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Archaeological Remains at the Hoeamsa Temple Site in Yangju City

Date of Submission: 20/07/2022
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Korea to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Yangju City, Gyeonggi-do Province
Coordinates: N37 84 58.14 E127 10 58.95
Ref.: 6617

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The nominated property is an archaeological site preserving the remains of a Buddhist temple known as Hoeamsa, a 14th-century Seon (Chan in Chinese; Zen in Japanese) monastery constructed in accordance with the Cheonggyu principles (Qinggui in Chinese), or “Pure Regulations.” The archaeological relics excavated at the nominated property offer material testimony to the spatial composition of a Cheonggyu-based Seon monastery, the architectural layouts of its component buildings, and the monastic practices and religious ceremonies carried out within. The popularity of the Seon School (the Meditation School) in East Asia that peaked in the 14th century can be confirmed through the nominated property, as well as the regional dissemination of the Pure Regulations and the according emergence of the related Seon monastic system. 

The nominated property is located in Yangju City in Gyeonggi-do Province. The Hoeamsa Temple site is largely composed of two sections—a south section comprising the main part of the temple where 70 buildings sites were confirmed in excavations conducted from 1997 to 2019 and a north section where monuments commemorating venerable monks of Hoeamsa Temple can be found. The nominated property maintains the sites of all buildings that are considered of primary importance for a Seon monastery. Hoeamsa was constructed from 1374 to 1376 during the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), which adopted Buddhism as its state religion. The temple was well maintained through the early centuries of the Joseon era under the auspices of the royal family with few structural changes made at the complex.

After its closure in the late 16th century, the overground structures in the main section of the temple all fell into ruin. However, the site itself remained undisturbed to the present, maintaining its underground structures in an unaltered form. The integrity of the site’s underground structures as they were built in the late 14th century as been confirmed through archaeological and historical research.

Seon is a school of Buddhism that focuses on the practice of meditation as a means of discovering the Buddha-nature inherent in all beings. As a place where Seon believers lived and practiced together, a Seon monastery required rules to maintain the discipline in the monastic life taking place within its boundaries. In this regard, a set of monastic codes known as Cheonggyu, or “Pure Regulations,” was prepared to regulate every aspect of a Seon monastery from religious ceremonies and meditational practices to the everyday lives of members of the Seon community. This set of monastic codes was established by Monk Baizhang Huaihai in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The Cheonggyu codes were actively published in the Southern Song period (1127–1279), spreading across East Asia and giving birth to a new shared system for Buddhist monasteries in the region. 

Historical records indicate that the history of Hoeamsa Temple dates back as early as to the 12th century. However, it was in the late 14th century that the temple space was rearranged into a Seon monastery under the reconstruction project led by Monk Naong. Through the reconstruction, Naong faithfully applied to Hoeamsa Temple the rules and regulations set out in the Cheonggyu codes, which enjoyed widespread popularity across East Asia at the time.

During the reconstruction, in the middle section of the temple site were constructed a Buddha hall (where images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas are enshrined), a Dharma hall (where Seon practitioners hold question and answer sessions with a master), the head monk’s hall (where the abbot of the temple resides), and the patriarchs’ halls (where portraits of Seon patriarchs are enshrined). On either side of these buildings were communal facilities for practicing meditation and other facilities required for everyday life. The buildings and their layout at Hoeamsa Temple were a manifestation of the ideal Seon monastery as defined in the Cheonggyu codes.

The era for the dominance of Buddhism drew to an end in Korea with the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), which adopted Confucianism as its governing ideology. However, Hoeamsa still thrived through the first two centuries of the Joseon era as a votive temple for the king and other members of the royal family, where rites were observed for their happiness both in this world and the next. For the purpose of observing these royal rites, some of the buildings at Hoeamsa were changed in their use and added with ceremonial installations during this period. Hoeamsa Temple, however, successfully maintained its Seon identity and functions through this period. In the second half of the Joseon era, however, Confucian ideology gained even stronger influence over Joseon society. The royal support for Buddhist temples associated with the ruling family gradually declined. Against this background, Hoeamsa was eventually closed in the late 16th century.

