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[Opinion] Poor Treatment of our No.1 National Treasure

Posted August. 21, 2003 21:32,   


Whenever I go around Namdaemun (the South Gate), I wonder why it was designated as the No. 1 treasure of Korea. Of course the construction is beautiful and it is one of the biggest gates in Korea. But it`s quite embarrassing to see the gate standing in dust, getting little attention from the people. There are few people who go inside the gate or go to its upper story. Would it be impossible to go to the upper story of the gate as people do at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris?

Namdaemun, the south gate of Seoul during the Chosun Dynasty, was completed in 1398, the seventh year of King Taejo. It was renovated in 1447 and 1479. The framed picture vertically written on the gate was said to be written by princess Yangnyeong to oppress the spirit of fire on Namsan Mountain. When a prince from Japan visited Seoul in 1907, the Japanese authority decided to destroy walls leading to Namdaemun, thinking that the small house on top of the gate should not overlook the prince of Japan. Then they made roads around the area and built Japanese-style walls. After thoroughly examining the cultural heritage of Korea, the Japanese authority numbered them based on how close they were to their headquarters building. And that is why Namdaemun has become the No.1 national treasure of Korea.

It has long been pointed out that Namdaemun suffers from vibration coming from passing of subway trains beneath the gate and that it is too isolated from the access of the general public. A few years ago when I went up to the little house on top of the gate with an Italian expert on identifying the safety level of cultural heritages, I was quite surprised to find out construction materials had been left there. Namdaemun was recently fixed as its rainbow-shaped stone came off. But in many ways, Namdaemun is not getting due treatment befitting its title as Korea`s No. 1 national treasure. When one looks at the gate from Seoul Station, a billboard, three to four times bigger than a person on top, or a five-story building blocks the sight of the gate. In addition, there are more weeds than grass in areas next to the gate`s doors.

When it rains, much has it has of late, golfers become concerned about grass. But nobody pays attention to Namdaemun even though the No.1 national treasure is deserted like a grave with no family to take care of. It is embarrassment to all of us to see dying trees around the barbed wire of Namdaemun. I wonder how well grass or trees around Cheong Wa Dae or Seoul City Hall is taken care of.