The Namsan Science Museum, the former Children’s Center

In 2012, Seoul City restored part of the Seoul Fortress Wall and the Namsan Mountain ridge as part of the Namsan Renaissance Project. Korea’s first Children’s Center stands at the end of the mountain ridge that connects the site of a playground to Baekbeom Square, still preserving its old glory.
In 1970, when it was completed and opened to the public, the 18-story “skyscrapers” with an observatory on top that rotates once per hour was a castle of dreams for children. Several hundreds of thousands of children flocked to Namsan Mountain to visit the Children’s Center everyday as Korea at that time was virtually devoid of cultural facilities for children. Unfortunately, the Children’s Center could not accommodate them all and had to be closed temporarily three days after its opening. Asia’s largest children’s center equipped with cutting-edge science and technology was a paradise for children. Now, it continues to make its presence felt as the Namsan Branch of Seoul Science Park.

Namsan Public Library, Korea’s first public library

With Japan’s cultural control in the 1920s, restrictions on the press were eased and modern libraries emerged in Korea. The Gyeongseong Prefecture Library (the former Namsan Public Library), Korea’s first public library, was established amid such social circumstances. A result of Japanese colonial reform policy, the Namsan Public Library was a haven for Korean people with a thirst for knowledge. On October 6, 1922, the Gyeongseong Prefecture Library opened its doors in the former Hanseong Hospital, in Myeong-dong, but moved to the Daegwanjeong Building, in Sogong-dong, in May 1927. The library was renamed the “Gyeongseong Prefecture Namdaemun Library” on December 19, 1945, and the “Seoul Municipal Namdaemun Library” on September 28, 1946. The library was then moved to its present location on Namsan Mountain on January 27, 1965, and has been open to the public as the “Namsan Public Library” since that time. The five-story ferroconcrete Namsan Public Library building is a large cultural hall equipped with a collection of over 7,000 books, an audiovisual room, an exhibition hall, and a music room with a total capacity of 1,602 seats.
Beginning as a library with some 2,000 books and a capacity of 60 seats, the Namsan Public Library is now a major full-service library that boasts a collection of over 500,000 books. During the Japanese colonial period, the Namsan Public Library was a place that gave wings to the dreams of young students, but now serves as an important part of Korean history.

The National Theater of Korea, the first cultural space in Namsan

Nestled at the foot of Namsan Mountain on Jangchungdan-ro, Jung-gu, the National Theater of Korea, built in the 1970s, is the first cultural space built solely with Korean technology, at a time when Korea’s economic development was at its peak. Asia’s first national theater opened on April 29, 1950; however, the Korean War broke out 58 days later and the theater was moved to Daegu during the war. On June 1, 1957, a Seoul City building was used as the national theater and named Myeongdong National Theater (the present Myeongdong Theater). In 1966, President Park Chung-Hee announced the plan for the construction of a national cultural complex centered on Namsan. Designed by the architect Lee Hee-Tae (1925~1981), the present-day National Theater of Korea in Namsan Mountain was completed nearly six years after the groundbreaking ceremony in 1967. The original plan to create a cultural complex in Namsan was revised, and only the National Theater of Korea and a traditional Korean music training center were built in the Namsan area. The National Theater of Korea features pilotis reminiscent of Gyeonghoeru in Gyeongbokgung Palace and ribbed eaves linked to the row of 14 columns, creating a rhythmic, three-dimensional effect. The Museum consists of the large Haeoreum Theater, small Daloreum Theater, versatile Beoloreum Theater, and round, outdoor Haneul Theater. As a leader in Korean performing arts, the National Theater of Korea is reaching out worldwide so that it may become a cultural leader of the future.

Baewha Girls’ High School Residence Hall, the residence of a Southern American Baptist missionary

Baehwa Girls’ High School is nestled at the slanted foot of Inwangsan Mountain in Pilun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. It was the site of the house of Lee Hang-Bok, a civil official who served in the early Joseon period (1392-1910), and was commonly referred to as Pilundae and frequented by academics. To this day, Baehwa Girls’ High School retains various traces of its past. J.P. Campbell, the first female Southern American Baptist missionary dispatched to Korea, founded Carolina School in 1989. In 1910, the school was officially renamed Baehwa School by Yun Chi-Ho and moved to the newly built campus, its present location, in 1915. Designated as Registered Cultural Asset No. 93, Baehwa Girls’ High School Residence Hall was built as a missionary residence but is now used as the Alumni Hall. Built before the 1920s, the unique, modern-style architecture of this structure reflects Campbell’s attempt to adjust to the Korean cultural environment, as it is a Western-style brick building topped with a traditional Korean hip-and-gable roof. Baehwa Girls’ High School still retains its old form.

