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Published: October 5th 2015
Old Street Car
Seoul Museum of History
Seoul Museum of History is not one of the major sights in the city. I only learnt about the place a couple of years ago, and kept meaning to visit, but I also kept forgetting about it. With a couple of free hours, I decided to head there and learn more about this beast of a city. The museum is in a good location. I walked there from the City Hall area by Deoksugung Palace. I had checked the map and the museum's website and it was about a 15 minute walk. The museum is situated next to Gyeonghuigong Palace. Outside of the museum, there is an old streetcar that operated on the city's streets between 1939 and 2964. The first streetcars began operating in 1899 on May 17th between Cheongnyangni and Jongno. They were the main form of transportation for Seoul's citizen's until the 1960s.
I entered the Museum's grounds and there were a few more things to see. There were some stone pillars and stone figures of Civil Officials, which had been placed by the grave of Yi Jun-yong, I think. There were also some remnants of the Japanese Government building that was used when Japan colonised Korea.
There also was parts of Gwanghwamun Gate, that was in front of Gyeongbukgong Palace. There was also some kind of map on the floor, but it had water jets shooting water out if it and kids playing in the water. It looked like they were having fun.
The museum is pretty big and the permanent exhibitions are on the third floor, so I headed up there. The museum has no entrance fee, which is great, although I would have been happy to part with a couple of thousand won to enter. The first zone displays the 'Seoul of the Joseon Dynasty', 1392 - 1863. This is when the royal city was first established by King Taejo during the Joseon Dynasty. Back then, the area was called Hanyang. The Main Palace compound, Altars to the Gods of Soil and Grain and the Royal Ancestral Shrine were built, to finalize the establishment of the capital and products from around the whole kingdom were brought to Hanyang. There were some great models of how the city looked back then.
The population back then, according to the census report of 1428, was only 109,000 people. However, the population was believed to have
been under reported and the true population was about 30-40% more. By the end of the 18th century, the population had risen to over 300,000.Another interesting fact I learnt was that Bukchon was an important area, with lots of wealthy, powerful people living there. There were a few different exhibits showing documents and other important things from that time. I loved the old key holder, it was so big, bright and colourful, you definitely wouldn't lose your keys if they were attached to that.
The second zone was 'The Capital of the Daehan Empire'. 1863 - 1910. For me this part was the most interesting. There were loads of old photos of Seoul, making it easier to imagine how it was in the past. I think its crazy how much the world had changed in such a short amount of time, especially Seoul. Some of the photos were just over 100 years old and Seoul was so small then, it looked like the countryside. This is when Korea started to open up to the world and it was interesting looking at the photos of foreigners, who were here so long ago. French Warships appeared on the Han River and
Western ideas began to creep into Seoul. The city started to change as western-style buildings were introduced as well as electricity and petroleum. The streetcar line was built and public parks also started to appear.
The next zone was 'Seoul under Japanese Control' 1910-1945. In August 1910, Japan annexed the Daehan Empire and established the Joseon Government General. This institution had almost complete control over administrative, military and legislative and judicial matters. The city was divided and the Japanese, who controlled the city, lived in the area south of Cheonggyecheon. Under Japanese rule, Seoul modernised very quickly.There was a very interesting art installation 'Light of the Repose of Seoul' by Kim Han-sang, Kim Ye-rin, and Lee Chi-hoon. There were also some great little models that showed what life was like under Japanese control. There was a street scene by the stream, a barber's shop, saloon, and an oriental medicine shop.
The last zone was 'Development of Seoul' 1945-2002. This started with Korea's liberation at the end of the Second World War and chronicles its growth up to the 2002 World Cup. This was probably the moment when Seoul showed the world that it had made it. It had
transformed from post-war ruins to a global mega-city. There was a great mock up of a 1980s or 1990s apartment, which had been built south of the river. It was cool looking around someone's house, as it had been. There was also a model of a restaurant, the type which is typically found in the back alley ways of Seoul and other cities around the country. The final part of the main exhibition was a model of the city. I really liked looking at the model as some places were marked on and I had some fun trying to figure out the other places.
I headed back down to the ground floor and decided to look around the special exhibitions. There were two special exhibitions. The first one I looked round was entitled 'Silim-dong Youths'. It had the byline 'Toil today, Success tomorrow' and it really sums up Korea's study culture. Silim-dong is a town located at the foot of Gwanak mountain in Seoul. It was originally a village where families of the same clan lived, an then later the area became the new home for the displaced. People moved there during the 1960s as they were relocated from
downtown Seoul. In 1975, Seoul National University moved its campus there. This lead to an influx of gosi (state exams) and gave the area a new identity as 'gosichon', the state exam preparation town.It showed how the area had changed as the students moved in and studied for their future. However, today many students have left the area as law school was introduced in 2009 and the Judicial Examination is planned to be abolished in 2017. It was an interesting snapshot of a neighbourhood, that may no longer exist in its current state in a few years time.
The second exhibition hall was entitled 'Namsan Mountain, the Power of Place'. Namsan mountainlies in Jung-gu and Yongsan-gu, and in 2009 it was determined to be Seoul's geographic centre. The exhibition was interesting, as it showed how Namsan was an important place for the Japanese when they colonised Korea. I didn't know anything about this, so it was interesting to find out. There was an old ttori gate, which was interesting to see. When Korea gained its independence a huge statue of Synngman Rhee was erected, however it no longer stands. The exhibition shows how Namsan has changed over the years,
and now it is a nature spot, with a beautiful park for Seoul's citizens to enjoy.
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