Cultural Geography of Jiri-san
the Exquisite-Wisdom Mountain
Jiri-san is one of the most famous, and probably the most-sacred, group of mountains in all
of Korea.  It is highly worth a visit in itself during any season, and a rewarding hiking
destination for pilgrims and explorers.  It is the terminus of
the Baekdu-daegan Mountain
system, and for most trekkers the great trail begins here at the eastern slopes.  The Jiri
Mountains are a great national treasure, holding a vast natural, cultural and spiritual wealth.  

Most of this sprawling alpine region is a National Park -- Korea's oldest and still the largest
mountain-based one, covering just a little over 470 square kilometers.  It was designated at
the end of December 1967 by President Park Chung-hee, inaugurating South Korea's bold
and innovative National Parks program.  It was chosen for this honor due to its outstanding
natural features and cultural sites, its prominent role in national history, its continuing high
reputation among all Koreans and in order to relieve the poverty of its rural residents.

The ridgelines extend outside the Park boundaries into various districts of Gurye County
of South Jeolla Province, Namwon City of North Jeolla Province, and Hadong County,
Samcheong County and Hamyang County of South Gyeongsang Province.  This is the
only mountain in Korea included in five different counties and cities.

These gigantic and prominent mountains dominate the entire southern quarter of the Korean
Peninsula and divide it into separate provinces.  It has served as both the military and
spiritual "guardian" mountain of the entire south-coast region between Jinju City and
Gwangju City, with several sites of former military fortresses on its slopes.  It creates both
the scenic Seomjin-gang River that flows to the south coast, and the Imcheon-gang River to
its north.  It holds a primary position in what we might call the "
sacred geography of Korea".


The Jiri Mountains feature three main summits, named Cheonwang-bong, Banya-bong
and Nogo-dan, all considered highly sacred – and a total of more than three dozen peaks
over their own distinct cultural character and reputation, with associated myths or legends.  
People talk about Jiri-san as if it's just one mountain, but it's really a massive cluster of
mountains under one name, with seven distinct sets of ridgelines and peaks:

•        the Eastern Main Ridge with Cheonwang-bong (1915m) as its summit, and many
lesser but still substantial and mighty peaks along it, beginning the Baekdu-daegan;

•        the Central Main Ridge with Banya-bong as its summit (1751m) and Nogo-dan
Peak (1507m) forming its western end, with Samdo-bong (1530m) connecting it to the
Eastern Main Ridge and continuing the Baekdu-daegan;

•        the Northwestern Main Ridge starting at Nogo-dan Peak and running north through
Manbok-dae Peak (1433m) and then bringing the Baekdu-daegan out of Jiri-san and on
to the north through Namwon City territories;

•        the Southeastern Spur starting from the center of the Eastern Main Ridge, led by
Samshin-bong (1284m) and then starting the Naknam-jeongmaek Range, and defining
the topography of Hadong County;

•        three parallel Southwestern Spurs originating from the Central Main Ridge from
Samdo-bong to Nogo-dan, creating the deep distinctive valleys of Gurye County;

•        two small Northeastern Spurs starting near Cheonwang-bong and running
through high but little-visited wilderness peaks down to the Imcheon-gang River,
creating beautiful gorges in southern Hamyang County;

•        the Northern Central Spur starting from the west part of the Eastern Main Ridge,
climaxing at Samjeong-bong (1225m) and then ending at Mansu-cheon Stream.


These clusters of ridges and peaks form dozens of valleys, gorges and slopes, each with
their own distinctive character, containing over a hundred temples, shrines and historic sites.


