Historic, Cultural Trip to Seongbuk-dong
By Han Sang-hee
For tourists, Korea is full of undiscovered places with interesting histories ― and one of those neighborhoods is Seongbuk-dong.
Located in the northeastern part of Seoul, Seongbuk-dong has hidden treasures and attractions, some historical, others cultural.
Take a break from work, and stroll along the Bugak Skyway or enjoy tea at one of the oldest cafes in Seoul.
The Fortress Wall of Seoul
The fortress wall of Seoul was built during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) and was aimed at protecting the city from invasions. The wall was built over Mt. Bugak, Mt. Naksan, Mt. Namsan and Mt. Inwang and was originally 18.2 kilometers long.
In 1899, parts of it were destroyed and now only 10.5 kilometers remain.
The fortress originally had four grand gates ― Dongdaemun, Doneuimun, Sungnyemun and Sukjeongmun. Dongdaemun and Sukjeongmun still stand today, while Doneuimun has been destroyed. Sungnyemun is currently under reconstruction after being destroyed in an arson attack last year.
Visitors can find various flora and fauna along the wall, and also explore its wonders and beauty. Etchings on the stones show the construction process, from the date to the builder's name.
The fortress wall and area around Mt. Bugak were closed to the public for 38 years due to security reasons, but were finally reopened to the public in 2007.
As it is near the Blue House, you may be asked to show identification, so be prepared. The fortress wall opening hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the Cultural Heritage Administration offers tours most days except Mondays.
To get to the wall, leave by exit 2 of Anguk Station on line 3, take the green bus No. 02 and get off at Sungkyunkwan University. For more information, visit www.bukak.or.kr.
Sukjeongmun gate is located at the northern part of the wall and was built as a secret passageway between Yangju and Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. As it was known to have negative energy and also represent water, it was not commonly used by the public, and was only open during droughts and closed during floods. Entry had been prohibited to the public after armed spies attacked the area, but it has now been reopened. The gate visitors see today was reconstructed in 1976.
Jeongbeop and Kilsang Temples
Jeongbeop Temple is located in the eastern part of the neighborhood and is the oldest temple in Seongbuk-dong. No historic records have been found regarding the temple, but historians presume that it was built during the early 1920s after recovering and dating the temple bell and paintings. Although the temple is located in the busy district of the neighborhood, it is famous for its tranquility and also numerous paintings of Buddha and other religious artwork. For more information, visit www.jbtemple.org.
Kilsang Temple is famous for the Kilsang Seonwon, or Seon Center, which is used for meditation. It was built in 1997, and although it is not big in size, it offers various activities, from concerts and meditation sessions to temple stay programs. For more information, visit www.kilsangsa.or.kr.
Seongnakwon is one of the Joseon Kingdom's representative and few remaining, villas in Seoul. Famous for its beauty and the impeccable detail of its buildings, Seongnakwon was originally used as the villa for Minister Shim Sang-eung under the rule of King Cheoljong (1831-1863). It was then used as a detached palace for King Uiwang (1877-1955). A forest of zelkova, pine, oak and maple trees, along with a waterfall, garden and lake, surrounds the villa.
The Old House of Yi Tae-jun and Choi Sun-u's Hanok
The old house of Yi Tae-jun, also known as Suyeongsanbang, is the first traditional teahouse that was renovated from an ordinary hanok, or a Korean traditional house, in Korea. Yi's granddaughter was in charge of the renovation, and although the teahouse is not spacious compared to other modern cafes around the neighborhood, it holds an important tradition, both in teahouses and also in respect to the famous writer. There are a total of six tables where visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery of Mt. Bukak and its surroundings.
Yi is considered one of the writers who established modern Korean literature, making his debut in 1925 with his novel ``Omongnyeo.''
To get to the teahouse, get off at Hansung University station on subway line 4. Leave by exit 6 and take bus No. 85. Get off at Taego Temple and walk straight.
Choi Sun-u, the former director of the National Museum of Korea, lived in a hanok that was built in the 1920s, complete with the main building and an annex house facing each other. The main house resembles the Korean letter ``ㄱ,'' while the annex looks like the letter ``ㄴ,'' making the hanok resembling ``ㅁ'' as a whole. The front yard displays various flowers and trees, along with stoneware and traditional household appliances used by the owner and his family, perfectly preserved. The traditional house was at the verge of being destroyed after the owner's death, following the trend of demolishing traditional houses and renovating them as Westernized, but the National Trust Cultural Heritage Fund, Korea, bought the buildings. As the first cultural heritage preserved by citizens, the house is a perfect spot to explore how Koreans lived traditionally in the modern world.
The house is located near Hansung University on subway line 4, exit 6. Take the 1111 or 2112 bus and get off Hongik middle and high school.
Samcheonggak was originally a famous salon employing gisaeng, or Korean female entertainers, where behind-the-scenes political meetings took place during the 1970s and '80s. In 2000, the Seoul metropolitan government designated the area and the buildings as cultural facilities and transformed them into a cultural haven. Samcheonggak became a traditional performance hall ― with various performances and events being held every day ― a meeting hall, a restaurant and teahouse. To get there, take the Seoul City Bus that stops at Deoksugung Palace, the Seoul Press Center, Kyobo Book Store, Insa-dong and Gyeongbok Palace. For more information, visit www.3pp.co.kr or call (02) 765-3700.
The Bugak Skyway is a spiral shaped road that follows the ridges of Mt. Bugak. First opened in 1968, it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish by car, but the road can be much better appreciated on foot. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery the road offers, which is a rare opportunity in a metropolitan city. Walking along the sidewalk constructed by the Seongbuk-gu Office, you can get a glimpse of Mt. Bukhan, the Han River and Seoul.