Korea’s National Treasure No 1

I had mentioned Sungnyemun gate earlier as a passing remark. But I really should do more justice to it. I have only been made aware that it is after all Korea’s National Treasure No.1! And so this post is to remedy that oversight.

Sungnyemun gate is unofficially also known as Namdaemun Gate. Built in 1398, it is one of the original three main gates. As you would expect, important VIP’s were greeted here and it was also used to keep out invaders. That is when it had a walled section on either side of course.

Today, much has changed with multiple renovations but looks pretty much the same! It is the largest castle gate with an arched entrance. It is also beautifully lit up at night and worth a visit just for photos.

Finally, it was also the oldest wooden structure in all of Seoul. I say “it was” because that all changed in February 10, 2008.

On that day, 360 firefighters descended on the historic structure in desperation as it burst into flames.

Initially they brought the fire under control. Then just when everyone thought they had the upper hand, the fire got loose and ultimately destroyed the structure. The nation was mortified.

A ladder, paint thinner and lighters were found at the scene. This led to an extensive investigation ending in the arrest of a Mr Chae Jong-gi. Within 30 minutes, he confessed everything.

He said he had used the ladder to climb up the wall. He then doused the wooden wall with thinner and then set it alight. The reason? He was simply upset over a land dispute. And so he decided to take out his unhappiness on the gate! (Two years previously, he also started a fire in Changgyeonggung Palace.)

Amazingly, by a stroke of luck, the gate had only just been renovated in 2006. At the time, 182 pages of blueprints were made of the gate. Just in case it was needed in case of any emergencies!

So, they came into use as the entire structure was rebuilt again. It took over 5 years and finally was re-open to the public on May 4, 2013 at a whopping cost of $14 million dollars. So, that is Korea’s National Treasure No.1

(If you are curious, the entire list of National treasures can be found here on Wikipedia)

(Photos 1,3,4 are courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

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