The property area measures 5.578 hectares and has building sites in the south valley area. The gentle slopes on either side of the valley were dug out to prepare a flat site for constructing the temple complex. The earth cut out from the slopes was used to build eight escalating terraces climbing from south to north across the site. Staired retaining walls topped by boundary walls were constructed along the north, east, and west sides of the site. Along the central axis of the eight terraces were constructed, from the lowest toward the highest, the mountain gate (sanmun), Buddha hall (buljeon), Dharma hall (beopdang), and head monk’s hall (bangjang). On either side of the central axis were positioned buildings for meditation and everyday facilities including the meditation hall (seungdang) and the common hall (jungnyo). In the northeast of the eighth terrace can still be found a sarira stupa, which has been registered on the national heritage list.

North of this area where the buildings were concentrated is the space holding monuments to three venerable monks who were closely connected with Hoeamsa Temple—Monk Jigong, Monk Naong, and Monk Muhak—who formed a master-successor lineage. These three figures, collectively called the Triple Monks, were the three most important Buddhist priests of the late Goryeo period in Korea. Their legacy also wielded a great influence over the development of Buddhism in the country in the subsequent periods. Naong, the successor of Monk Jigong, led the reconstruction of Hoeamsa Temple in the late 14th century while serving as an advisor for King Gongmin holding the title “Royal Preceptor.” Upon the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty, Muhak, the successor of Monk Naong, was appointed as the first Royal Preceptor of Joseon. Monk Naong was primarily based in Hoeamsa Temple, which enabled the monastery to prosper even after the foundation of the new Confucian dynasty. 

Nine monuments can be found in this area. Six of the nine were installed in the late 14th century during the Goryeo Dynasty: a stupa, stone lantern, and stele for Monk Jigong and a stupa, stone lantern, and stele for Monk Naong. The remaining three—a stupa, stone lantern, and stele for Monk Muhak—were built in the final years of the 14th century after the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty. The steles for Monk Jigong and for Monk Muhak were damaged in 1821 and subsequently replaced with new ones in 1828. At the time, a building was added for the protection of the monuments. This building still exists today. The stele for Monk Naong sustained damage in a wildfire in 1997. The stele underwent conservation treatment and was moved to the Central Buddhist Museum in 2001. Currently, a replica of the stele is standing on top of the damaged original pedestal.

The stele for Monk Naong, stupa for Monk Muhak, and stone lantern for Monk Muhak have been respectively designated on the national heritage list under the names of Stele for Royal Preceptor Seongak, Stupa for Buddhist Monk Muhak, and Twin-lion Stone Lantern in Front of the Stupa for Buddhist Monk Muhak. The other six are registered on the Gyeonggi-do provincial heritage list.

A buffer zone for the property with an area of 73.1046 hectares has been delineated. It is drawn in consideration of the Protection Zone and the Historic and Cultural Environment Conservation Area, two layers of protection surrounding the Hoeamsa Temple site established  in accordance with the Cultural Heritage Protection Act. Within the buffer zone can be found the Hoeamsaji Museum, a city-level museum dedicated to the Hoeamsa Temple site. The museum carries out diverse activities related to research, exhibition, education, and public outreach based on the more than 13,400 archaeological items from the temple site in its collection.

The Hoeamsa Temple site and its surrounding areas are rigorously protected in accordance with the Cultural Heritage Protection Act and the heritage ordinances of Gyeonggi-do Province and Yangju City. As the Hoeamsa Temple site is designated as a Historic Site on the national level, it is subject to a systematic process of decision-making prior to the implementation of excavation or repair projects. The thorough consultation with experts and involvement of nationally certified technicians that are required by this process contribute to maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the Hoeamsa Temple site. The local governments of Gyeonggi-do Province and Yangju City and the Hoeamsaji Museum perform ongoing monitoring and carry out diverse research programs for the nominated property. They are also developing and implementing a range of public programs with a view to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of the nominated property among local communities.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (iii): The nominated property offers exceptional testimony to the flourishing of the Seon School of Buddhism across East Asia in the 14th century. This archaeological site provides material evidence of the spatial composition of a Seon monastery based on the Cheonggyu codes and the layouts of its component buildings and accordingly of its religious and monastic practices.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The nominated property was built as a Seon Buddhist monastery in the 14th century in compliance with the prescribed Cheonggyu rules and was shut down in the 16th century. Through the centuries that followed, the wooden structures above the ground were destroyed in war, fire, natural disasters, or other outside events. However, the site itself has been preserved almost intact to the present, maintaining the substructures such as stone footings and foundations as they were originally constructed in the late 14th or early 15th century. Therefore, the spatial arrangement of the Hoeamsa buildings and their individual layouts after the site was reconstructed as a Seon monastery can be confirmed today. The integrity of the 14th-century substructures at the Hoeamsa Temple site has been confirmed through archaeological research and in records from the late-Goryeo compilation Reconstruction of Hoeamsa Temple at Mt. Cheonbosan as well as other historical documents. The nine monuments that were built in the late 14th century to the north of the central section of the temple have sustained some damage over the course of history, but they mainly retain their original forms.

