ORIGINAL POST: As some of you may know, I assist with a monthly walking tour of Seoul’s architecture, hosted by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture. Anyway, on Sunday, we took about 30 people—mostly Koreans, with a couple of foreigners—to the historic Jeongdong neighborhood to tour around some of Korea’s earliest examples of Western architecture.
Jeongdong—the pleasant neighborhood to the west of the Deoksugung Palace—is where many of Seoul’s first foreign legations, schools and churches were built in the late 19th century/early 20th century. As such, the area was a major entry point for the introduction of foreign culture into Korea—Seoul’s first Protestant churches, first modern schools and first modern hotel were all built there. As the foreign legation district—and located as it was right next to the center of political power of the Daehan Empire, the Duksugung Palace—the neighborhood was also the venue for much of the intrigue that marked the end of the Joseon era.
Today, the area retains a somewhat exotic foreign charm, and a good number of historical buildings—many designed by Americans, Brits, Russians and other Dead White Guys—still remain.
Evidence Seoul is taking greater pride in its modern architectural treasures—you can find these all along path that follows the stone wall, or doldam, or the Deoksugung Palace. Just a quick note about Deoksugung Palace’s famous doldam-gil—many of you are probably familiar with the story of the lovers who walk along the stone wall but separate at the end. The reason for that story is that the Family Court used to be located along the path.
The Seoul Museum of Art. Built by the Japanese in 1928 as the Keijo Court House, this building would become the model for many other public buildings built during the colonial era—see for example the former main building of Seoul National University in Daehangno, now used as the office of Arts Council Korea.
After Liberation, the building became the Supreme Court of Korea. In 1995, however, the Supreme Court moved to Seocho-dong south of the river, and the structure was extensively remodeled for use as the Seoul Museum of Art. All that remains of the old building is the facade, but as you can see above, what a facade it it!
This is the East Hall of what was the Pai Chai Hak Dang, Korea’s first modern intermediate school (and the predecessor of Pai Chai Middle and High School). The school was founded in 1885 by American Methodist missionary Henry Gerhard Appenzeller, who also founded Chungdong First Methodist Church just down the street. The American imprint (and that of the British and Russians) in Jeongdong is quite strong—the Pai Chai Hak Dang, First Methodist Church and Ewha Hak Dang were all founded by American missionaries, and of course there was the old American Legation, the site of the current U.S. ambassador’s residence.
Chungdong First Methodist Church, Korea’s first Methodist church. The current church dates back to 1897. A cute little American-style Gothic church, it’s a major symbol of the introduction of American culture to Korea. Interestingly enough, at least for me, it also published Korea’s first monthly magazine,”Gyohoe,” in 1889, with the goal of propagating liberal thought in Korea. It also opened Korea’s first summer bible school in 1922.
The Salvation Army Headquarters, completed in 1928. A massive neoclassical structure, it was considered one of Seoul’s 10 greatest buildings when it was built. Hidden away as it is along the road that passes in front of the U.S. ambassador’s residence, it doesn’t see a lot of visitors. Which is a shame, really, because it is quite impressive.
Seoul Anglican Cathedral—hands-down the most beautiful church in Seoul, and, IMHO, the most beautiful building in the city, period. It’s also Seoul’s only Romanesque-style church, and is built in the shape of a Latin cross. Oddly enough, when it was first consecrated in 1926, it was only half-completed, really. The church would have to wait until 1996 to attain its current glory—the expansion was conducted based on the original design plan, which was discovered in a museum in Lexington in 1993. The interior of the church, BTW, is absolutely spectacular (unfortunately, there were functions going on at the time, so I couldn’t take any photos), as is the church’s crypt, which is home to an actual Dead White Guy, the third Anglican Bishop of Seoul (and cathedral founder), Mark Napier Trollope. The second bishop, Arthur Turner, coincidentally might have been the man who introduced football to the Korean Peninsula. The first bishop, of course, was Charles John Corfe.
We also got a quick unscheduled peak at the beautiful retreat garden behind the Anglican Cathedral, which I was told—and this I did not verify, so if you know better, feel free to correct me—is owned by the British Embassy.
Seoul Municipal Hall. I look at it, and still can’t believe it was built in 1935. Originally, it served as a cultural hall for Seoul’s masses, and was modeled on a cultural hall in Hibiya, Tokyo. After Liberation, it was used as the National Assembly Building until the current one was built in Yeouido. It’s now used as the meeting place of Seoul Municipal Council.
The Deoksugung Palace—one of my favorite places to snap photos, especially in spring when the azaleas are in full bloom. The Deoksugung, of course, was the center of much of the drama that characterized the rise and fall of the Daehan Empire at the start of the 20th century. Architecturally, it’s interesting in that it’s the first of Seoul’s palaces to incorporate Western-style buildings. One of those buildings—and certainly one of the most quirky of Seoul’s palace structures—is the fourth photo, the Jeonggwanheon Pavilion. Designed by the fascinating Aleksey Seredin-Sabatin, a Russian architect in the employ of the Korean government, the pavilion was built as a rest and relaxation place for Emperor Gojong, who reportedly enjoyed lounging on the pavilion with a good cup of coffee, then a rare foreign import.
The Jungmyeongjeon, built in 1900. This royal library/banquet hall for foreign envoys–designed by the afore mentioned Seredin-Sabatin—was the first Western-style building built on the grounds of a Korean palace. Historically, it’s quite important as the site where the Protectorate Treaty of 1905 was signed, under which Korea signed away its foreign policy decision-making to Japan. Originally part of the Deoksugung, the stone wall separating it from the palace was built during the colonial era. Recently, however, the Cultural Heritage Administration placed the building back within the grounds of the Deoksugung—at least administratively.
Ewha Girls High School’s Simpson Hall (built in 1915), all that is left of the original Ewha Hak Dang, which was founded in 1886 by American Methodist Episcopal missionary Mary F. Scranton. Ewha Hak Dang would eventually grow into Ewha Middle and High School and, of course, Ewha Womens University, the world’s largest women’s university.
With its red brick and keystones, the school would serve as the model of many other Christian schools built during the first half of the 20th century.
Interestingly, on the grounds of Ewha Girls High School is the site of the former Sontag Hotel (designed by, oddly enough, Seredin-Sabatin), which was Seoul’s first Western-style hotel and a major hang-out (and scheming venue) of late Joseon-era Seoul’s foreign community. If you read Korean, you’ll definitely want to check out this blog post on the hotel’s founder, Antoinette Sontag, and the history of the hotel.
Ah, the tower of the former Russian Legation, which was built in 1890 by—you guessed it—Seredin-Sabatin. As the representatives of one of the imperial powers with the most at stake geopolitically in Korea, the Russian Legation was quite a busy place in the years prior to the Russo-Japanese War. In fact, following the assassination of his queen, the Empress Myeongseong, Emperor Gojong and the Crown Prince fled to the Russian Legation, where they stayed for a full year. Unfortunately, most of the original compound was destroyed during the Korean War.
NOTE: I know I promised last week’s Catholic churches. I’ll try to post them tonight.