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Foundations for vanished 9th century Buddhist temple hall discovered in Kyoto

An artist's impression of how the Saiji temple complex appeared in the Heian period. The lecture hall is the largest of the four buildings in the center. (Image courtesy of the City of Kyoto)

KYOTO -- The stone platform upon which a 9th century Buddhist lecture hall once stood have been unearthed at the site of Saiji temple, demolished centuries ago, Kyoto city officials announced on Oct. 24.

The foundations for what is thought to have been a five-story pagoda are seen at the Saiji temple excavation site in Kyoto's Minami Ward, on Oct. 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Masateru Sawaki)

The foundation for what is thought to have been a five-story pagoda was also discovered.

According to Kyoto's department for the protection of cultural assets, this is the first time that structural remnants of the vanished temple's main buildings have been discovered. The platform stones are the first building remnants ever found from the ancient Japanese capital of Heian-kyo, as Kyoto was known during the Heian period (794-1185).

"These are very valuable findings to know about what it was really like at Saiji temple, a major temple which along with its counterpart Toji temple was one of Heian-kyo's signature structures," city officials emphasized. The "sai" in Saiji means "west," and the "to" in Toji means east.

The platform stones for a Buddhist lecture hall are seen at the Saiji temple excavation site in Kyoto's Minami Ward, on Oct. 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Masateru Sawaki)

Toji temple is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Saiji was abolished during the Kamakura period from the 12th to 14th centuries.

City authorities began the temple dig at two sites at the end of September. One consisted of two excavations totaling about 152 square meters in a park at the center of the former temple. The other extended about 174 square meters across three excavations in a residential area that was once the southwest corner of the ancient complex.

Researchers found the about 1.5-meter-tall platform stones, traces of the lecture hall's front steps, a cornerstone, four holes where cornerstones were missing, and foundation stones for walls and other structures. The platform is thought to have been built in 832.

Kindai University archaeology professor Nobuya Ami commented on the discoveries, "I was surprised that structural elements of Saiji temple remain in such good condition. It is an epochal find for understanding Heian period buildings."

(Japanese original by Masateru Sawaki, Kyoto Bureau)

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