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Restoring the Continuity of Seoul's History and Culture
07/01/2004

At the same time as the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon now in full swing, Seoul is undergoing another major transformation.  Seoul Plaza outside the City Hall and the nearby area are currently being re-arrayed into a pedestrian space.  This pedestrian plaza and streets, created smack in the middle of Seoul's historical and cultural center, will be further linked with other nodal points of Seoul's cultural life, including Bukchon, Gyeongbokgung (Palace), the Sejong Center, Deoksugung (Palace) and Namdaemun.  Moreover, once the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon is completed, this pedestrian way will reach out all the way to Cheonggyecheon, forming a veritable historic and cultural belt.  

On April 31, at the inauguration of Seoul Plaza, five new crosswalks were added to the area streets leading to Deoksugungnon(Road), Euljiro and Namdaemun neighborhoods.  Seoul residents no longer need to take painstaking detours through underground passages to go about in the area, and the urban landscape is now dramatically more pleasing.  
The Seoul Historic and Cultural Belts are designed to make possible walking tours of major monuments and historic sites of the city.  Seoulites can now get those sneakers on and explore their city and its beauties in a whole new pedestrian-friendly fashion. 

 

Bukchon - Seoul of Yore Faithfully Preserved

Bukchon is one of Seoul's neighborhoods where the olden-day Seoul's original appearances are most remarkably preserved.  Situated between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung (Palace), this historic district is a specially protected zone for its array of ancient Korean homes.  Its name 'Bukchon' (Northern Village) is a reference to its location north of Cheonggyecheon and Jongno.  Bukchon is an exclusive residential neighborhood, chiefly inhabited, during Korea's last dynasty, by royalty and upper class families.

Today, perhaps less elitist, Bukchon is developed into a traditional culture district open to all those wishing to go back in time and revisit styles and charms of bygone days.  Seoul City has been launching consistent efforts to better preserve the Bukchon Hanok (Korean House) Village and to broaden the audience for traditional culture and kindle public interest in it through the Bukchon Cultural Center.  The Bukchon Cultural Center is a noted venue for its cultural classes and workshops on a variety of subjects, taught by traditional craftsmen and even holders of intangible cultural property-classified skills and arts.  

A wonderful place to initiate oneself to the lifestyle of a traditional Korean home, Bukchon offers as many as 44 lectures and classes on topics relating to traditional culture. International visitors are sure to appreciate Bukchon's guesthouses.  This setting, vividly reproducing domestic scenes from the Joseon Period, enables its visitors to gain intimate glimpses into a lifestyle from a long-gone era.  

Gyeongbokgung - the Quintessential Joseon Palace

Almost as old as the Joseon Dynasty itself, Gyeongbokgung was built shortly after the founding of Joseon, upon the transfer of the new kingdom's capital to Seoul. Gyeongbokgung being the principal palace of Joseon, Gwanghwamun, its main gate, served the dignified function of hosting major state rituals, while Geunjeongjeon Hall was used to receive foreign envoys.  The palace compound, home to Gyeonghoeru, acknowledgedly Korea's most beautiful garden, offers a myriad of sights to see.  Given this, it is unsurprising that Gyeongbokgung is Seoul's attraction by far the most visited by international tourists.

A short walk from Gyeongbokgung, along Taepyeongno(Road), takes one to Seoul's most prestigious art and culture venue: the Seojong Center.  Having been recently remodeled, the Center has also expanded the spectrum of performing arts it offers, now staging more varied genres.  Its open-air performances, staged during weekday lunch hours, are highly popular, drawing large crowds every day.

Deoksugung the Graceful

Just 100m from Sejong Center lies Deoksugung right adjacent to Seoul Plaza.  Smaller than most other palaces in Seoul, Deoksugung compensates the modesty in size with its coziness.  The turn-of-the-century western stone edifices compounding the palace alongside traditional Korean buildings also give Deoksugung its unique charm.

There used to be a daily changing of the guard at Daehanmun, Deoksugung's principal gate, conducted every day at 2PM.  This picturesque spectacle, a favorite of international tourists as well as Seoul residents, has been temporarily interrupted, as the gate is being renovated.  The changing of the guard, currently preformed outside Donhwamun of Changdeokgung (Palace), will return to Deoksugung sometime in late December, when the restoration work is completed.  
This spectacle, reenacting the changing of the Joseon-era palace guard, is extremely popular among international visitors, who also relish being photographed after the ritual, with 

costumed guards against the backdrop of the palace.  

Finally, one should not forget to mention the small lane stretching along the palace wall, outside Daehanmun.  Certainly modest in comparison with Seoul's other celebrated sites, this snug little lane along a stone wall is much used by the city's young lovers on promenade, and has become something quintessentially associated with Seoul. These days, the lane also draws international tourists, who got wind of its je ne sais quoi charm.

Namdaemun - Seoul's Largest Traditional Market

Namdaemun Market, Seoul's largest and most representative traditional market, is situated about 500 meters away from Deoksugung. This traditional market is connected to Myeong-dong in the background by an underground passage and shopping mall.  The underground shopping mall having been recently remodeled, exploring Namdaemun along with Myeong-dong, Seoul's most bustling fashionable downtown district, is easier and more pleasant than ever.  

Cheonggyecheon, once fully restored, will be connected to Seoul's Historic and Cultural Belt.  The walking tour itinerary along the Belt will then extend all the way to the northern section of the Cheonggyecheon neighborhood.  A stone's throw from Changgyeonggung (Palace), reputed as the most beautiful palace of the Joseon Era, and minutes away from Daehangno, Seoul's theater and youth district, the Cheonggyecheon area and the vicinity promises to be a cherished spot for the city's strollers.

Walking Tour of Seoul Guided by Cultural Heritage Experts

Launched in August, last year, the 'Downtown Seoul Walking Tours with Cultural Guides' has met with highly positive responses.  

This program offers guided walking tours of Seoul's old downtown, which is to say, the area within its four city gates.  Currently, there are three guided tours: itinerary I, covering areas of Jeong-dong, from Deoksugung to Seoul Museum of History; itinerary II, covering Gyeongbokgung and its neighborhood, from Gyeongbokgung to Cheongwadae(Blue House or the presidental residence); and itinerary III, touring Changgyeonggung and the vicinity, from Jongmyo (Royal Shrine) to Changgyeonggung. Otherwise, there are two other non-guided itineraries: Daehangno tour and Namdaemun & Myeong-dong tour.  

5,700 total tourists used the cultural expert service during the past 6 months. Visiting Korea's cultural and historic sites, accompanied by experts providing learned explanations, casts new lights on monuments and attractions and awakens new interest in these legacies of the past by drawing attention to details often missed by laymen.

That is why this service is not just a wonderful tourism product for international tourists, but also a program much relished by Korean visitors.

  • Inquiries: (02) 3707-9453~4
  • Hours: 3 times a day per itinerary (10AM, 2PM, 3PM)
  • Languages spoken: Korean, English, and Japanese
  • Fee: free, not including site admission fee
 
 
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