Jamsil Olympic Stadium, a shrine of Korean sports

The Seoul Olympic Stadium, commonly referred to as Jamsil Olympic Stadium, is located by the Hangang River in Jamsil, Songpa-gu, some 13km from central Seoul in the southeastern part of the city, where many high-rise apartment buildings are concentrated. In 1971, President Park Chung-Hee announced the Comprehensive Jamsil Development Plan, which included the creation of an international-scale sports facility, that is, Seoul Stadium, in a new section of the city. The plan required the reclamation of Jamsil, a vast sand island on the east side of the Hangang River. The construction of the Seoul Sports Complex began in 1977 and was completed seven years later, having used 24,000 tons of steel, 5,700 tons of steel frames, 160,000 sacks of cement, and the work of 800,000 people in total. Nearly one half of the total cost of the construction of the Seoul Sports Complex, about KRW 100 billion, was spent on the construction of Seoul Olympic Stadium. The 1988 Olympics, which was held after the 1986 Asian Games in the world’s only divided nation, was recognized as the largest in scale in Olympic history.
Korea drew international criticism when it had to abandon its plan to host the Asian Games in 1970, mainly for financial reasons and a lack of facilities. But it was able to transform its national image from that of a poor, devastated nation, after the war, to that of a nation that successfully hosted two major sporting events, at Jamsil Olympic Stadium, in the 1980s.

Baek In-Je House, with 100 years of history

Designated as Folk Cultural Asset No. 22 by Seoul City in 1977, Baek In-Je House, in Gahoe-dong, is one of the few remaining large-scale traditional Korean houses in Seoul. It is a modernized traditional Korean house built by Han Sang-Ryong. Han was a nephew of Lee Wan-Yong and the executive director of Korea’s first bank, Hanseong Bank, and he enjoyed a life of luxury by riding on the coattails of the Japanese colonial government. Completed in 1913, Baek In-Je House sits on an elevated lot of land and has a tall gate and servants’ quarters. Upon entering the yard in the servants’ quarters, one can see the partly two-story inner quarters and the detached quarter, or “sarangchae,” next to each other. The house is built with black pine, a building material commonly used by the Japanese, and features various Japanese elements, such as floor, tatami rooms on the second floor, and middle corridor, as well as modern elements such as glass windows. It seems that the owner of this house used these materials in order to prove that he was a Japanized person to Japanese government officials and businessmen, the main visitors to the house. Seoul City once planned to use the house as the official residence of the mayor, but abandoned the plan when it was caught up in controversy over the fact that the house was built by a chililpa (a pro-Japanese, anti-Korean collaborator). It is a house with a tragic history, which is the very reason it should be protected as an important historical resource for the study of modern-style traditional Korean houses in Seoul.

Ujeong Chongguk, Korea’s first post office

In 1884, King Gojong decided to launch a modern postal service system. To achieve this, Ujeong Chongguk (Historical Site No. 213) was established, with the agreement of the Vice Minister of War, Hong Yeong-Sik, who had long desired such a postal system.
Ujeong Chongguk is the world’s oldest post office and the first post office of Korea’s modern postal service. Originally built in a style similar to that of Jeonuigam, the palace medical office in the Joseon period (1392-1910), the Ujeong Chongguk building is an example of the architectural style of the late Joseon period. It covers an area of 5 kan (1 kan is equivalent to roughly to 5.876m2) by 3 kan and consists of granite column and round and square columns with a hip-and-gable roof. Founded by King Gojong, Ujeong Chongguk opened in November 1884. However, on December 4, 1884, when the opening ceremony was scheduled to be held, a group of reformers, including Hong Yeong-Sik, who was also the first president of the post office, staged a coup. The coup ended in failure three days later, and the operation of the post office was suspended 20 days later and eventually closed. The world’s oldest post office and Korea’s first postal administrative office, Ujeong Chongguk is a living witness to the history of the modern postal service and the origin of the over 3,600 post offices nationwide.

The Artist’s House, a trace of the Dongsung-dong Campus of Seoul National University

In early spring of 1975, the Dongsung-dong Campus of Seoul National University held its last graduation ceremony. Standing at the corner of Daehang-ro, a street packed with youthful energy and many parks, the building was turned into the Artist’s House in 2010. It is a modern architectural structure that has been designated as a historical site. This three-story brick building has its entrance on the second floor and is finished with coarsely scratched tiles in a modernist style. With its protruding entrance and curves, the Artist’s House highlights artistic beauty. Designed by modern architect Park Gil-Ryong, it was built along with the Law and Literature College and the Medical College on the Dongsung-dong Campus in 1931. With the establishment of Seoul National University in 1946, the building was used as the university’s main building. After the relocation of Seoul National University to its current Gwanak Campus in 1975, the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service took the building over and used it for a while. Later, it renovated the building and reopened it as the Artist’s House.

