Dodeokam Hermitage – 도덕암 (Gyeongju)
Dodeokam Hermitage is located on the eastern slopes of Mt. Dodeoksan (707.5 m) in northern Gyeongju. It’s believed that the hermitage was first founded during the reign of King Gyeongdeok of Silla (r. 742-765 A.D.). Additionally, Dodeokam Hermitage was one of twelve hermitages that belonged to Jeonghyesa Temple, which is now known as the Jeonghyesa-ji Temple Site because all that remains of the former temple is the uniquely designed thirteen-story stone pagoda.
During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Lee Eon-jeok (1491-1553), a philosopher and politician, stayed at Jeonghyesa Temple and Dodeokam Hermitage. It’s here that he purportedly studied. Dodeokam Hermitage is also where the memorial tablet for the Gyeongju Hyanggyo was kept during the Imjin War (1592-1598). And Dodeokam Hermitage remained a small hermitage from the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) to the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). And this smaller size continues to the present day.
You first make your way up to Dodeokam Hermitage up a long country road that ends at an even steeper mountain road that zig-zags its way up Mt. Dodeoksan. When you finally arrive at the hermitage, the first thing to greet you is a historic two-story haeuso bathroom. Past this historic wooden bathroom is the main hermitage courtyard that hugs the contours of the mountainous landscape.
The first thing to greet you in the lower courtyard at Dodeokam Hermitage is a stone image dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha) that sits to your left on a stone lotus pedestal. Just past this statue is a newly built compact Chilseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is a solitary mural that hangs in the centre of the main altar dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The central figure of the Chilseong mural has an image of Jeseok-cheon (Indra) being surrounded by a golden light.
To the right of the Chilseong-gak Hall is the Daeung-jeon Hall. Like the Chilseong-gak Hall, the Daeung-jeon Hall is compact in size. The exterior walls of the main hall are adorned with intricate dancheong colours up near the eaves. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a main altar populated by three images. The first of these statues, and resting in the centre, is an image dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Seokgamoni-bul is joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Also housed inside the Daeung-jeon Hall is the temple’s Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
The only other temple shrine hall at Dodeokam Hermitage is the Sanshin-gak Hall. To find this shaman shrine hall, you’ll need to backtrack back to the haeuso bathroom. From there, you should see a trailhead that leads up the mountain and towards the Sanshin-gak Hall. Midway up is a wooden deck that looks out towards the expansive horizon. A little further up, and you’ll come to the Sanshin-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is an older-looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Sanshin is joined by a placid tiger. And just out in front of the Sanshin-gak Hall is a cluster of rocks. It’s from this vantage point that you get some amazing views of the valley and East Sea off in the distance. But watch your step, it’s a bit treacherous.
How To Get There
From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus #203 for forty-six stops, which will last one hour and twenty minutes. Get off at the Oksan 1-ri stop. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll then need to walk 2.6 km, or 1 hour and fifteen minutes, to get to Dodeokam Hermitage. Either that, or if you’re extremely lucky, you can catch a taxi from the Oksan 1-ri stop. The ride will take about 10 minutes, and it’ll cost you around 4,000 won (one way).
Overall Rating: 4/10
The main highlight to Dodeokam Hermitage are all of the amazing views. There are multiple locations at the hermitage that you can enjoy the beautiful Korean countryside. In addition to all of the hermitage’s beautiful natural surroundings are the shaman murals housed inside the Sanshin-gak Hall and the Chilseong-gak Hall, as well as the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) housed inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.