oldest depository of the Tripitaka, they reveal an astonishing mastery of the devising and implementation of conservation techniques.

Peter the Great presiding over a dreary day in St. Petersburg

The "Venice of the North" with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges is foremost the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Known later as Leningrad (in the former USSR), it is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the opposite styles of baroque and pure neo- classicism, as seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.


UNESCO World Heritage in Korea

We explore Korea's rich cultural heritage as recognised by UNESCO, from protected palaces and temples to intangible traditional culture and the documents that shed light on national history.

UNESCO in Korea

In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) established the World Heritage List with the purpose of protecting cultural and natural heritage sites in all corners of the globe – sites whose conservation is recognised to be in the interests of all of humanity.

Since then Korea has come to occupy a prominent position on this world list, with a current total of 13 cultural heritage sites and one natural heritage site (Jeju Island). In addition, UNESCO has recognised twenty important aspects of Korean traditional culture on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and sixteen significant historical documents on its Memory of the World List.

The UNESCO lists are a great place to start when exploring Korean history and culture, either on your trip to Korea or from home. You can find a comprehensive list of the recognised Korean heritage sites and cultural traditions on the Korea Tourism Organisation website, but in this article we have selected a few prominent examples from each category as an initial introduction to the vibrant cultural heritage of Korea.

Royal heritage: the UNESCO palaces, fortresses and tombs

The historical background of Korea’s cultural heritage sites is diverse, spanning from the truly ancient Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites (prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments) to the multiple sites built during the more recent Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897).

As you’ll notice if you visit Korea, many of the most prominent historical sites are associated with the royal families that governed Korea in the past, from palaces and fortresses to magnificent royal tombs. Here are a few that have made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List (with the dates indicating when they were added):

    – Jongmyo is the royal ancestral shrine of the Joseon Dynasty and is located in Jongno-gu, central Seoul. Its two main buildings – Jeongjeon Hall and Yeongnyeongjeon Hall – exhibit the unique architectural style of 16th century Korea, and still host seasonal memorial rites commemorating the lives and achievements of the royal ancestors of Joseon. – Changdeokgung Palace, also located in Jongno-gu, is one of the five Royal Palaces of Joseon. It was built in 1405 as a royal villa but became the Joseon Dynasty’s official royal residence after Gyeongbokgung was destroyed by invading Japanese forces in 1592. The palace maintained its prestigious position until 1867. Visitors often enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the ‘Secret Garden’ tucked behind the buildings of Changdeokgung. – Located in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do Province, this large fortress was constructed in 1796 by King Jeongjo after he moved the grave of his father, Crown Prince Sado, to Suwon. The fortress was built to effectively protect the city using scientific devices developed by the distinguished Confucian thinker and writer Jeong Yak-yong, including the Geojunggi crane and the Nongno pulley wheel. – The Joseon Dynasty left behind a total of 44 tombs occupied by Kings and their Queen Consorts, most of which are located near the capital in Gyeonggi-do Province. The tombs are recognised for reflecting the values of the Korean people (drawn partly from Confucian ideology and fengshui), as well as for being preserved in their original condition for up to 600 years.

The Buddhist and Confucian sites recognised by UNESCO

Buddhism has occupied a prominent place in Korean culture since it first arrived in 372, with the first two temples built in 375 by King Sosurim of Goguryeo and many more to follow. Owing to their particular historical significance, a handful of Korean Buddhist temples are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are among the most popular tourist attractions in Korea.

Another strong influence on Korean culture and society is Neo-Confucianism, an ideology which melds the older teachings of Confucius with Taoism and Buddhism, and which began to take hold during the Goryeo Dunasty (918-1392) before being adopted by the Joseon state as its primary belief system. The significance of Neo-Confucian ideology throughout Korean history led to UNESCO’s recognition of nine Korean seowon, Neo-Confucian academies, as a World Heritage Sites in 2019.

Buddhist and Confucian sites on the UNESCO list include:

    – The printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana (Buddhist scriptures produced during the Goryeo Dynasty, 918-1392) are housed in two specially made depositories at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon. The depositories are recognised for their unique design which makes use of the wind blowing in from the valley of Gayasan to provide effective natural ventilation and ensure the safe storage of the woodblocks.

