Sansa are Buddhist mountain monasteries located throughout Korea. Seven temples – Tongdosa Temple, Buseoksa Temple, Bongjeonsa Temple, Beopjusa Temple, Magoksa Temple, Seonamsa Temple and Daeheungsa Temple - were recognized by UNESCO.
In the past, Korean temples consisted of both flatland temple sites and mountain temple sites. However, during the Joseon Dynasty, most of the flatland temples were removed, with only the mountain monasteries remaining today. UNESCO rated the temples as having outstanding universal value thanks to their preservation of the traditional aspects of Korean Buddhist temples, serving as living centers of faith and daily practice. These seven temples include many individual characteristics as well as notable features that can only be seen in Korea's monasteries. The temples are praised for their authentic value in aspects of durability, historical significance, location and setting, and purpose.
Tongdosa Temple was founded in 646 during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok. One unique characteristic of this temple is that the statue of Buddha is not immediately visible when entering Yeongsanjeon Hall; the Buddha here is placed on the eastern part of the hall. The Buddha is surrounded by Palsangdo, Paintings of the Eight Great Events, a precious material in Buddhist artwork. The main hall, Daeungjeon Hall, also has no image of Buddha but does have an ordination platform, a type of Buddha reliquary.
Buseoksa Temple was founded in 676 during the 16th year of Silla King Munmu's reign. The temple is famous for it's staircase of 108 steps, designed to clear ones mind of any conflicts, a core component of Buddhism. Reaching the top also provides one with a clear view of the entire area. Buseoksa Temple is home to Muryangsujeon Hall, one of the oldest wooden building in the nation. Another interesting structure at this temple is the Baeheullimgidung Pillar, which becomes narrower towards its peak.
Bongjeongsa Temple was built in 672 during the 12th year of Silla King Munmu's reign. Before entering the temple grounds, visitors must pass through Manseru, a building with no doors or walls. The entrance is small, requiring all who enter to lower their heads, a gesture of humbling oneself as taught in Buddhist culture. Bongjeongsa Temple is home to many historical treasures, including National Treasure No. 15 Geungnakjeon Hall, known to be the oldest wooden building in Korea, and National Treasure No. 311 Daeungjeon Hall.
Beopjusa Temple was founded in 553 during the 14th year of Silla King Jinheung's reign. The temple is home to the nation's only wooden pagoda, Palsangjeon, as well as many other cultural heritages. The thing that draws the eye most is the 33m-tall Gilt-bronze Maitreya Buddha statue. Many tourists come to see this grand statue, which used more than 100 tons of bronze.
Magoksa Temple was founded in 643 during the 9th year of Silla Queen Seondeok's reign. Thanks to the nearby flowing water and the peaceful moutain forest, the temple has a unique ambience of its own. It is also noteworthy that the flowing water and the mountains surrounding the temple form a taegeuk shape, a symbol of balance. During times of war, Magoksa Temple was used as a shelter. King Sejo commended the temple, saying it would last for over ten thousand years, and even wrote the signboard for Yeongsanjeong Hall himself. The hall later burned down during the Imjin War (1592-1598), but was rebuilt in 1650, and is currently the oldest building within Magoksa Temple.
Seonamsa Temple was built in 529 during the 3rd year of Silla King Jinheung's reign. The path to the temple features the arched Seungseongyo Bridge and an apricot tree over 600 years old. Many tourists come to see the beautiful harmony created among the bridge, valley, and forest. Seonamsa Temple is unique in that there is no gate of Four Gardian Kings which is normally found in temples. There is also only one statue of Buddha, located within Daeungjeon Hall, and there is no central door to the hall.