In early 2008, Sungnye-mun (commonly referred to as Namdae-mun), one of Korea’s most important cultural landmarks, was destroyed in a devastating arson attack. The shocking event was a national tragedy and has been engraved into the collective Korean consciousness. Today, people are able to immediately remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that the gate, which is very much linked to Korea’s identity, had been destroyed. The attack ultimately destroyed much of the gate’s wooden roof, which at the time was the oldest wooden structure in Korea.Now, after more than 5 years of extensive restoration, the iconic Sungnye-mun, meaning “Gate of Exalted Ceremonies,” has reopened to great fanfare with a visit from South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye. During much of its restoration, the gate remained behind scaffolding, which intentionally obscured it from view, making its return to the Seoul landscape all the more welcome.
Originally built in 1398, its intended purpose was to control access to the capital, welcome foreign diplomats and protect the city from Siberian Tigers. During Japanese occupation, from which the gate received its controversial “Dongdae-mun” name, the surrounding walls were destroyed as the Crown Prince of Japan saw himself as too honorable to pass under the gate. Today, it sits in the middle of a grand intersection in the heart of the metropolis, dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers, symbolic of South Korea’s constant struggle between its modern aspirations and ties to tradition.
Getting to Singnye-mun is incredibly easy, just get to either City Hall subway station and go straight out exit 8 or to Seoul Station and go straight out of exit 3 or 4. The gate is roughly a 10 – 15 minute walk from any of those locations.
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