This fantastic temple complex may have been founded as early as 607 A.D. Apparently the temple was well-developed by the time of a disastrous fire in 670. There is some doubt about what exactly was damaged or destroyed in that fire. There is an official inventory which was made in 747. There are around 2300 buildings or objects of important cultural and historical value, among which are 190 designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.
The Nandaimon, or Great South Gate leads the visitor to the Western Precinct, surrounded by a wooden cloister, which contains the five-story pagoda, the Kondo Golden Hall and the Daikodo Great Lecture Hall. The lecture hall was burned after a lightning strike, and it was rebuilt in 990. The Kondo enshrines a very famous Shakyamuni triad. The Pagoda has deep relief sculptures, almost like dioramas, of the life of Shakyamuni and scenes of lectures and teachings by bodhisattvas.
One magazine article I read about Horyuji suggested allowing around six hours to see everything. That was out of the question for me, so I next went to the Daihozoin, the Gallery of Temple Treasures. This is a modern construction (1998) built in a traditional style, that is like a museum, with very welcome air conditioning. The objects in this museum are simply stunning. No photography of any statues or interiors of buildings is allowed. However, the Nara Tourist Association publishes very fine photos of a selection of images from various temples in its wall calendar. I took pix of the calendar, yielding poor quality images, but they give some idea of the statues in this treasure house.
Moving further to the east, I approached the Eastern Precincts, passing down a long avenue lined with earthen walls and gates enclosing smaller temples. Another major gate leads into the eastern precinct. The most famous building here is the Yumedono, the Hall of Visions. Many temples of this period have similar octagonal buildings, but this is said to be the earliest one. Another temple nearby is the Shariden, a temple where relics of the Buddha are enshrined. Neither of these buildings are open to the public, but the brochure notes that the Hall of Visions is opened for a short time in the spring and fall.
The pix always seem to come out in reverse order. At the bottom is the Inner Gate, forming part of the cloister around the Western Precincts. The two heavenly gods protect the gate. See an earlier post for pix of the Western Precincts. The next pic moving up is the avenue leading to the Eastern Precincts. The walls on either side are made of pounded earth and finished with colored clay. There are gates leading to smaller temples. The scene here is unchanged for a millenium. The next pic up is the gate leading to the Western Precincts. It is not grand, but it is in the typical style of Nara. The next pic up is the octagonal Hall of Visions. The two Buddha images are Shokannon, originally the central deity of the Hall of Visions, now it is viewable in the air-conditioned comfort of the Treasure House. Also in the Treasure House is a triad of Amida Buddha with two bodhisattvas rising out of a golden lotus pond. This triad is enshrined in a very interesting tower-shaped altar. By the way, I recently discovered that if you click on the pix in the post, you can see it displayed large. I'm still learning about Blogger!