Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RAS walking tour

I went on a walking tour run by Peter Bartholomew of the Royal Asiatic Society - Korea Branch last Sunday. It was a bit early for me but I am incredibly glad that I went. It was a tiring but enjoyable tour full of stuff that is often left out of some basic books. I was also surprised at how much the tour focused on architecture, something that I had not actively thought of before. The tour focused on the fall of the Choson Dynasty, 한옥, and Japan-Korea relations among others. Some highlights:

  • round support pillars were only for royal homes and not regular 한옥 homes.
  • painted exterior walls were allowed on official royal homes and religious structures only.
  • the arched roofs of old were designed to protrude just enough not not allow rain to enter in nor splash near the actual home.
  • the roofs themselves are extremely heavy necessitating the thick line on top to help distribute he weight.
  • the further the chimney of the 온돌 is from the house, the faster the draw of circulation.
  • Korean granite has a surprisingly high amount of tungsten in it which helps to make it retain heat longer.
  • 광화문 has been moved a lot. it's current reconstruction location is also the original location.
  • the Russian legation suffered a bomb blast in the Korean war leaving a massive wreck and a lone standing tower in the aftermath. what's more interesting is what happened after the cleanup. it's currently a curiously shaped hill with a pointless park at the bottom of what used to be a nice flat piece of land. the explanation? when Russia wanted the land back, Seoul felt compelled to built a slanted piece of land in its stead. Russia not wanting the lemon, politely gave back the land to Seoul. thanks but no thanks kind of thing.
  • Prince Sunjong was an imbecile not by birth but by an attack via an overdose of opium 
  • 경복궁 is the only Korean palace setup in the Chinese style of a single line. 
  • speaking of Gyeongbokgung, every time it gets repaired, the Japanese seem to invade (1590s, 1910s)
  • the tradition of naming a state flower for a dynasty is a Japanese tradition. The Korean Ewha comes to mind.
  • approximately 97% of 덕수궁 was demolished primarily by Japanese occupation (in 1910 310 buildings existed but by 1945 there were only 12 left)
  • also, there's visible Korean war damage at 덕수궁.

I was really happy with the level of detail of the tour. Peter's knowledge of the Korean language, Asian architecture and public speaking skills provided me and the rest of the group with what one hopes for in a historical tour or lecture for that matter. I hope to attend more of RAS's events. This was my second event with RAS; the first being Martin Uden's lecture. Taken from the website:
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Tour Leader: Mr. Peter Bartholomew
For all of the time that we spend in Seoul many of us are not aware of the many historical sites that present themselves to us everyday. Today's tour will help point out some of the many sites that are available.
This tour will help make residents and visitors to Seoul aware of Seoul's vast cultural heritage in and around the extensive royal compound, most especially showing how the five major palaces and their eight "detached" and service palace compounds were contiguously linked (from Doksu to the present Seoul National University Hospital "Daehak ro" area), and why. We will see little known nooks of virtually forgotten royal compounds.
Dok Su Palace Library (former Seoul Club from around 1906 until the 1970's in which King Gojong was forced by the Japanese to put the royal seal on the annexation papers). The former Czarist Russian Legation site and other former diplomatic mission sites in Jeong Dong, most of which were formerly part of Dok su Palace.
Kyong-Hui Palace, a little known minor palace on Shinmun-ro 2-ka (later became Seoul Boy's High School site and now under restoration as a palace).
The compound of the 600 year-old White Pine in Hyo-Ja Dong, and several of the large traditional Korean houses in that former Choson Dynasty aristocratic residential area. Important sites surrounding Gyeongbok Palace, formerly serving the royal compound, when it served as the center of the Joseon Royal Government until the late 19th Century.
The Jong Chin Bu, Office of the Royal Household.The An Dong Detached Palace (An Guk Dong).Seoul's only remaining aristocratic "great house" (99 "kan") house, the home of Korea's second president, Yun Po Sun and other significant homes in the Ga Hoe Dong area.
The Royal Astrological Observatory next to Chang Dok Palace.The Unhyon Palace, former residence of the Daewon-gun, or Prince Regent, Yi Ha-ung. The Taewon-gun's second son, born and raised in Unhyon-gung, went on to become King Kojong, the last reigning king in Korea prior to colonization.
Other interesting Choson Dynasty period homes and structures along the way will be explained and put into context, especially in the "Hyoja-Dong" area and in "Ka-Hoe-Dong", the other primarily aristocratic residential area of the Joseon period, between the major places of Gyeongbok and Changdok.
We are fortunate to have as our tour leader Mr. Peter Bartholomew. Mr. Bartholomew has lived in Korea for more than 20 years and has made an intensive study of the Joseon Dynasty period from the architectural point of view into its history, culture and politics. He has made a special study into the evolutionary aspects of the royal Capital of Seoul, and his fascinating article entitled "Choson Dynasty Royal Compounds Windows to a Lost Culture" can be found in Volume 68 of Transactions of the R.A.S., Korea Branch. He will continuously narrate the tour with historical, cultural and aesthetic/ architectural descriptions. Mr. Bartholomew will be our guide for Dok Su Palace and the remains of the formerly larger Dok-Su compound palace now outside of the palace walls.
Cost of the tour is W20,000 for members and for non members W24,000. The tour will depart from the main gate of Dok-Su Palace at 9:00 a.m. and finish about 3:30 p.m. around the Chang dok Palace. Please remember to bring some money for lunch (W 5,000-6,000). You may bring some soft drinks and snacks for the tour since we will have lunch later in the afternoon. SINCE THIS IS A WALKING TOUR, COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES AND CLOTHES ARE RECOMMENDED.


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