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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Insa-dong, Seoul Jongno-gu: The Largest Antique and Artwork Shop in Korea

Insa-dong (Hanja: 仁寺洞) is a precinct or neighborhood of Seoul Jongno-gu. The main street is Insadong-gil, which is connected to a multitude of alleys that lead deeper into the district, with modern galleries and tea shops. At one time it was the largest market for antiques and artworks in Korea. In area, 12.7 hectares (or 31.4 acres), the district is bordered by Gwanhun-dong to the north, Nagwon-dong to the east, and Jongno 2-ga and Jeokseon-dong to the south, and Gongpyeong-dong to the west. The postal code for Insa-dong is 110-290.

Insadong was originally two towns whose names ended in the syllables "In" and "Sa". They were divided by a stream which ran along Insadong's current main street. Insadong began 500 years ago as an area of residence for government officials. During the early period of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897), the place belonged to Gwanin-bang and Gyeonpyeong-bang "-bang" was the name of an administrative unit during the time - of Hanseong (old name for the capital, Seoul). During the Japanese occupation, the wealthy Korean residents were forced to move and sell their belongings, at which point the site became an area of trading in antiques. After the end of the Korean War, the area became a focus of South Korea's artistic and cafe life. It was a popular destination among foreign visitors to South Korea during the 1960s, who called the area "Mary's Alley". It gained in popularity with international tourists during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 2000 the area was renovated and after protest, the rapid modernization of the area was halted for two years beginning that year. In recent years the backstreets of Insadong have continued to be gentrified with cafes, garden restaurants, and traditional pension-style accommodations.

Insadong-gil is "well known as a traditional street to both locals and foreigners" and represents the "culture of the past and the present". It contains a mixture of historical and modern atmosphere and is a "unique area of Seoul that truly represents the cultural history of the nation." The majority of the traditional buildings originally belonged to merchants and bureaucrats. Some larger residences, built for retired government officials during the Joseon period, can also be seen. Most of these older buildings are now used as restaurants or shops. Among the historically significant buildings located in the area are Unhyeongung mansion, Jogyesa - one of the most significant Korean Buddhist temples, and one of Korea's oldest Presbyterian churches.

The area is well known for sightseeing, with approximately 100,000 visitors on Sundays reported in 2000. Insadong is also a visiting spot for foreign dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and the princes of Spain and the Netherlands. It contains 40 percent of the nation's antique shops and art galleries as well as 90 percent of the traditional stationery shops. Particularly noteworthy is Tongmun-gwan, the oldest bookstore in Seoul, and Kyung-in Art Gallery, the oldest tea house. There are daily calligraphy demonstrations and pansori dancing performances. Ssamziegil, a shopping mall that concentrates in specialty stores of handcrafts, is also a prominent destination in Insadong. It opened in 2004.

There are three information centers which offer information or information materials about Insa-dong and Seoul in Insa-dong. They are the Insadong P.R Center, North Information Center (N-info center), and South Information Center (S-info center). N-info Center and S-info Center are located at the north and south entrances of Insa main street. Insa P.R Center is located on the opposite side of Ssamziegil, a well-known shopping center in Insadong. At the Insa P.R Center, visitors can have a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) experience.

In January 2013, the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation published free guidebooks in three languages: English, Japanese and Chinese (simplified and traditional), which features eight tours as well as recommendations for accommodations, restaurants and shopping centers. These were distributed from information centers in 44 subway stations, namely Itaewon Station on SMRT Line 6 and Gwanghwamun Station on SMRT Line 5. The tours are designed with different themes, e.g. Korean traditional culture. Which goes from Jongno 3-ga Station to Anguk Station and Gyeongbokgung Station on KORAIL-Seoul Metro Line 3 that showcases antique shops and art galleries of this area.