These form
12 Major Sectors of valleys, gorges, ridges, slopes, temples & shrines (below).
Jiri-san's location at the bottom of the Korean peninsula, on a satellite photo --
its lofty peaks are the brown spots clearly visible in the upper center of this picture.
The white areas indicate civilization, not snow...
12 Main Sectors,
with Major Temples & Shrines:

Far-Southwest:  west of Nogo-dan
Cheoneun-sa -- Hidden-Valley Temple
small Hermitages around Cheoneun-sa
Sandong Valley with Surak Waterfall
Jukrim-jeongsa
Sudo-am, with the nation's largest Sanshin-gak
the Legend of Chail-bong Peak
Sangseon-am, the remote Upper Sanctuary
Nogo-dan -- Crone-Altar Peak


Central-Southwest:  below Nogo-dan
Hwaeom-sa
Temple of the Flower-Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra
The Hermitages of Hwaeom-sa
Southern Munsu-sa
O-san Saseong-am, the Four-Sages Hermitage
with its Doseon-gul Cave
Taean-sa, Meditation Retreat


Eastern-Southwest:
Yeon-gok-sa
the Stupa of Doseon-daesa?
Pia-gol Scenic Valley
Bullak-sa, Hansan-sa & Cheonwang-sa


Central-South  (W of Samshin-bong):
Ssanggye-sa, the Twin-Streams Monastery
Monument written by Choi Chi-won at Ssanggye-sa
Korea's Green Tea Center, outside Ssanggye-sa
Guksa-am -- the National-Master Hermitage
Bulil Hermitage and Waterfall
Chilbul-sa, the Seven-Buddhas Temple
Daeseong-gyegok, the Great Sage Scenic-Gorge
Jitong-sa in Bucheon-ri Valley


Far-South  (Hadong, below Samshin-bong):
Cheonghak-dong: the Azure-Crane Village
with Three Sages Palace - Korea's Daoist Utopia
1993 Cheonje Festival       1999 Cheonje Festival
the Middle and Lower Cheonghak-dong Valley
Akyang-myeon District
Hadong Town Temples


Inner-Southeast -- SW Sancheong County:
Cheonhwang-bong:  the Heavenly-King Peak
The National-Holy-Grandmother San-shin
Beobgye-sa Temple, one of Korea's highest

Temples & Shrines of the Naedae-cheon Valley:
Seokcheon-sa, Cheongcheon-am, Cheonwang-am,
Gwanryong-am,  Sanshin-Halmae-dang  and Gilsang-am


Eastern -- Southwestern Sancheong County:
Daewon-sa
Naewon-sa
Hermitages & Shrines of the Naewon Valley
Jangdang-gol Gorge of the Samjang Stream
Jeonggak-sa and Etc. in the Far-Southeast
Baekun-gyegok, White Cloud Scenic-Valley with Yongmun-sa
Namsa-cheon-gol, South Shrine Stream Valley with Dansok-saji


Far-Northeast -- Central Sancheong County:
Wang-san, the King's Tomb Mountain
with Muryang-sa / Wangrim-sa and
Wangbok-sa
Ungseok-bong, the Bear-Stone Peak
with Shimjeok-sa and Oknyeo-am

Inner-Northeast -- Southern Hamyang County:
Byeoksong-sa and West Hermitage
the Seven-Immortals Gorge
Beobhwa-san, the Dharma-Blossom Mountain
Ssukbatje slopes & Imchin-gang River:
North Munsu-sa,  Jeokjo-am and etc.
Gyeonbul-sa, major new "Viewing Buddha Temple"
Eastern Macheon-myeon District:
Baekmu-dong & Hanshin Scenic Valleys
Myeongseon-bong & Hyeongje-bong Peaks, Byeokso-ryeong Pass w/
Baemshil-saem Spring, Deokpyeong-bong & Seonbi-saem Spring
Chilseon-bong, Yeongshin-bong & Chottae-bong Peaks,
Seseok-pyeongjeon Field & Seseok-cheon Spring


Upper-North:  Samjeong-bong
Shilsang-sa, one of the Gusan Zen Temples
Yaksu-am, Geumdae-am, Anguk-am,
Seojin-am and Baekjang-am Hermitages
Western Macheon-myeon District:
Yeongwon-sa  and  Godam-sa
Sambul-sa, Munsu-am,  Sangmuju-am and Dosol-am
Other Shrines in the Area