    – Seokguram in Gyeongju, Gyeongbuk Province is a Buddhist hermitage with an artificial stone cave built in 774 to serve as a dharma hall. The grotto’s Buddha statue, surrounded by carvings of his guardians and followers, is widely admired as a masterpiece. Built in the same year, Bulguksa Temple houses a variety of exquisite monuments including two stone pagodas, Dabotap and Seokgatap, the latter of which is generally regarded as the archetype of all three-story stone pagodas built across Korea thereafter. – Sansa consists of seven Buddhist mountain monasteries: Tongdosa, Buseoksa, Bongjeongsa, Beopjusa, Magoksa, Seonamsa and Daeheungsa. Established between the 7th and 9th centuries, the monasteries have since functioned as centres of religious belief, spiritual practice, and daily living of monastic communities, reflecting the distinct historical development of Korean Buddhism. – This site comprises nine traditional Korean Neo-Confucian Academies, known as ‘seowon’, built across the central and southern parts of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The academies, according to UNESCO, are “exceptional testimony to cultural traditions associated with Neo-Confucianism in Korea”.

Jeju Island: A World Natural Heritage Site

Jeju Island, the largest island in Korea boasting a temperate climate and beautiful natural scenery, has always been a popular tourist destination with Korean and foreign visitors alike. In 2007, Jeju was designated a World Natural Heritage Site under the name “Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes”. The UNESCO-recognised site includes three specific features formed by the island’s volcanic structure: Mount Halla, the Geomunoreum Lava Tube system and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak.

  • Mount Halla – Hallasan, or Mount Halla, is Korea’s tallest mountain and is recognised for its beautiful array of textures and colours that appear throughout the changing seasons.
  • Geomunoreum Lava Tubes – the Geomunoreum Lava Tube system is regarded as the most impressive of its kind in the world. The tubes present an outstanding visual impact, with their unique spectacle of multi-coloured carbonate decorations adorning the roofs and floors, and dark-coloured lava walls that are also partially covered by a mural of carbonate deposits.
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong – Seongsan Ilchulbong is a tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions over 5,000 years ago. Originally a separate island, it has become naturally connected to the main island over time and is now one of Jeju’s most dramatic landscape features, often said to resemble a gigantic ancient castle. Ilchulbong means ‘sunrise peak’, and true to its name visitors who climb the peak early enough are treated to a magnificent sunrise.

Preserving Korean traditions through Intangible Cultural Heritage

Alongside the temples, palaces and natural sites listed above, UNESCO also recognises Korea’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, a category defined as: “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants” and incorporating oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festive events, the skills to produce traditional crafts and more.

As of 2020 UNESCO has recognised twenty examples of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Korea, which is testament to the country’s unique cultural history and preservation of traditions. We have selected just a few prominent examples to introduce here.

    – Often referred to as ‘Korean Opera’, pansori is a genre of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist and a drummer. The art form, which was established during the 18th century, combines singing (sori) with gestures (ballim) and narrative (aniri) to present an epic drama conceived from popular folk tales and well-known historic events. Watch UNESCO’s short explanatory video of pansorihere.* – The Ganggangsullae dance was traditionally performed by women around the coastal areas of Jeollanam-do during traditional holidays such as Chuseok and Daeboreum. Performers sing the song of Ganggangsullae as they dance, alternating between the lead singer and the rest of the group with the song tempo and dance movements becoming faster towards the end. Find out more about the dance in UNESCO’s video here. – Also known as Gakhui (sport of legs) and Bigaksul (art of flying legs), Taekkyeon is aimed at improving one’s self-defence techniques and promoting physical and mental health through the practice of orchestrated dance-like bodily movements, using the feet and legs in particular. Watch UNESCO’s video of Taekkyeon here. – Arirang is a well known and beloved Korean folk song whose simple musical and literary composition invites improvisation, imitation and singing in unison, encouraging its acceptance by a variety of musical genres. Each region of the country has its own celebrated version of the song with different lyrics, creating both cultural diversity and unity across Korea. Listen to some of the different versions in UNESCO’s video here. – Traditionally Kimjang takes place in autumn, when families and sometimes whole communities get together to prepare enough kimchi to last the cold winter. While kimchi can now easily be bought from a supermarket at any time of year, the age-old tradition of Kimjang is still maintained in Korea as a collective cultural activity contributing to a shared sense of social identity. See how kimchi is made during the Kimjang season here. – Jeju Island is home to a community of women, some over 80 years old, who dive substantial depths into the sea without the support of oxygen masks to gather abalone, sea urchins and other shellfish. The haenyeo go diving for up to seven hours a day, 90 days of the year, holding their breath for up to two minutes and making a unique verbal sound when they resurface. Witness their incredible skill and stamina in UNESCO’s video here.

*All videos were produced courtesy of the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration before being uploaded to the official UNESCO YouTube Channel.

Documenting Korean history: The Memory of the World Register

The final UNESCO list we’d like to introduce is the Memory of the World Register, launched to protect and preserve the documentary heritage of humanity. The list includes written works, maps, musical scores, films, and photographs.

A total of sixteen Korean documents are currently listed on the register, all of which shed crucial light on different events in Korean history from the Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392) up until the late 20th century. Here are a few representative examples:


Watch the video: Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon - Korea