Living in such a small town, I was not expecting there to be many local sights to see. This rock-carved Buddha triad in a valley east of Seosan was just a 40 minute drive from Samgilpo through gorgeous mountains to the Yonghyeon valley.
Signage on the roads including pictures of the Buddhas guided us right to the trailhead, which was marked with the usual male and female village guardian totem poles. We’ve found that if there are totems along a path, it’s something we should check out. Up the trail a few hundred meters were restrooms, tourist office and gate. After going through the gate, it’s just a short walk up the stairs to the rock carving.
The trail up to the rock was lined with rocky cliffs with trees and bushes clinging on, and they seemed to grow right out of the rock!
I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a bigger Buddhist temple at the site to go along with the carving. Apparently, this carving was near the entrance to the Bowonsa temple site, which is now just ruins in a field down the road. The man in the tourist office gave us a tourist map and pamphlet in English on the Seosan region, and this simple, yet beautiful gate led the way up to the Buddhas.
The “Smile of Baekje” was carved in the late 6th or early 7th century A.D. Because of its location on the side of the mountain, it is miraculously well preserved, is considered one of the oldest rock carvings in Korea. It was discovered in the modern era in 1958. They dated it based on the dynasty and artistic features such as the characteristic smiles (not common for Buddhas in Korea!), face shapes, and robes. This area of the country was a trade route from China to Buyeo, the capital of the Baekje kingdom, via the Taean peninsula, so it shows how Buddhism spread from China across the land, and that there was trade between China and the Baekje kingdom. The smiles of the Buddhas change depending on how sunlight hits the carving, so it is recommended to visit between 9-11 am.
When we visited, a Buddhist monk was playing a drum and singing. It was a beautiful accompaniment to our visit, and the tone was very reverent as we observed the carving. Even Landon was subdued and tentative as we appreciated it while trying to not disturb the monk’s worship. I thought I took a video, but I may have deleted it when I was trying to free up space on our memory card during a weekend in Seoul! Regardless, it is no longer in our possession, and I’m so sad about it!
I love how this picture captures the tall rock outcropping, and the Buddhas just chilling near the bottom of it. I’m just imagining the person who rediscovered this in 1958, and how shocked they must have been!
I love the smiles on these guys, and the details behind their heads. Imagining someone taking the time to chisel this in the rock, with rudimentary tools, is mind blowing. I love history in Korea- the old stuff is older here, and typically well-preserved for the public to enjoy! I did not see any huge differences in the smiles based on the sun shining on them or not, but we did not stay up there for too long. We didn’t want to press our luck with the three-year-old around.