Name of Site: Seokguram
Where is it: On the slopes of Mount Toham, Gyeongju, South Korea
Who Considers it Sacred: The Korean; specifically Buddhists
Why: When Seokguram was built in the 8th century under the Silla dynasty, its people believed in Buddhism and thought “they would be able to attain Buddhahood through the worship of the divine Buddha images”1. In the sense, Seokguram grotto is a “material expression of Buddhist belief”2. Even today, a lot of Buddhist worshippers visit the Seokguram grotto to conduct ceremonial services.
Significance: Seokguram grotto owes its exceptional significance not only to its profound religious value but also to its artistic value. Under the Silla dynasty, one of the ancient Korean Three Kingdoms, people considered Buddhist religious architecture “a supernatural defense against external threats and bastion of national consciousness”3 and the grotto was the one that enabled them to keep their religious faith. Seokguram grotto also exhibits high standards of architectural design; the scientific construction method of the domed ceiling, delicate details of the sculptures, and the sustainable design with self-conservation capabilities are the examples.
The threat: Seokguram is facing numerous threats. During the colonial period (1910-1945), the Seokguram grotto underwent several rounds of inappropriate reconstruction work conducted by the Japanese colonial government. These past attempts to renovate the Seokguram caused the humidity build-up inside the grotto, which entailed erosion of the sculptures of Seokguram. In addition, the installation of mechanical systems to prevent further erosion made subtle vibration inside the grotto, which in turn produced micro-cracks on the stones4.
Preservation Status: Now the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and Gyeonju City with Korean National Park Service are managing and monitoring the Soekguram grotto. Specifically, the chronic problem of temperature and humidity control is carefully monitored and Cultural Heritage Conservation Specialists are assigned for conservation work. Furthermore, a “ventilation fan in Seokguram Grotto, whose vibration posing a risk, has been removed, and the number of visitors is properly controlled”5.
- As quoted inCultural Heritage Administration (South Korea), World Heritage in Korea, 2011, Giljapi Media
- As quoted by UNESCO World Heritage. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/736. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
- “Seokguram grotto and Bulguksa Temple”, Cultural Heritage Administration. Retrieved from http://jikimi.cha.go.kr/english/world_heritage_new/Seokguram.jsp on May 29, 2016.
- “Shaking Seokguram Buddha… What have been done to preserve national treasure?”, YTN Radio, November 11, 2013. Retrieved from http://radio.ytn.co.kr/program/?f=2&id=27169&s_mcd=0201&s_hcd=09 on May 23, 2016.
- As stated in UNESCO World Heritage. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/736. Retrieved May 23, 2016