On Friday the week before, we (i.e., Seoul Selection) dumped our upcoming Korea guidebook on the printers.
The following morning, I didn’t have to go into work (well, not until 2:30 anyway to conduct my weekend Bukchon tours). It was quite surreal.
Anyway, that weekend was largely spent attending to Mrs. Koehler and engaging in general sloth, but yesterday—with the weather brisk and the clouds pretty—I spent the afternoon and evening wandering about the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan.
One of the largest museums of the world in terms of floor space, the National Museum of Korea is not the country’s preeminent repository of history and heritage, but an architectural and engineering masterpiece in and of itself. It also makes for a fine daytime or nightime chulsa (photo outing).
Inspired by Korea’s mountain fortresses, the National Museum of Korea—designed by Junglim Architecture and completed in 2005—integrates several cardinal rules of Korean traditional architecture. In accordance with pung su (feng shui), it faces in a southward direction, with a mountain (Mt. Namsan) to its rear and water (the Hangang River and the reflecting pool) to its front. The museum is set back deep in the property, and typical of Korean architecture, it strives to harmonize with the natural landscape. Most spectacular is its use of the Korean landscaping concept of chagyeong, or “borrowed scenery,” an architectural principle common throughout the *Far East. The gardens and building itself incorporate the background landscape, most notably Mt. Namsan and Mt. Samgaksan (a.k.a. Bukhansan National Park).
Other features are not quite as traditional—the museum can reportedly withstand a 6.0 earthquake, and incorporates cutting-edge exhibition and preservation technologies.
*Can I still use “Far East”? As has that gone the way of “Oriental”?
The reflecting pool can be great fun during the day, provided there are some clouds to play with.
The main courtyard and gate make brilliant use of chagyeong, especially Mt. Namsan. It’s also one of SEOUL photographer Ryu Seunghoo‘s favorite places to shoot, mostly because of the silhouettes.
I suppose the “borrowed scenery” need not be entirely natural.
Thankfully, you can shoot inside the museum, too, with two caveats—no flash, and no tripod.
I went straight for the star of the photographic show, the massive 10-story marble pagoda of Gyeongcheonsa Temple.
While granite pagodas are ubiquitous in Korea, marble ones such as this are extremely rare, and by “extremely rare,” I mean I can only think of two, this one and very similar Wongaksa Pagoda which stands in Tapgol Park. Unlike most Korean pagodas, which are noted for their minimalist beauty, the Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda is extremely ornate. It was carved by Chinese artisans in 1348 during the reign of King Chungmok of the Goryeo Dynasty and placed at Gyeongcheonsa Temple in Gaepung County, Gyeonggi-do. By the beginning of the 20th century, the temple had long since disappeared, but the pagoda was still standing and in 1907 it caught the eye of Tanaka Mitsuaki, the Japanese Minister of Imperial Household Affairs, who was in Korea to attend the wedding of the Korean crown prince. A keen collector of Asian antiquities, Tanaka essentially stole the pagoda, brought it back to Japan and had it places in the garden of his private residence. This led to an uproar in Korea, led in part by British journalist Ernest T. Bethell and American missionary Homer Hulbert, who launched a media campaign to denounce the theft. Even the Washington Post ran a story on it.
The pagoda was eventually returned in 1918, quite possibly due to the efforts Japanese archeologist Sekino Tadashi. Damaged and in pieces stored in crates, the pagoda was finally re-erected in 1960 on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. With the opening of the new National Museum of Korea in 2005, the pagoda was moved indoors, safe from the elements, and given a place of honor at the far end of the main exhibit hall.
Playing with space
There’s a bit of an atrium area that’s a bit fun to photograph.
Saw it in 대한민국 감성 사진여행지, which is a really great guide to chulsa sites around Korea. I picked my copy up at Kyobo.
In this hall, I liked the interaction between the bell, the window and the silhouettes of passing visitors.
One of the most artistically significant bells of the Goryeo Dynasty, this bronze bell was crafted in 1010 for Cheonheungsa Temple in Cheonan. For those keeping score at home, it’s the third-largest surviving temple bell in Korea behind the Emille Bell and Sangwonsa‘s bronze bell.
Just wandering around
If you’ve got a who day to kill, you’ll find plenty to photograph here.
I believe that’s the Dragon Hill Lodge in the background. I hope I don’t get another email from the Provost.
Outside, there are displays and walking paths lined with historic stupas and pagodas. These ones caught my particular attention. The one on the bottom is the Stupa of National Preceptor Wongong, erected in the early 11th century at a temple in Wonju. The craftmanship and detail is captivating. The one on the top is the Stupa of Master Jingong, erected in 940.
National Museum of Korea at night
The National Museum is, if anything, even more interesting to photograph at night, when they light the place up and the reflecting pool really comes into its own.
If the pavilion has a bit of a blue-green hue about it, it’s because it is roofed with celadon tiles. It was built in 2009 to commemorate the centenial of the founding of the Imperial Museum of the Korean Empire, the predecessor of the National Museum of Korea.
Tried to get that “starburst” effect by shooting at F/22 in that last shot.
Exit 2, Ichon Station, Line 4 and Jungang Line
View National Museum of Korea in a larger map