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The Koguryo Kingdom
(37B.C.-A.D.668) was the first of the Korean kingdoms to be exposed to Chinese
Han culture. Chinese influence made a lasting impression, as evidenced by the
construction style of Koguryo's palaces, temples and
tombs. Melding Chinese elements with their original type of construction, the
people of Koguryo developed their own style. It was
characterized by powerful lines and sturdy construction, necessitated by the
rugged terrain and harsh climate of the country.
A Chinese historian noted, "The Koguryo
people like to build their palaces well." Patterned tiles and ornate
bracket systems were already in use in many palaces in P'yongyang, the capital,
and other town-fortresses in what now is Manchuria.
The construction of Buddhist temples was enthusiastically
undertaken after Buddhism was introduced in 372 by way of northern China. A
series of excavations in 1936-1938 unearthed the sites of several major temples
near P'yongyang, including those in Ch' ongam-ri,
Wono-ri and Sango-ri. The excavations disclosed that the temples were built in a
Koguryo style known as "three Halls-one
Pagoda," with each hall in the east, west and north, and an entrance gate
in the south. In most cases, the centural pagodas had a octagonal plan. Palace
buildings appear to have been arranged in this way as well.
Murals in tombs dating from Koguryo
also reveal a great deal about the architecture of that period as many of them
depict buildings which have pillars with entasis. Many have capitals on top of
them. The murals reveal that the wooden bracket structures and coloring on the
timbers, all characteristic of later Korean structures, were already in use at
Paekche was influenced by Koguryo
as well as by southern China. As it expanded southward, moving its capital to
Ungjin (currently, Kongju) in 475 and to Sabi (currently Puyo)
in 538, its arts became richer and more refined than that of Koguryo.
Also characteristic of Paekche architecture is its use of curvilinear designs.
Though no Paekche buildings are extant - in fact, no wooden structure of any of
the Three Kingdoms now remains - it is possible to deduce from Horyuji temple in
Japan, which Paekche architects and technicians helped to build, that Paekche's
architecture came into full bloom after the introduction of Buddhism in 384.
What remains in the building sites, patterned tiles and other relics, as well as
the stone pagodas that have survived the ravages of time, testifies to the
highly developed culture of Paekche.
Many palaces are recorded as having been built in Paekche.
Some traces of them can be found at both Pusosansong,
the third palace of this kingdom, and at the site of Kungnamji pond, which is
mentioned in the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms). Kungnamji
means "pond in the south of the palace."
The site of Miruksa temple, the
largest in Paekche, was excavated in 1980 at Iksan of Chollabuk-do
province. The excavation disclosed many hitherto unknown facts about Paekche
architecture. A stone pagoda at Miruksa temple is
one of two extant Paekche pagodas. It is also the largest as well as being the
oldest of all Korean pagodas. Miruksa temple had an
unusual arrangement of three pagodas erected in a straight line going from east
to west, each with a hall to its north. Each pagoda and hall appear to have been
surrounded by covered corridors, giving the appearance of three separate temples
of a style called "one Hall-one Pagoda." The pagoda at the center was
found to have been made of wood, while the other two were made of stone. The
sites of a large main hall and a middle gate were unearthed to the north and
south of the wooden pagoda.
When the site of Chongnimsa temple
was excavated in 1982, which had also been the site of the other existing
Paekche pagoda, the remains of a main hall and a lecture hall arranged on the
main axis one behind the other were unearthed to the north of the pagoda. The
remains of a middle gate, a main gate and a pond arranged on the main axis one
in front of the other were also discovered to its south. It was found that the
temple was surrounded by corridors from the middle gate to the lecture hall.
This "one Pagoda" style was typical of Paekche, as the excavations of
the temple site in Kunsu-ri and in Kumgangsa temple
in Puyo in 1964. The building sites of Kumgangsa
temple, however, were arranged on the main axis going from east to west rather
than from north to south.
Shilla came under Buddhist influence after 527. Since its
temple was separated from China by Koguryo or
Paekche, China's cultural influence was much diluted. This probably accounts for
the delay in its cultural development compared to the other two kingdoms.
One of the earliest Shilla temples, Hwangnyongsa temple was
systematically excavated and studied in 1976, and found to have been of
considerable magnitude. It stood in a square walled area, the longest side of
which was 288 meters. The area enclosed by corridors alone was about 19,040
square meters. The Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms)
records that there was a nine-story wooden pagoda built here in 645 that was
about 80 meters high by today's scale. A large image of Sakyamuni Buddha is also
recorded to have been enshrined in the main hall with the stone pedestal still
remaining. Constructed in the middle of the sixth century, Hwangnyongsa temple
flourished for more than 680 years during which time the halls were rearranged
many times. In its prime, immediately before Shilla's unification of the
peninsula in 668, it was arranged in the "three Halls-one Pagoda"
style, quite unlike the "one Hall-one Pagoda" style of Paekche's Miruksa
Another major Shilla temple was Punhwangsa, on the site of
which still stands three stories of what is recorded to have been a nine-story
pagoda. As the remains show, the pagoda was made of stones cut to look like
bricks. A set of stone flagpole pillars in addition to other stone relics also
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