South Korea’s top cultural treasure rises from the ashes



AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Published — Tuesday 13 November 2012

Last update 13 November 2012 6:28 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

FIVE YEARS AGO, as he watched TV images of South Korea’s foremost historical treasure being engulfed in flames lit by a lone arsonist, Hong Chang-Won remembers having to turn his head away.
“It was too heartbreaking to see such beautiful architecture being destroyed like that,” said Hong, a registered master craftsman who specializes in traditional Korean ornamental painting.
Seoul’s 600-year-old Namdaemun (South Gate), listed as “National Treasure Number One” and a source of immense cultural pride, was burned pretty much to the ground on Feb. 10, 2008.
The largely wooden structure that had managed to survive the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War was reduced to ashes by a disgruntled 69-year-old man with some paint thinner and a cigarette lighter.
Nearly five years later, following one of the longest, most expensive restoration projects ever undertaken in South Korea that involved scores of highly-skilled artisans like Hong, Namdaemun is ready to return.
The restored landmark is set to be unveiled, on schedule, in late December.
From the outset of the 25 billion won ($22.7 million) project, the Cultural Heritage Administration had decided that the reconstruction work should be carried out as faithfully to the original as possible.
“It has been extremely difficult, but given that it’s Korea’s landmark, we put traditional methods and materials as our highest priority,” said the head of the administration’s restoration team, Cho Kyu-Hyung.
“The building holds not only a historical significance, but also a great symbolic meaning for all Koreans,” Cho told AFP during a preview tour.
Historians and master craftsmen using traditional construction techniques were invited to review documents dating back centuries, as well as a blueprint drawn up in 1963 when the government dismantled the gate for repair work.
“The only modern ‘tools’ that we used were trucks to deliver the stone and timber. Otherwise everything was done using original technologies,” Cho said.
Molten steel was poured into special molds to fashion traditional-style nails, while all 22,000 roof tiles were handmade.
Hundreds of pieces of pine timber had all been cut and allowed to dry out naturally — a process that takes several years — and the stonework was cut and crafted with traditional tools.
Decorative paints, however, had to be imported from Japan, since the art of making them in the traditional fashion, without chemicals, had been lost among Korean specialists.
Six master craftsmen specializing in stonecraft, woodcraft, roof tiles and ornamental painting were invited onto the project, said Cho, with each craftsman assisted by as many as 40 licensed apprentices.
As the expert in charge of the painting, Hong’s team was the last to work on the project and he watched carefully as the apprentices followed his outlines of lotus flowers and leaf patterns drawn on the giant timbers.
“We tried hard to restore the colors and styles of the time when it was actually built,” Hong said.
“At first glance, the newer Namdaemun might look less colorful and rather toned down, but it will look much more serene and graceful,” he added.
The dominant colors were of light blue and dark green, with more vivid tones of orange and red used only as highlights.
The patterns were copied from temples built around the same time, as well as pictures taken from the early 1900s.
“And since some pillars remained intact even after the fire, we also took them into account,” Hong said.
The pagoda-style, two-story gate located in the center of downtown Seoul was first constructed in 1398, then rebuilt in 1447 and renovated several times after that.
The structure that burned down in 2008 had still contained some 600-year-old timber. The fire took out the entire roof, most of the upper floor and some of the lower floor.
Proposals to give the restored version a fire-resistant coat was rejected, Cho said, because it would have caused some discoloration of the paintwork.
“We did research and tests and came to conclusion that the best solution was to take every possible precautionary measure, such as installing thermal sensors around the building,” Cho said.
The destruction of Namdaemun sent shock waves through the country, with sorrowful Seoul residents swarming around the charred ruin, laying flowers and writing grieving messages.

The arsonist, Chae Jong-Gi, was eventually jailed for 10 years.

A court ruled he had “inflicted unbearable agony on the people and damaged national pride,” noting that the gate had been considered “the treasure among all treasures which had survived all kinds of historic disasters.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: A Mercedes car with a Saudi number plate was spotted in Israel. The discovery led to intense discussion on social media websites on Tuesday.According to reports, the car was spotted last week in Jaffa’s Clock Tower Square by Jacky Hugi, the M...
RIYADH: The Kingdom is experiencing extremely hot weather conditions.According to a report from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME), Central Province, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, experienced “extremely hot weather with surface winds a...
ALKHOBAR: Many Saudi citizens travel outside the Kingdom during vacations looking for entertainment for themselves and their families as entertainment facilities in the Kingdom do not meet their aspirations. They have called for setting up entertainm...
TAIF: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal inaugurated state-of-the-art Radf public park in Taif which has an interactive fountain — the biggest of its kind in the Kingdom and spread over 13,000 sq meters. The fountain has colored lighting and a displ...
JEDDAH: The Special Criminal Court has issued a preliminary order in a case related to a Saudi national who fought with militant organizations in Syria. The court, functioning at its summer headquarters in Jeddah, sentenced him to a seven-year jail t...
RI YADH: The Kingdom has decided to increase the financial aid to Palestine by raising its monthly aid to the Palestinian Authority’s budget from $14 million to $20 million. The substantial increase brings Saudi Arabia’s yearly aid for Palestine to $...
JEDDAH: The Saudi Ambassador to Jordan has rejected terror charges against Saudis incarcerated in Iraqi jails and slammed the government of that country for concealing information on the inmates."The file of Saudi prisoners in Iraq has grabbed the at...
JEDDAH: Six female members of the Shoura Council participated in a training program to raise awareness among citizens on the municipal elections in which women will participate. The program was organized by Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women un...
RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has issued an order appointing and promoting 96 members at the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIPP) at various ranks.Sheikh Mohammed bin Fahd Al Abdullah, BIPP president, expresse...
DAMMAM: After the recent increase in verbal and physical harassment of women and girls in the Kingdom, they have turned to martial arts in order to protect themselves. Amani Yassin, a coach at Taekwondo Training Institute, said: “Saudi women are inte...
RIYADH: A youth has been arrested for allegedly killing a Saudi man near the Madinah airport recently. The police apprehended the alleged killer without incident. The suspect, a 24-year-old Saudi, is alleged to have stabbed the victim several times...
RIYADH: A total of 4,326 male and female students started their local and regional summer program for 2015 under the sponsorship of the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation for the Gifted and Creativity (Mawhiba) throughout the Kingdom on Su...
BURAIDAH: The security patrolling team in Qassim detained a woman for driving a car on the streets of Buraidah.Her case was referred to the higher-ups for necessary action.According to Maj. Badar Al-Sahibani, spokesman Qassim police, the woman is ide...
RIYADH: Recent statistics announced by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, which coincided with consensus surveys in the Kingdom for the year 2014, revealed that there is only one doctor for each 800 people, and one nurse for every 285 peopl...
Indian expats have paid glowing tributes to one of its most beloved presidents and iconic leaders on Tuesday, as condolences poured in from various parts of the Kingdom for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam following his sudden death on Monday.Hemant Kotalwar, char...

Stay Connected

Facebook