Thursday, December 18, 2008

Buried beneath the stadium...

Igansumun (二間水門). Lots more photos are here.

The excavating around Namdaemun and Gwanghwamun has been turning up historical objects and foundations to long-lost buildings and walls, as I've mentioned before, and now it's the redevelopment at Dongdaemun stadium (which I've written about before here and here) which has revealed an important piece of Seoul's past.

Actually, this Joongang Ilbo story from October 1 (which I missed) provides more information, and starts with this premise:
With the loss of Namdaemun to arson earlier this year and the controversy surrounding the Seoul city government’s stalled decision to demolish a part of Seoul City Hall, town planners appear to be more aware of the issues of cultural preservation.

On Sept. 11, the Jungwon Cultural Properties Institute reported the discovery of Igansumun, a gate which controlled the water flow from Mount Namsan to Cheonggye Stream.
Actually, this 1776 map of Seoul shows the stream which flowed through the wall and where the Igansumun must be (Ogansumun controlled the flow of Cheonggyecheon):

We're told that "[t]he newly discovered gate is about as big as a four-story building and wide enough for a couple of buses to pass through." This photo, taken this week, gives an idea of size of the gate in comparison to the people:

It was found at the site of the old Dongdaemun Stadium, which has been torn down to make way for a new design park. Excavators at the Dongdaemun site, which was once used as a military training ground during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), also dug up about 50 meters (164 feet) of the Seoul fortress wall in September.

The fortress walls protected Seoul for hundreds of years until they were pulled down a century ago. The newly discovered section used to connect Dongdaemun to Gwanghuimun, one of the eight smaller gates built along the wall.

Cho Rok-ju of the Jungwon Cultural Properties Institute mentioned that such a discovery in a sprawling metropolis such as Seoul was a groundbreaking excavation, “probably one of the biggest excavations in terms of size and historical relevance.”
Of course, by 2010, this area is to be turned into the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park.

Another, newer view, including the maxtyle building , can be seen here.
The original plan of the design park was to replace a large portion of the stadium and build an underground cultural plaza that would connect the Dongdaemun fashion malls to the subway station and the Euljiro underground arcade.

But city planners are now waiting to see what other relics are dug up and will consider how to incorporate these finds into the original plans.

“We are putting all our efforts into further excavations to see what we can unearth. Although there are no definite changes to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park plan as of yet, we are still in the process of taking the proper steps by working with various cultural organs,” said Kim Su-jeong of the Seoul City Cultural Assets Division. Kim said that they had expected to discover some significant archeological finds prior to the discoveries at Dongdaemun. An official dig took place from Sept. 1 to 10 this year - the entire stadium had been leveled by April.
This Joongang Ilbo article has a photo of some of the relics (like pottery) that have been dug up. More examples are here and here. The article goes on to reveal (unsurprisingly) that "there could be problems ahead. Not everyone in government wants to see changes to the original plans." Before going on to look at other 'cultural preservation' topics (Gwanghwamun and Taepyeong Hall), we're told that "Lee Sung-jun of the Jungwon Cultural Properties Institute said there will be further digs. The hope is to find a further 140 meters of the fortress wall."

Photo from here.

Well, they haven't done too badly. As this article describes a previous photo,
Cultural property experts examine a 123-meter section of wall from Seoul Fortress yesterday at the former site of Dongdaemun Stadium. The site is the future home of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park. The wall was assumed to have been completely destroyed during the stadium’s construction under Japanese colonial rule, but a section, about 4.1 meters tall and eight to nine meters wide, remains.
So, in addition to the original 50 meters uncovered in September, another 73 meters have been dug up, in addition to what seem to be several building foundations. A video can be seen here.

It would be nice if the city could find some way to preserve this wall (or at least the water gate, Igansumun), but laying waste to its history is one of the things the Seoul city government does best. Why keep real, actual historical remains - or historical buildings - lying around when when you could build a new office tower or shopping center to draw more investment and tourism into the city center?

But then, perhaps all of these ongoing excavations and discoveries might help tilt the scales in favor of preservation. We call always hope.


Roboseyo said...

fingers crossed.

Brian said...

The new park doesn't look half bad. Then again I'm kind of partial to development, coming from stagnant Western Pennsylvania as I do.

But it'd be awesome to have part of an old wall in Seoul, dotted by a few old gates here and there. I'm not familiar enough with the city to know how practical that is, what with traffic and other buildings, but that'd be neat. The only other city I know what that is Xian, China, much smaller than Seoul of course, but the wall and the gates are a spectacular feature of the city.

Anonymous said...

The new park looks like a giant green vagina. I hope they incorporate this find into the new design.

Kelsey said...

I really hope they will keep this part around. Seoul, for being such a historical city, has very little history accessible to visitors. It would probably help tourism more than centre, as you said.