11 February 2008

sungyemun destroyed

a terrible loss.

at 8:47 pm yesterday evening, an alarm went off alerting officials that someone had entered korea's national treasure #1, the 610-year-old sungnyemun (숭례문) gate. five hours later, korea's oldest wooden structure and national icon was destroyed, leaving only a charred skeleton.

a photo of the gate from 1904.

built in 1396 as the great southern gate to king yi seong-gye's newly founded walled capitol, few structures from the joseon era still remain. but sungyemun, better known as namdaemun (남대문), survived 16th century japanese invasions, the colonial period and a brutal civil war, only to be destroyed by a 69-year-old man with a lighter protesting a land compensation dispute. remarkably, the same man tried to burn changgyeonggung palace's munjeongjeon hall just two years prior.

fully engulfed and just minutes before its final collapse.

it's unthinkable that korea's #1 national treasure didn't warrant a 24-hour guard, a state-of-the-art anti-fire system, or a competently-executed emergency plan. instead, the structure burned for 5 hours while firefighters were forbade from aggressively fighting the blaze for fear of damaging the structure. when they thought the fire was under control, they pulled back, only to have it fully overcome the structure. yoo hong-joon, chief of the cultural heritage administration has already submitted his resignation to president roh moo-hyun.

namdaemun has long felt like the heart of seoul.

talk of rebuilding the gate has already begun. officials estimate the project will cost 20 billion won ($21 million) and take 2-3 years. ethnic koreans living in japan have already donated 20 million yen ($187,000) to the effort.

certainly an inauspicious and terribly sad start to the new year.

some earlier posts featuring namdaemun:

field trip #2 focused on the namdaemun market and gate. there are some nice photos and a video clip.
→ in one of my very first postings, here's a photo of the gate at night.


Jonith said...

very sad and yes, totally absurd that the city didn't provide surveillance. i wonder who originally made the decision that it wasn't necessary. at some point it must have been discussed...

corextacy said...

Now that this fire happened, the government will implement emergency plans, guards, and etc for national treasures.

Instead of preparing before-hand, the Korean government is ALWAYS (could be a generalization) a step-behind.

The future is unpredictable. But that does not mean we shouldn't prepare at all.

matt said...

hey hoon. i hope that's the case, but they didn't station a guard at namdaemun after the SAME guy who torched it was caught burning changgyeonggung palace only two years ago.

i'm starting to understand what you mean about the "reactive" ways of the korean government.

hope you're well.

Will said...

Wow, that is horrible, makes me sick