Seven Sansa or Buddhist mountain monasteries in Korea were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list at a World Heritage Committee meeting in Manama, Bahrain last week.
They were added beside eight other cultural properties including hidden Christian sites in Japan’s Nagasaki region and the Al-Ahsa Oasis in Saudi Arabia.
The monasteries “offer a distinctively Korean instantiation of Buddhist monastic culture from the 7th century to the present day,” the WHC announced. “Together the seven temples contain the elements necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of Korean Buddhist mountain monasteries, including their mountain settings, well-preserved buildings for religious practice and daily living, worship halls and shrines, meditation areas, monastic academy spaces and dormitories for monks.”
They are the Tongdo Temple in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, Buseok Temple in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Bongjeong Temple in Andong, North Gyeongsang, Beopju Temple in Boeun, North Chungcheong Province, Magok Temple in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, Seonam Temple in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, and Daeheung Temple in Haenam, South Jeolla.
This brings the total number of Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage sites to 13.
Korean authorities decided to bring the seven temples scattered across the country together under the name of Sansa instead of filing separate applications.
“We decided that it would be better to introduce these Korean temples to the international community together as Sansa, or mountain monasteries, by bringing their universal historic value into focus, despite each being a temple with its own outstanding value,” said Kim Ji-hong of the Cultural Heritage Administration.
“Sansa are an important feature of East Asian Buddhism. They’re places where religious practice and daily living take place at the same time,” said Prof. Chung Byung-sam of Sookmyung Women’s University.
The WHC advised the temples to work out a plan to deal with added non-cultural structures in their compounds, maintain their buildings and manage tourists, and to consult with the committee prior to building new facilities.
Even new toilets could in theory require UNESCO approval to maintain the integrity of the sites.