The city of Seoul, once known as Hanyang, became the royal capital during the early years of the Joseon Dynasty. (1392-1897) The city of Hanyang already had some walls and gates, but in order to be a fitting capital city for the new Kingdom much work needed to be done. The plan was to build a wall 18km long, between 4 local mountains, that would have 4 Great Gates and 4 Small Gates.
The building of the city walls and gates took some time because at the time Korea was very much an agricultural society, and you couldn’t take people away from producing food without an adverse effect on food production for the nation. Most building had to take place in the winter when there was less work to do on the farm.
Each of the gates has a name that ties it to its’ location, plus a name that describes its’ attribute, so for example the North Gate, is known as Bukdaemun because of its location, but also as Sukjeongmun which means ‘Rule Solemnly Gate’. This can be a little confusing to visitors so it is best to know both names before you go. There are 4 Great Gates, and 4 Small Gates, 2 gates no longer exist, but possibly may be reconstructed in the future.
The Great Gates. North Gate. Bukdaemun. Sukjeongmun. Rule Solemnly Gate. South Gate. Namdaemun. Sungnyemun. Exalted Ceremonies Gate. East Gate. Dongdaemun. Heunginjimun. Rising Benevolence Gate. West Gate.Seodaemun. Donuimun. Loyalty Gate.
The Small Gates. North West Gate. Jahamun. Changuimun. Showing the Correct Thing Gate. North East Gate, Dongsomun. Hyehwamun. Distribution of Wisdom Gate. South West Gate. Seosomun. Souimun. Promotion of Justice Gate. South East Gate. Namsomun. Gwanghuimun. Bright light Gate.
All the gates were built between 1396 and 1398 and have suffered different fates over the years. One, Jahamun, was partially burned down during the 1590’s Japanese invasions, and then rebuilt in the 1740’s. Some like, Dongdaemun, Dongsomun, and Seosomun were destroyed or torn down by the Japaneses during their colonial rule of Korea. (1910-1945). Namsomun was partially destroyed during the Korean War, and Namdaemun was torched by an arsonist in 2008. Most of the gates have been, or are in the process, of being restored or rebuilt. Only 2 gates no longer exist, Seodaemum and Seosomun, although there is talk of rebuilding one of them starting in 2022.
The two most popular gates to visit are Dongdaemun and Namdaemun, both close to markets, and other tourist attractions, and easy to get to. Both are beautiful and stand proudly in the middle of the thriving modern city. The third still existing Great Gate, Bukdaemun, is harder to visit since you must apply to visit, and carry a passport, as it is so close to the Blue House that there are security concerns.
The city gates help to remind us of old Seoul, ruled by a King, where the gates were closed at night and the citizens slept safely behind the city walls. They are an iconic image of Seoul and appear on stamps, postcards,souvenirs, and in countless movies and dramas. The number one National Treasure of Korea is the Namdaemun Gate.
Have a great day everyone.
You may also enjoy Stone Men of Jeju, Bongeunsa Temple, Korean Salt, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, and Hanji, the Paper of Korea.
Photo credits to original owners, me, and map and 2nd and last photo to http://www.korea.net Please do not copy or use without permission or accreditation.
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