A couple of posts ago, I made a passing remark about Sungnyemun gate. I really should have done more justice to it. Considering it is Korea’s National Treasure No.1 it really deserves its own post. And so this post is to remedy that oversight.
Unofficially known as Namdaemun Gate, Sungnyemun was built in 1398 and is one of the original three main gates. As you would expect, important VIP’s were greeted here and it was also used to keep out invaders. That is when it still had a walled section on either side of course.
Since then it has gone through multiple renovations but looks pretty much the same! It is the largest castle gate with an arched entrance. It also has this pagoda like structure which is beautifully lit up at night and worth a visit just for the photos.
It was also not that long ago, the oldest wooden structure in all of Seoul …. until February 10, 2008. On that day, 360 firefighters descended on the historic structure as it burst into flames. Initially they were vigilant in trying not to damage the structure as they brought the fire under control but just when everyone thought they had the upper hand, the fire got out of control later that night and ultimately destroyed the structure. The nation was horrified.
At first thought an accident, a ladder, paint thinner and lighters were found at the scene which led to an extensive investigation ending in the apprehension of Chae Jong-gi. He confessed within 30 minutes of his arrest. He had used the ladder to climb up the wall, doused the wooden wall with thinner and then set it alight. As it turns out, he was simply upset over a land dispute and decided to take out his unhappiness on the gate. Two years previously, he also started a fire in Changgyeonggung Palace.
By a stroke of luck, the gate was only just renovated in 2006 whence 182 pages of blueprints were made for the gate (just in a case of any emergencies). They came into use as the entire structure was rebuilt again over 5 years and reopen to the public on May 4, 2013 at a cost of $14 million dollars.
Note: Photos 2,5,6,7 from Wikipedia with 5,6 courtesy of Kwangmo