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The Korean Unified Shilla Period

Shilla defeated Paekche in 660 and Koguryo in 668 to unify the Korean Peninsula for the first time under what is known as the Unified Shilla (668-935). Given the spiritual role of Buddhism in helping to bring about the fall of the two kingdoms, the religion flourished, and along with it, its architecture and art forms. Many architectural masterpieces were created during this period, Pulguksa temple and its grotto shrine, Sokkuram, being the most representative examples. The development of Buddhist architecture also brought with it the development of other forms of architecture, including palatial and residential types. An example of palace architecture of this period is Tonggung palace, in Kyongju, where a garden pond called Anapchi has been excavated and restored.

More than 50 major temples are mentioned in historical records. More than 10 of them, including Pulguksa temple, are still in operation, although their wooden structures have been rebuilt. The most artistically constructed is Pulguksa temple, which was completed in 774, with Kim Tae-song as the master builder. Located on the western slope of Mt. T'ohamsan, the temple sits on longitudinal plateaus of both natural and dressed stones, each of which varies in size to fit together beautifully. Stone railings run the length of the plateaus. 


There once was a lotus pond in front of the temple, symbolically separating it from the secular world. The temple proper is approached by two sets of staircases called bridges. The bridges in the east lead to the Tabot'ap and Sokkat'ap pagodas, and in Taeungjon, the main hall, the visitor will find an image of the Sakyamuni Buddha. Those in the west lead to Kungnakchon, the hall in which an image of Amita Buddha is housed. Tabot'ap and Sokkat'ap are the two most beautiful and representative examples of Shilla pagodas. The "two pagodas" style, which was prevalent at the time, reveals that stone pagodas replaced wooden ones which had previously been favored by the "one pagoda" style.

The wooden structures now visible at Pulguksa were mostly constructed in the latter part of the Choson period (1392-1910), as the originals were destroyed in the course of frequent foreign invasions. Musoljon, the lecture hall; Pirojon, the hall of Vairocana; Kwanumjon, the hall of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, and the corridors were all restored in 1972.

Sokkuram Grotto, a man-made shrine in Mt. T'ohamsan, is the greatest artistic masterpiece of the grotto movement which ran across the whole East Asia, originating in India. A perfect image of Buddha is enshrined in it. An annex of Pulguksa temple, Sokkuram Grotto was deliberately located to look out over the East Sea. It is comprised of an anteroom connected by a small passageway to a large rotunda. Although it is not a temple in the traditional sense, it contains all of the elements and features generally found in the halls that compose a temple. Eight guardians of Buddhism are carved in relief on the walls of the antechamber; likewise, four Lokapalas are also carved in relief on both sides of the door leading to the rotunda. The Sakyamuni Buddha is seated at the center of the rotunda, and images of 11 bodhisattvas and 10 disciples of Buddha are carved in relief along the wall. Statues of bodhisattvas are housed in niches in the upper part of the wall under the domed ceiling, which is decorated with relief work. The wooden supper structure in front of the grotto was added in 1964 when the grotto was repaired.

Shilla's palace construction is best represented by Tonggung palace, the palace of the crown prince. The site of the palace was excavated in 1976 to reveal the location of a pavilion called Imhaejon and Anapchi pond.

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