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2012 Travel Diary #16: Silla pagodas, Korea’s first beautiful village, and Nammyeong’s tomb

Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Thursday 29 March 2012. Today is the day we start the ascent of Jirisan, but first there’s a couple of local sites of interest that I need to visit. First, the two Unified Silla dynasty stone pagodas, which are now the only remnants of Dansoksa, a temple built in the middle of the eighth century. The two pagodas, erected in 870, stood in front of what was once the main hall of the temple, said to be the location for a painting of Buddha’s pupil Vimalakirti, called God’s painting, by the famous Silla artist Sol Geo.

East and West stone pagodas of Dansoksa
East and West stone pagodas of Dansoksa – Treasures No 72 and 73

The two pagodas are Treasures number 72 and 73 on the national list administered by the Cultural Heritage Administration and are important for showing how far the double pagoda style had spread in the Unified Silla period. They were restored to their current condition in 1967 and are situated at 333, Un-ri, Danseong-myeon, Sancheong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do [Map].

Next, a re-visit to the unspoiled walled village of Namsa-ri [Map], which I had last visited in May 2010. Since then, Korea’s traditional villages have risen in prominence, with the UNESCO listing of Hahoe and Yangdong folk villages (near Andong and Gyeongju respectively) in July 2010, and the creation of a “Beautiful Village” movement in Korea, of which Namsa-ri was number 1 (한국에서 가장 아름다운 마을 제 1 호) – the first to be selected, at the inaugural meeting of the association. The association said that the village was chosen “because it preserves ancient houses of the Joseon Dynasty and traditional culture with the gorgeous Jirisan Mountain as the backdrop”.

The sign outside the village sums up some of its charms:

Reflecting life’s Wisdom: Namsa Yedam Village (남사예담촌)

The half moon-shaped village is located where Nigu Mountain, to the east of Jiri Mountain, and Sasu Stream intersect. The vlllage has been known for producing great scholars for many generations.

The village is surrounded by Dang Mountain, looking like the head of a male dragon, and Nigu Mountain, resembling the head of a female dragon. These two mountains and a lotus—shaped hill (where the two mountains overlap) envelop and protect the village.

As the home of scholars devoted to loyalty and frugal living, the village accommodates elegant traditional houses, ancient trees (some of them over 650 years old), and numerous historical and cultural resources. The rich heritage and scenic landscape make the village look like a scene in an oriental painting.

The village exudes the traditional virtues of modesty and humility. Designated as a Traditional Agricultural Theme Village in 2003, it is a wonderful place to experience the beauty of Korean culture.

A 650-year-old cherry tree in blossom
A 650-year-old cherry tree in blossom in a Namsa-ri garden

We had come to see one or two of those 650 year old trees in blossom. Their boughs needed support from steel wires, and the trees hardly had the energy to stand let alone produce blossom, but still they managed to produce a few pink flowers.

A similarly aged persimmon tree looked similarly exhausted, but a younger cherry still had plenty of life in it yet.

Namsa-ri walls
A typical view in Namsa-ri

Namsa-ri is known for the beauty of its stone walls, and in the slanting sunlight of this Spring morning they seemed to glow spontaneously. And another of its charms: because it’s further away from the tourist hotspots than the UNESCO-registered traditional villages, you can usually contemplate the surroundings in peace and quiet.

It was time to move on to another site before lunch: the burial ground of Nammyeong Jo Shik, the celebrated Confucian scholar who lived the last decade of his life in Sancheong County. He died aged 72 on 2 February 1572, and was buried on 6 April after three months of mourning.

Nammyoung's tomb
The final resting place of Nammyeong Jo Shik

The grave is set on a hill above a museum [Map] dedicated to his life and philosophy. The site of the grave was chosen by the scholar himself, and the grave of his second wife, Lady Suk, is nearby. His first wife, Lady Jeonggyeong, is buried on the hill in front of the Sanhaejeong Academy in her hometown of Gimhae, where her husband had settled down to teach his students when he was 30. Every year on the tenth day of the tenth lunar month Nammyeong’s descendents gather at his grave side to pay ritual tribute to him.

Nammyeong Jo Sik’s tomb is designated as Historic Site No.305.

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