Inner Northwest:
Baemsa-gol Scenic Valley and Samdo-bong Peak
Banya-bong, Peak of Prajna Wisdom
Myohyang-am, the Mystical-Fragrance Hermitage
Shrines in the Unbong-myeon District
Deokchi-ri Pass BDDG Monument
Juji-sa and Yeowon-am
Manbok-dae, Gori-bong, Segeol-bong, Barae-bong & Deokdu-bong
Hwangsan Victory Monument at Hwasu-ri Village
Bloody Rock at Hwang-san

Outer Northwest:
Yongdam-sa and the other Temples of
Namwon, Korea's City of Romance
Man-in Shrine for Imjin War Heroes
Deokeum-am Hermitage
Shrines of the Northwestern Slopes
The 3 Greatest
Ancient Buddhist
Temples of Jiri-san
(within all South Korea's
"
Top-20 Monasteries", each
with a cluster of Hermitages
):

Nogo-dan   Hwaeom-sa

Samshin-bong  Ssanggye-sa

Samjeong-bong  Shilsang-sa
Korea's most-sacred mountain,  Supreme out of all South Korea's "Top 12" Mountains
Dongri-san  Taean-sa
Gurye O-san Saseong-am
Nogo-dan  Cheoneun-sa
Cheoneun-sa's  Sudo-am
Cheoneun-sa's Sangseon-am
Hwaeom-sa's  Namak-sa Shrine
Hwaeom-sa's Jijang-am
Hwaeom-sa's Geumjeong-am
Samdo-bong  Yeongok-sa
Toggi-bong  Chilbul-sa
Ssanggye-sa's Guksa-am
Ssanggye-sa's Bulil-am
Cheonghak-dong Samseong-gung
20 Major "new"
Temples, Shrines or
around Jiri-san:
Cheoneun-sa's  Dogye-am
Cheoneun-sa's  Samil-am
Hwaeom-sa's  Yeongi-am
Gurye's  South Munsu-sa
Yeongok-sa's  Bullak-sa
Yeongok-sa's  Hansan-sa
Yeongok-sa's  Cheonwang-sa
Cheonghak-dong  Jinju-am
Naedae-gol Sanshin-halmae-dang
Naedae-gol  Gilsang-am
Naedae-gol  Seokcheon-sa
Beobgye-sa's  Cheonwang-sa
Ju-san  Jeonggak-sa
Byeoksong-sa's  Seo-am
South Beobhwa-sa
Hamyang's  North Munsu-sa
Hamyang-gun  Gyeonbul-sa
Hamyang-gun  Sambul-sa
Hamyang-gun  Muju-am
Banya-bong's  Myohyang-am
See the Sector listings below, or the Map, for links to these places, if I
have pages about them up yet.  What are called "Ancient" in these
listings means temples that were founded before 1900 CE, according to
information contained in
The Dictionary of Korean Buddhist Temples,
published by Bulgyo-shidaesa, Seoul, in 1991 (ISBN# 89-8002-024-4-01220).   
If it's not listed in that book, I list it here as "new".

Cheonhwang-bong Beopgye-sa
Cheonhwang-bong Naewon-sa
Cheonhwang-bong Daewon-sa
Cheonhwang-bong Byeoksong-sa
Beophwa-san North Beophwa-sa
Samjeong-bong Yeongwon-sa
Yeongwon-sa's Godam-sa
Yeongwon-sa's Sangmuju-am
Yeongwon-sa's Dosol-am
Shilsang-sa's Yaksu-am
Shilsang-sa's Seojin-am
Shilsang-sa's Baekjang-am
Namwon City  Yongdam-sa
The 26 other Great Ancient Temples and
Hermitages encircling the Jiri Mountains

(listed counter-clockwise, starting from the SW):
Twelve great Buddhist temples and around 40 smaller ones are found around the slopes,
with several Neo-Confucian and Shamanic shrines.
From Google Earth:
Directly south of Jiri-san's central peaks and the Southeastern Spur, across the Seomjin River
and therefore disconnected, but otherwise seeming to be an extension, is another mighty and
sacred mountain-complex --
Baegun-san  [White Clouds Mtn, a.k.a. Baegunsan] of Gwangyang City.

West:  Surak-pokpo
South:  Bulil-pokpo
Northeast:  Guryong-pokpo