The Daeonsi l (large greenhouse) in Changgyeonggung Palace, a sacrosanct place that was violated by the Japanese

Changgyeonggung Palace is one of the four palaces in Seoul, along with Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, and Deoksugung. Built in 1483 during the reign of King Seongjong, Changgyeonggung Palace is also referred to as “Donggwol (East Palace)”. After the forced abdication of King Gojong, the Japanese launched a project to violate the Korean royal palaces under the pretext of “cheering Emperor Sunjong up”. In Changgyeonggung Palace, they created a zoo and a botanical garden, but first, they built the Daeonsil (large greenhouse). Even long after Korea’s liberation from Japan, Changgyeonggung Palace was a popular recreational area, and was called “Changgyeongwon”. With the relocation of the zoo and botanical garden to Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon, all the remaining facilities built by the Japanese were torn down. Three years later, in 1986, a small part of Changgyeonggung Palace was restored. In 2004, the Daeonsil was designated as a registered cultural asset, as it is Korea’s first modern-style greenhouse introduced from the West. Among the five royal palaces built during the Joseon period, Changgyeonggung Palace was damaged the most, which, in addition to its architectural value, is another historical reason to preserve the Daeonsil.

Good bye Ahyeon Overpass, Korea’s first elevated highway



The Ahyeon Overpass is the oldest elevated highway in Korea. Following its opening on September 19, 1968, the Ahyeon Overpass attracted many visitors, as one of Seoul’s leading landmarks. Until early 1982, when Korea was under curfew from midnight every night, the Ahyeon Overpass was blocked off with barricades. Since the early 2000s, however, the area near the overpass began to turn into a slum, and it was singled out as a major blight on the surrounding cityscape and an obstacle to communication. In response to the growing demand for the removal of the Ahyeon Overpass, Seoul City conducted a thorough safety inspection in 2011, in which the overpass received a grade of C (urgent repair required). In consideration of this and the social costs involved, such as the enormous cost of repairs and maintenance and the frequent traffic accidents caused by its outdated layout, it was decided, on March 26, 2014, that the Ahyeon Overpass would be dismantled completely. A central bus-only lane is slated to be installed after the completion of the demolition in September. As the Ahyeon Overpass is a symbol of the modernization of Korea, Seoul City plans to preserve the nameplate of the overpass and its signs in the Seoul Museum of History.

Son Kee-Chung Memorial Hall, commemorating Korea’s first sports hero

In Sports Park in Malli-dong, Jung-ju, a pin oak stands as it did 78 years ago. It was the sapling that hid the Japanese flag on the chest of Son Kee-Chung when he stood on the podium as a gold medalist. In 2012, the Son Kee-Chung Memorial Hall was opened in celebration of Son’s 100th birthday. Son started training for marathons after he entered Yangjeong High School, eventually winning the gold medal with a world record time of 2:29:19.2 on August 9, 1939, at the Berlin Olympics. Despite his great accomplishment, Son’s triumph was received coldly at home, as the Japanese police banned any celebratory event for fear that it might escalate to anti-Japanese protests, fueled by Son’s bold covering of the Japanese flag on his chest. Due to difficulties caused by the Japanese government’s constant surveillance of him after his win at the Olympics, Son later said that he wanted to return his gold medal. The site of his alma mater, where he dreamed of becoming a world-class marathoner, still retains the mixture of sorrow and joy he felt on the day his dream came true.

Dongdaemun Apartment Complex, a space intended for communication

Take a walk along Jibong-ro, Jongno-gu, or Changsin-dong, and you will encounter a group of apartment buildings much older than those usually found in downtown Seoul. This is the Dongdaemun Apartment Complex, the second oldest apartment complex in Seoul, after Chungjeong Apartment. This apartment complex has appeared frequently in various TV programs and films, and it is not uncommon to find more people with cameras here than local residents. When it was built 48 years ago, it was so popular that many popular entertainers moved here, thus its nickname, the “entertainer apartment”. In 2013, the apartment was designated as a Future Heritage of Seoul City.
Established in 1965 by the Korea National Housing Corporation, the Dongdaemun Apartment Complex consists of seven floors, including the basement, and the buildings were set up in a square formation. It was the first apartment complex in Korea with a courtyard in the middle. The courtyard has a traditional Korean jangdokdae (an outdoor platform for earthen jars) and a clothesline so that it may serve the purpose of a typical traditional Korean yard, thereby overcoming some of the disadvantages of apartment living. Also, the bridges that connect the opposite sides of the complex have promoted communication among the residents. Once a luxurious apartment complex that was home to national celebrities and possesses a unique structure with a central courtyard, the Dongdaemun Apartment Complex has lost much of its former glory since the 1960s, and is now viewed as an unsafe building on the verge of demolition for re-development, which is causing tension between the residents, who want to preserve it as a Future Heritage of Seoul City, and those who favor development.