Namdaemun Fire :-(

There was the report this morning on CNN and other sources of a fire at Namdaemun (South Gate) in Seoul. This is one of my favourite historical places in Korea and a location most visitors pass at least one when they visit Seoul.

It seems as though the fire was the result of arson and the wooden part of the structure heavily damaged. However, I think that given the significance of the structure that the Korean government will start the process to repair and restore the gate as much as possible.

The Korea Times noted:

The fire occurred around 8:50 p.m., police said. About 30 fire trucks along with 90 firefighters rushed to the scene to bring the blaze under control. There were no reports of any casualties and the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, they said.

They later noted that:

Police suspect someone deliberately started the fire as a taxi driver, identified only by his surname Lee, said he saw a man in his 50s go up the stairs of the gate with a shopping bag, while he was waiting to pick up a customer in the nearby area.

Lee said he then saw a spark like a firework and reported it to police, adding the man came down the stairs afterwards. The taxi driver said he drove around looking for the man but could not find him.

Namdaemun is the oldest wooden structure in Seoul although I am not sure how much of the original wood survived even before the fire. It is so important to Koreans that it is officially National Treasure No. 1.

CNN also noted that

President-elect Lee Myung-bak visited the scene and deplored the landmark’s destruction, telling officials, “People’s hearts will ache,” The Associated Press reported.

The gate was closed to the public for nearly a century before being reopened in 2006 after a renovation, according to AP.

The Hankyoreh provided some history to the gate:

The landmark, officially called Sungnyemun, or “gate of exalted ceremonies,” was the southern gate of the walls that surrounded Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It currently serves as a gateway to Namdaemun market, a traditional market that has been operating for centuries.Construction of the gate began in 1395 and was finished in 1398 during the reign of King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty.

I must admit to feeling a sadness settle over me as a result of the fire, even though it has been over a year since I was last in Seoul.

I do hope it is restored fairly quickly. I also hope that the Korean government authority in charge of protecting antiquities in Korea surveys their other charges and ensures they are protected as best they can be whilst still allowing the public access.

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