Any required conservation interventions that may cause material changes in the nominated property are kept to a minimum. When they must inevitably take place, original materials and techniques are applied to the greatest extent possible, contributing to maintaining the authenticity of the site. The Yangju City government is responsible for on-site management and conservation. The funds required for the management and conservation of the nominated property are provided by the Yangju City and Gyeonggi-do governments and by the Cultural Heritage Administration.

The stupas, stone lanterns, and steles for Monk Jigong, Monk Naong, and Monk Muhak at the Hoeamsa Temple site have played a critical role in sacralizing the site. Legends and place names that are associated with Hoeamsa Temple have been transmitted across the eastern section of Yangju City where the nominated property is located. These local beliefs formed around the nominated property have contributed to preventing any other structures from being added to the site in the centuries since the temple’s closure in the 16th century and therefore to preserving it to the present in an authentic form.


The nominated property has maintained in an integral form not only archaeological features testifying to 14th-century Seon monasteries, but also its original boundaries and topography from the 14th century. The sites of the buildings that are considered of primary importance for a Seon monastery remain intact today at the nominated property. These include the sites of the head monk’s hall, meditation hall, and common hall. The sites of other component buildings—the Buddha hall, Dharma hall, and communal facilities for everyday monastic life—have also been well preserved. The monuments built in memory of three Buddhist monks closely associated with the history of Hoeamsa Temple have been maintained in good condition.

Given its location, ownership status, and the development restrictions applied to it, there are few risk factors that could be expected to threaten the conservation of the nominated property in the future. The property is located in an area with little development pressure. The property area is mostly composed of public land. The private land parcels within the property area are all under the ownership of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. There is a well-functioning protective system in place for the nominated property that is overseen by the Cultural Heritage Administration. Development is rigorously restricted not only within the property area, but also in the surrounding area. Any repair project, however minor it may be, is subject to prior deliberation by the Cultural Heritage Committee, the expert advisory body of the Cultural Heritage Administration. Through this deliberation, the extent of any conservation intervention is kept to a minimum. Under domestic law, areas extensive enough to include all the features of Hoeamsa Temple as a Seon monastery have been designated as protected areas. Efforts are underway to draw up a sustainable management plan to safeguard the significance of the Hoeamsa Temple site as a potential World Heritage property.

Comparison with other similar properties

Comparison with domestic Buddhist properties

There is an abundance of both former Buddhist temple sites and functioning Buddhist temples in the Republic of Korea. Among them, Seon temples from the Goryeo period (918–1392) are most comparable to the nominated property.

Seon Buddhism began to be adopted in earnest in Korea in the early ninth century. It was disseminated and developed throughout the Goryeo period, which ended in the late 14th century. The evolution of Seon Buddhism in Korea is most clearly manifested in the makeup and arrangement of the central portion of a Seon monastery (which is known as the Upper Area). Seon monasteries placed great importance on such buildings as a Dharma hall, head monk’s hall, and patriarchs’ hall, which are all spaces that focus on the abbot of a temple, who plays the role of the Buddha, as well as to the monastic lineages linking masters and their disciples. Over the course of the Goryeo Dynasty these buildings underwent changes in their spatial arrangement within a Seon monastery.

