The Mountain Made of a Divine Being, Climbing Mount Namsan

namsan travel

The Mountain Made of a Divine Being, Climbing Mount Namsan

Mount Namsan was originally a male  deity

One day, two deities visited the peaceful land of Gyeongju. One was a namsin(男神), a male divine being, with a dark red face and powerful bulging muscles. The other was a yeosin(女神), a female divine being, with an oval face, twinkling eyes, and a charming smile. As they surveyed beautiful Seorabeol (an ancient name for Gyeongju), the two deities cried out, "Yah! This is the land where we shall live!" Their exclamation was so loud, the fiedls of Gyeongju shook.
Startled at the noise, a girl washing clothes by a stream looked in astonishment toward the direction from which the sound had come. And what did she see but a man and a woman, as big as mountains, walking in her direction. Terrified, the girl shouted 'Look! Mountains!,' and then fainted. In her haste, instead of saying 'Look, giant people, as big as mountains!,' what she cried was 'Look! Mountains!' Startled themselves by the scream coming from the tiny creature near their feet, the two deities stopped right where they were. And, for some reason nobody knows, they were unable to move. The two deities were frozen in that spot and became mountains; and, as they had wished, they were able to live forever by the beautiful and fertile fields of Gyeongju. Legent has it that the male deity became Mount Namsan(南山), with its rugged and striking rock formations, while the female deity became Mount Mangsan(望山) rising to the west, characterized by its softness and warmth. (Source: Annals of the City of Gyeongju)

3hour sightseeing course

Samneung Valley– Sangseon-am hermitage
– Geumobong Peak(468m) – Samneung Valley

11:30Let's go!
Setting off from the Samneung Valley parking area

Last Sunday, when the weather was exceptionally fine, I hiked up Mount Namsan. For my course, I chose Samneung Valley ~ Sangseon-am hermitage (or, going a little further, Geumobong Peak), which is widely considered to be the easiest course among the thousands to choose from when hiking up Mount Namsan. Accompanying me on the hike was Michael, a friend from the genteel country of England, now spending his second year in Korea. Since the spring season was at its peak that day, a great many others were out enjoying the mountain, to the extent that at times the trail became clogged with hikers and we had to wait behind other groups of people. 

12:00Seongak Yukjonbul:
Two pairs of Buddhist triads

Encompassing the history of Gyeongju from time immemorial, Mount Namsan is the source of numerous stories and legends, so much so that it has been designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site. Mount Namsan is nothing less than a marvel, where ever step brings opportunities to be awed by images of Buddha.
The image below shows a section of Seongak Yukjonbul. 'Seongak' signifies that it is a line (seon) engraving (gak), while ‘yukjon’ means ‘six venerable figures.’ Only three of them appear in the accompanying photo. This name describes the two triads enhrined there, on two large rocks each engraved with three figures. Depicted on either side of the central Buddha figures are two Bodhisattvas, kneeling and venerating the Buddha. When you visit, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the detailed representation of the garments and ornaments they are wearing.

12:10Seongak Yukjonbul:
Two pairs of Buddhist triads

This seated stone Buddha at Mireuk Valley is a Korean national treasure. The demure and dignified expression of the seated stone Buddha suggests that we are encoutering the master of Mount Namsan, as if to say, "This is my world, my dwelling place."

12:30Sangseon-am Buddhist hermitage

Among all of Mount Namsan's treasures, the one I am happiest to see and like the best is the buddist hermitage called Sangeson-am. When I was a child, the highlight of coming to Mount Namsan used to be Sangseon-am. It was a weekend ritual to start out from Samneung Valley and then drink yajsu(natural spring water) at Sangseon-am before going back down the mountain. Back then, when I was a kid, hiking up Mount Namsan was quite a challenge. Even as we were setting out from Samneung Valley, I had just one thought on my mind--to get to Sangseon-am. When I would arrive at the hermitage and have a cool drink of yaksu, I couldn’t have felt any prouder. If my parents decided to hike further beyond Sangseon-am, I would just quietly wait there, sticking close to the hermitage, and never laying eyes on the world beyond Sangseon-am. This time, I went all the way to Geumobong Peak. But to me, Sangseon-am still signifies the summit and highlight of Mount Namsan, and that is the place I most want to visit.

12:40Ma-ae relief of Sakyamuni

Ascending a short distance beyond Sangseon-am, you'll  find the “Ma-ae-seokga-yeorae-jwasang,” a relief carving of a seated Sakyamuni, looking out over Gyeongju. How might this human world appear in Buddha’s eyes? Where does his gaze land, and what is at the place his mind is traveling to? In my eyes, Gyeongju was beautiful like a classical brush-and-ink drawing.


13:10Geumobong Peak

We reached our designated goal,Geumobong Peak. Mount Namsan’s highest peak is Gowibong Peak (494m), and Geumobong is the second highest peak at 468m. On Geumobong Peak, hikers were capturing the moment with their cameras to commemorate their journeys.
I also was able to meet Mr. Sung-gon Kim, Mount Namsan’s caretaker and guardian. In fluent English, he explained various things about Mount Namsan to my companion, Michael. Mr. Kim, who works for the Gyeongju National Park Office, acts as a guide and manages Mount Namsan. He also imposes fines on people who litter or engage in other prohibited behavior. He told me that it was a great pleasure for him to introduce Mount Namsan to foreign visitors.

14:20Coming down the mountain!
Geumobong Peak → Samnueng

After enjoying the view of Gyeongju from the peak, we descended towards Samneung Valley, going back on exactly the same trails we had climbed up. When we got to Samneung Valley, there was an MBC broadcast reporter doing a piece on the large number of hikers who had come on account of the great weather. That big crowd of visitors visiting Mount Namsan because of the nice weather included me, too, I guess! If you want to quash your winter cabin fever and stretch your poor confined body, why not plan a weekend outing to enjoy the fresh spring air and mountain breezes?

* photography by Michael Harrison

Three ways to hike up Mount Namsan

 Unos, holding hands

 Dos, gripping ropes

Tres, resting on your Dad's back


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