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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sungnyemun: South Korean First National Treasure, Trademark of Seoul Jung-gu

Sungnyemun in May 2013, with extended wall fortress.
Namdaemun (Hangul/Hanja: 남대문/南大門), officially known as the Sungnyemun (Hangul/Hanja: 숭례문/崇禮門; literally Gate of Exalted Ceremonies), is one of the Eight Cardinal Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul-Hanyang, South Korea, which surrounded the city in the Joseon Dynasty. The gate is located in 40 Sejong Boulevard/Sejong-daero (previously known as Taepyeongno/Taepyeong Avenue), Namdaemunno 4-ga 29-beonji, Seoul Jung-gu, between Seoul Station and Seoul City Plaza (Seoul City Hall Taepyeongno Main Office at 110 Sejong Boulevard, Taepyeongno 1-ga 31-beonji), with the historic 24-hour Namdaemun market is next to the gate. It is a trademark of Seoul Jung-gu where the Official Insignia of Seoul Jung-gu featured Sungnyemun on the small greenish silhouette.

The gate, dating back to the 14th century, is a historic pagoda-style gateway, and is designated as the first National Treasures of South Korea. It was once one of the three major gateways through Seoul's city walls which had a stone circuit of 18.2 kilometres (11.3 mi) and stood up to 6.1 metres (20 ft) high. It was first built in the fifth year of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye's reign in 1396, and rebuilt in 1447, during the 29th year of King Sejong the Great.

The South Korean government, as written in hanja on the wooden structure, officially calls the landmark, Sungnyemun, (English: Gate of Exalted Ceremonies) even though it has been more commonly known as Namdaemun (English: Great Southern Gate) since the Joseon Dynasty. The disparity is due to the occupation of Korea when the Japanese advocated the name Namdaemun.

In modern Korea, the common name has colonial overtones; a period when Korean identity was forcibly supplanted by Japanese culture. The official name Sungnyemun derives from policy to reclaim Korean heritage from Japanese imperialism. A process that has led to the removal of notable buildings.

Before the 2008 fire, Namdaemun was the oldest wooden structure in Seoul.The city gate, made of wood and stone with a two-tiered, pagoda-shaped tiled roof, was completed in 1398 and originally used to greet foreign emissaries, control access to the capital city, and keep out Siberian Tigers, which have long been gone from the area. Construction began in 1395 during the fourth year of the reign of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye and was finished in 1398. The structure was rebuilt in 1447 and was renovated several times since. It was originally one of three main gates, the others being the East Gate (Dongdaemun/Heunginjimun) and the now-demolished West Gate (Seodaemun/Donuimun) in Jongno-gu, named after the old gate.

In the early part of the 20th century, the city walls that surrounded Seoul were demolished to make the traffic system more efficient. A visit to Seoul by the Crown Prince of Japan prompted the demolition of the walls around Namdaemun, as the prince was deemed to be too exalted to pass through the gateway. The gate was closed to the public in 1907 after the Japanese colonial authorities constructed an electric tramway nearby. In 1938, the government designated Namdaemun as Korean Treasure No. 1.

Namdaemun was extensively damaged during the Korean War (1950-1953) and was given its last major repair in 1961, with a completion ceremony held on May 14, 1963. It was given the status of "National Treasure No.1" on December 20, 1962. The Gate was renovated again in 2005 with the building of a lawn around the gate, before being opened once again to the public with much fanfare on March 3, 2006. During the restoration, 182 pages of blueprints for the gate were made as a contingency against any emergencies which may damage the structure. Two years later, such an emergency arose.

Sungnyemun into ashes in February 2008 and a sensible bit of Gyeongsang Dialect. For more information, click here.
The Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea said that it would undertake a three-year project that would cost an estimated ₩20 billion (approximately $14 million) to rebuild and restore the historic gate. President Lee Myung-bak proposed starting a private donation campaign to finance the restoration of the structure.

By January 2010, 70% of the pavilion gate, the first floor and 80 percent of the fortress wall has been completed. Work on the roof began in April after the completion of the wooden second floor, with 22,000 roof tiles produced in a traditional kiln in Buyeo County, Southern Chungcheong Province. The wall and basic frame were scheduled to be finished in April and May respectively. The pillars and rafters are to be elaborately decorated, with the ornamental patterns and colors based on those used in the large-scale repair in 1963, which was closest to the early-Chosun original.

In January, 2013, it was estimated by an official that restoration of the gate would be completed around May 2013. Construction had been delayed by five months due to harsh weather conditions in Seoul. On 17 February 2013, the gate was 96% completed, and all steel-frame scaffolding had been removed. On 29 April 2013, restoration work was completed, and the public opening was scheduled for Saturday, 4 May 2013, a day before Children's Day.