Korea's Oldest Stone Pagoda Unveiled After 20-Year Restoration

  • By Yoo Seog-jae

    June 21, 2018 13:17

    The Mireuksaji Seoktap in Iksan, North Jeolla Province, the biggest stone pagoda in East Asia, was unveiled on Wednesday after 20 years of restoration. The project sets the record as the longest restoration in Korea of a national heritage.

    Structural safety inspections in 1998 found the pagoda, which was built in 639, unstable. The restoration process consisted of a dissection of the structure, reinforcement, and a preservation process. It cost W23 billion, the second largest amount after the restoration of the Sungnyemun or South Gate in Seoul (US$1=W1,107).

    The restored pagoda is six stories tall, contrary to some expectations that it would be restored to its original nine-story, 27 m height. Only the first and second stories, stylobate and staircase were restored to their original state. The third through sixth stories, part of which had collapsed, merely allude to the original shape with stones stacked at an angle.

    "We had no idea of what the structure above the pagoda's seventh story actually looked like," said Choi Jong-deok of the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage. "We also feared that the ancient stone would not bear the entire weight if we built more stories."

    After a heated debate, experts concluded that it would be better to partially restore the pagoda and preserve its original architectural integrity.

    The Mireuksaji stone pagoda before and after restoration

    Restoration was a grueling process, and it took three years to scrape off 185 tons of stone concrete with chisels.

    In January 2009 when the first story was dissected, workers found nearly 10,000 pieces of relics stacked inside the pagoda when it was first built. New discoveries were made continuously during the restoration process.

    Bae Byung-sun, the restoration team leader, said thanks to the project, "our restoration techniques for stone cultural properties improved so remarkably that even officials from Thailand and Cambodia came to learn from us."

    The restored Mireuksaji Seoktap is 14.5 m tall, 12.5 m wide, and weighs 1,830 tons. A total of 1,627 stones were used.

    The Cultural Heritage Administration will open the pagoda to the public in December after removing scaffolding. It will be dedicated on March 12 next year to mark its 1,380th anniversary.

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