After a five year, three month restoration, Sungnyemun Gate has returned to the bosom of our fair city.
Clad in a hanbok, President Park attended Saturday’s opening ceremony, where she stressed the importance of preserving Korea’s cultural heritage:
“The revival of Sungnyemun means more than the restoration of a cultural asset. I believe it will restore the pride of our people and open up new hope and the door for a new era,” Park, wearing Korea’s traditional hanbok dress, said in a ceremony to open the restored city gate to the public.
She said, “The No. 1 national treasure is South Korea’s face, which symbolizes the national spirit and identity.”
Park highlighted that her fledging government will focus on fostering cultural assets, saying, “In order for South Korea to become a cultural powerhouse, the country needs to well preserve and pass down traditional cultural assets, which are the root of our culture.”
In some ways, the restored gate is better than the pre-fire one. Parts of the old wall—torn down by the Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century—were restored, traditional paints rather than factory paints were used, kiln-fired tiles replaced the factory-made tiles, and disaster prevention technology was incorporated into the gate.
Your’s Truly photographed the restored gate the evening of its opening—probably one of the best images I’ve made, and certainly the best received on Flickr, where it made Flick Explore yesterday. Yay me.
I’m certainly pleased that the gate’s been restored, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of regret, too. For security’s sake, Sungnyemun Plaza—the grass field in front of the gate—is locked off to the public after 6:30 (5:30 in winter). The plaza was created in 2005 at a time when the authorities were trying to give the people greater access to their cultural heritage. After the fire in 2008, however, I’d heard some grumbling that the policy of greater openness was a factor in the fire. Frankly, I thought this was both BS and politically motivated, but seeing the square now locked up, it appears the heritage authoritarians have won. This saddens me—it’s precisely the wrong lesson to learn from the Sungnyemun fire, and comes off as punishing the public for the government dropping the ball.
Anyway, a friend and I watched with some amusement as Cultural Heritage Administration staff waged a search-and-destroy campaign against photographers sneaking over the fence to shoot photos of the gate. Sometimes they’d let them get a shot off, sometimes not. I later learned that earlier in the day, a Kiwi friend had been manhandled nearly into moving traffic by an overzealous CHA official. Probably not the best way to mark the gate’s return to the public.