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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Nakseongdae Park, Seoul Gwanak-gu: A tribute to the General of Goryeo Dynasty, Kang Gamchan

Nakseongdae Park (Hanja: 落星垈公園) in 77 Nakseongdae Avenue/Nakseongdae-ro, Nakseongdae-dong 228-beonji (Previous land lot: Bongcheon 7-dong 228-beonji), Seoul Gwanak-gu was founded to commemorate General Kang Gamchan (Born: December 22nd 984 - Died: September 9th 1031), a renowned commander of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) who accomplished a great deal against the Khitan, which was a foreign enemy. The name of the site, Nakseongdae, comes from a legend that a large star fell down at the moment the general was born. The park features a bronze statue of General Kang Gamchan on horseback, as well as the Anguksa shrine. A memorial ceremony called Nakseongdae Inheonje (Note: Inheon is Kang Gamchan's pen name), which commemorates the patriotic spirit of the general, is held here every October. The park also forms a dense forest with a variety of trees, such as birch, pine and oak, making it an ideal place to take a stroll. 

Nakseongdae Park is designated as Tangible Cultural Heritage of Seoul No. 4 (a title which refers to the legacy of physical artifacts that are of historic or artistic significance, and are considered worthy of preservation for the future) and was founded to preserve the historic significance of Nakseongdae and pay tribute to General Kang Gamchan.

On entering the park, eyes are immediately drawn towards a bronze statue of General Kang Gamchan on horseback. The image of the mounted general charging forward with an unsheathed sword in his hand conveys a sense of his dignity and grandeur. A shrine to the general, Anguksa, is located in the heart of the park. Anguksa was built in 1974 by former President Park Chung-hee (1917-1979, Korea’s 5th to 9th president) to pay tribute to the general’s wisdom and valor. It comprises Angukmun (Gate), a three-storied stone pagoda, Naesammun, a memorial stone to General Kang Gamchan, and a shrine as the main building.

Engraved with the letters of “Kang Gamchan Nakseongdae” in Korean, the three-storied stone pagoda has been relocated from the nearby birthplace of the general. The shrine is in the shape of a house with a hipped-and-gable roof (a type of roof structure in traditional Korean houses), and houses a portrait of the general inside.

Nakseongdae Park forms a dense forest with a wide range of trees, such as birch, pine, fir, oak and aspen trees. The total length of the walking trail in the park stretches to three kilometers, and it takes around two hours to look around the park.

Moreover, the park features a pond equipped with a fountain, as well as an outdoor performance venue and an open-air wedding venue where traditional wedding ceremonies are held.

On weekend mornings from April to November the “Nakseongdae Forest Tour” program is run, with detailed explanations from a specialist guide about the history and culture of Nakseongdae. Visitors should note that applications to take part must be made one week in advance via the website (parks.seoul.go.kr/program) or telephone (Parks & Landscape Division: +82-2 880-3683). Services are provided in Korean only at present.

Every October Nakseongdae Inheonje is held, which is a memorial ceremony to commemorate the patriotic spirit of General Kang Gamchan. Starting with a re-enactment of the general’s victory, the memorial event proceeds with all due ceremony, such as formal opening announcements followed by a presentation of the profile of the general and incense burning. The ceremony is also accompanied by a variety of experience programs for visitors to take part in themselves, which include traditional folk activities such as making a bow and practising archery.