Seokguram is an artificial Buddhist grotto on the slopes of Mount Toham in Gyeongju.
Its construction was started in 751 under the supervision of Silla’s prime minister Kim Daeseong and completed in 774. It was originally called Seokbulsa temple. Unlike the natural cave temples commonly found in China and India, Seokguram is an artificial cave temple that shows Silla’s advanced architectural engineering.
All the statues inside the grotto, including the main statue of the Buddha, are carved from granite. Granite boasts beautiful color, but its hardness causes challenges in sculpting. The statues at Seokguram are so delicately carved that they look real. Among the 38 existing statues in the grotto, the majestic main Buddha statue in the main chamber is surrounded by other statues, including the eleven-headed bodhisattva and 10 disciples. A pair of muscular guardians are carved on a wall at the entrance.
The ceiling of the main chamber is a dome shape. Creating a dome-ceiling with stacked rocks was unprecedented anywhere. Building a dome with heavy rocks requires a meticulous architectural design and science to create the necessary support. Silla’s master architects secured the ceiling by adding wedge stones at regular distances to spread the weight. Seokguram was built on bedrock with spring water underneath it, which helped to prevent condensation. Its superb preservation for over a millennium is attributed to its scientific architecture. Seokguram is a masterpiece that shows the height of Silla’s art, religion, and architecture.