One of the most famous sights in the land, the eighty-thousand-plus wooden blocks of Buddhist doctrine known as the Tripitaka Koreana were first carved out in the eleventh century, over a 76-year period, in an attempt to curry the favour of the Buddha in a time of perpetual war. Though the originals were destroyed by rampaging Mongol hordes in the thirteenth century, the present set were carved shortly after that, and once again every possible measure was taken to please the Buddha. The best wood in the area was tracked down then soaked for three years in seawater before being cut to shape and boiled. The slabs then spent another three years being sheltered from sun and rain but exposed to wind, until they were finally ready for carving. Incredibly, not a single mistake has yet been found in over fifty million Chinese characters, a fact that led other countries to base their own Tripitaka on the Korean version. A superb feat of craft, patience and devotion, the outer spines of these blocks are still visible today at Haeinsa temple, and the set has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

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