Yeosu City's  Dolsan-do Island
the incredibly-situated far-south "Sunrise Hermitage"
Hyangil-am is an unusually-beautiful hermitage perched on a gigantic pile of boulders on the
eastern tip of
Geum-o-san [Golden-Crow Mountain] (summit 323m), in the southeast corner of
Dolsan-do [Stone-Mountain Island].  Dolsan-myeon District can be driven-to across the
Dolsan-dagyo Bridge from the southeast foot of the 30-km Yeosu Peninsula.  Truly a long long drive to get there!
-- but well-worthwhile.  In addition to its breathtaking views from the cliffs out over the pure blue sea, it's famous
as one of Korea’s 33 main shrines for veneration of
Gwanse-eum-bosal the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
On the morning of Sunday December 20th 2009, an accidental fire destroyed three of the major
shrines of the Hyangil-am complex -- a fairly common thing in Korea's history of wooden temple-
buildings.  Thankfully, nobody was killed or even injured.  Despite this minor tragedy, Yeosu
officials said that the annual New Year's Sunrise Festival will still be held.  We can be sure the
halls will be rebuilt soon, with donated funds — this is a much-loved sacred site of Korea.
These photos and the info on the fire was posted by Robert Neff on the Marmot's Hole Blog.
True to its name, in modern times Hyangil-am has become famous for the Korean folk-spirtual custom of praying for
good-fortune (or wisdom) while watching the sunrise – especially on New Year’s dawn (either Solar or Lunar).  Every
winter, up to 100,000 Koreans might visit here for that -- the crowding and parking on Dec 31st is always a problem.  
The city government holds the annual two-day Yeosu Hyangil-am Sunrise Festival at that time.  This includes modern
and folk-Shamanic events such as Opening Ceremony (with Wish-making Candle-lighting), "Year-End Gilnori", Theme
Videos, Creative Drama, Watch-Night Bell Tolling with VIPs, a Campfire gathering, the Ganggang Suweolrae Dance,
a Talent Show, the Cheongo Binari Shamanic-Exorcism, and a Sunrise-Greeting Ceremony.
The 2009-12 Fire:
Its foundation is attributed to Great Master Wonhyo in 644 CE, but evidence for this is sketchy.  It is said that
its original name was
Wontong-am [All-Around Hermitage], and sometimes called "Holy Turtle Hermitage"
because the rocky landscape looks like turtle-shell texture.  It burned down in 1714, and upon being rebuilt
the next year about 1715 the name was changed to
Hyangil-am,  which means "Sun-Facing Hermitage" --
could be interpreted as Sunrise-Viewing -- both with all the spiritual implications those names would suggest.
This temple is now part of the Dado-hae Coastal National Park.  
It's certainly the most famous place of the Yeosu area, and is
sure to be much-visited during Yeosu’s 2012 World Expo...
view up the southeastern coast of Dolsan Island from Hyangil-am
the railing over the stairway features 33 crude carved-stone turtles!
The excellently-painted but rather ordinary-motifs modern icon of the Spirit of Geum-o-san, host-mountain of
Hyang-il-am, is in the
Samseong-gak [Three Sages Shrine] -- whose signboard was written with golden paint.
The long stairways up climax at a natural-gate of gigantic boulders, and the views are constantly stunning.
Hyangil-am also sees quite a lot of worship of the Yong-wang [Dragon-King of the Waters],
a figure closely associated with Gwanse-eum-bosal (Avalokiteśvara) in both Korean Buddhism and folk-
tales.   In the main icon above the Yong-wang sits on his undersea throne attended by his daughter, a
Minister and two
dongja boys, while Gwanseum-bosal rides in on a blue Haetae [dragon-lion] and white
cloud, with a twisting blue dragon above him -- all continuing the main religious themes of this holy place.
In the Gwaneum Hall
itself, Yong-wang sits to
the left of the Bodhisattva
while a
dongja attendant
is on the right.
Legend has it that Great Master Wonhyo came to this site for a period of
intensive meditation -- which adds to Hyangil-am's sacred reputation.