Destination: Dongdaemun Culture and History Park
Although the larger part of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza won't open until 2011, the nearby Dongdaemun Culture and History Park recently opened in late October. Still hidden from the crowded Dongdaemun street, this newly completed area impresses with attention to detail.
Across the street from Migliore, Hello apm, Doota, and hidden behind a still-under-construction Dongdaemun Design Plaza, there’s little indication of anything being finished. It’s here that the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park has recently been opened.
The haechi greet you – those mythical but friendly creatures Seoul has chosen to adopt. In true recycling-friendly fashion, these same two exhibits of flattened plastic bottles are the same ones that graced the recent Design Olympiad at Jamsil Baseball Stadium.
The ‘park’ part of the area is meant to give some idea of how the land was used as a military training ground – recall that Dongdaemun (‘East Great Gate’) was one of the more important gates into Seoul before the Japanese occupation. The area that the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park will sit used to be a branch of Hullyeongdogam (훈련도감), or the ‘Special Directorate for Military Training’. It was here that about 20 government buildings were discovered, along with a tile-covered footpath and a pond that was part of a garden.
(For those not in Korea, the walls were first constructed in 49 days by a countryful of farmers during their off-time in 1396. A couple renovations over the centuries later, the walls were destroyed during the Japanese occupation in 1926. The Japanese built a sports stadium on the site; after World War II, it became Seoul Stadium, which held a number of sporting events. After Jamsil Baseball Stadium was built for the 1988 Olympics, Dongdaemun Stadium didn't get as much use, and was eventually demolished in 2007.)
A restored part of the Seonggwak, or fortress wall. First constructed in 1396, the wall originally connected four mountains in the Seoul area – Naksan, Inwangsan, Namsan, and Bukaksan – and went on for over 18 kilometers. Most of the walls were torn down after the Japanese invaded in the early 20th century. Only the walls in the mountains were left standing. The restoration project has been ongoing since 1975 in a quest to become recognized as a world cultural asset.
The area still has that ‘new park’ look and feel to it, but seems ready for visitors to learn something of the area’s past in preparation for the area’s future. It’s a little disappointing to see some of the recreations unfinished, but several other offerings make it worth a trip.
Directions to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park: Take line 2, 3, or 5 of the Seoul subway system to the Dongdaemun Stadium station. Take exit 1 to street level, then make a U-turn to the right. Follow the construction wall for about 200 meters until you see the information center. Walk another 200 meters to find the entrance to the park. Free admission; most buildings open from 10am - 9pm. Wheelchair / stroller friendly.
© Chris Backe - 2009