Archaeological remains from these Seon buildings can be found at various Goryeo temple sites, such as the Seongjusa Temple site, Silsangsa Temple site, Jinjeonsa Temple site, Yeongamsa Temple site, Gulsansa Temple site, and Godalsa Temple site. Although these temple sites have revealed archaeological features related to Goryeo-era buildings comprising the Upper Area of a Seon monastery, their evidential extent is only partial. Remains from the Goryeo period at these sites have been layered over by structures from subsequent periods. In the case of the nominated property, archaeological features attesting to the Upper Area remain intact. The substructures for the remaining areas of Hoeamsa Temple have also been preserved in an authentic and integral form. The maintenance of Goryeo-era remains in a complete form found at the nominated property sets it apart from other temple sites from its era.

Comparison with Buddhist properties outside the Republic of Korea

Centuries of cultural interactions among Korea, China, and Japan have resulted in many similarities among their Buddhist traditions. Telling examples of this include the centrality of Mahayana Buddhism and the dominance of wooden buildings at Buddhist temples. Among the properties in China and Japan that are inscribed on the World Heritage List or on Tentative Lists, the “Temples, Shrines, and Other Structures of Ancient Kamakura” (a property on Japan’s Tentative List) can be compared to the Hoeamsa Temple site.

Kamakura was constructed as the seat of power for the Kamakura shogunate, which ruled Japan from 1185 to 1333. The Kamakura period is known for the emergence of the samurai, or warrior class. The city of Kamakura was built taking into account the natural topography of the area. Seon temples were constructed in the 13th century as part of its urban system. Most  of these 13th century Seon temples remain in operation today. However, they have lost their Kamakura-period appearance as many of the 13th-century buildings within these temples were destructed due to fires, earthquakes, or other disasters and/or completely reconstructed. The appearance of Seon temples in Kamakura as they were constructed in the 13th century only remains in its integral form through historical documents in the form of maps or textual descriptions. In contrast, the nominated property maintains to the present the complete form of the spatial composition of a Cheonggyu-based Seon monastery from the 14th century.

Beyond the World Heritage List or Tentative Lists, the nominated property can also be compared to Seon temples in China and Japan from around when Hoeamsa was constructed.

In China, the popularity of the Seon School peaked from the 12th through the mid-14th century during the Song and Yuan Dynasties. The Cheonggyu codes were actively published and widely disseminated at the time, and a new system for Buddhist monasteries following these rules began to take root.

However, it is hard to find an example of a Seon monastery surviving today in China that includes material remains from this period. The spatial arrangement of these Seon temples can only be confirmed in historical drawings from The Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries System, a collection of drawings produced from 1247 to 1256 by Japanese monks visiting Song China, or in the Zhizhen jinling xinzhi, a Chinese geography from the Yuan Dynasty compiled in 1330.

The Seon School was introduced to Japan in the early 13th century during the Kamakura period. The “Five Mountains” system were adopted at this time both in Kamakura and Kyoto. The Cheonggyu, a set of monastic codes imported from China, were used as guidelines for the Seon monasteries built in accordance with the “Five Mountains” system.

These “Five Mountains” monasteries were well maintained through the following Muromachi period. However, they were altered and reconstructed in the Edo period, losing their original appearance from the Kamakura period. The majority of these Seon monasteries are still in use. There are a few wooden structures surviving at these monasteries dating to the 14th through the 15th centuries, such as the sarira hall at Engakuji Temple and the mountain gate and meditation hall at Tofukuji Temple. Beyond these structures, however, there are few material remains from this period at Seon monasteries in Japan. Their appearance from when they were constructed can only be partially confirmed through historical documents, such as The Map of Kenchoji Temple and The Map of the Tofukuji Temple Compound.

Seon monasteries in China and Japan from around the 14th century are comparable to the nominated property in terms of their application of the Cheonggyu codes to the spatial composition of the monastery, its operations, and the monastic practices taking place within it. However, these Seon monasteries have almost completely lost their materiality from the time of their construction as a Cheonggyu-based Buddhist temple. Their appearance as a Cheonggyu-based Seon monastery can be partially confirmed in historical images and drawings, however.

The nominated property is distinct from these comparable Seon temples in China and Japan since the Hoeamsa Temple site has maintained the underground structures of a temple complex from the 14th century in an intact form and therefore materially testifies to the spatial composition of a Cheonggyu-based Seon monastery. This significance of the nominated property has been confirmed both through archaeological research and historical records. The significance of the nominated property stems from its material testimony to the emerging Seon monastic system that was adopted across East Asia in the 14th century.