The neighborhoods along Seoul City Wall, in a city where history exists side-by-side with the everyday lives of the people, have borne witness to the 600-year history of Seoul City Wall as well as Korea’s turbulent modern and contemporary eras.
Within Seoul, there is a harmonious coexistence between the city’s historical culture heritage (Seoul City Wall) and its everyday cultural heritage (lives of Seoul citizens). The landscape of the city, which changes along with the seasons, is a truly unique one rarely found in other countries.
Built over a hilly area, much of Seoul City Wall follows the contours of the land, and numerous small villages have formed along its length over time. Because of this, the fortress wall shows how Korean housing culture has evolved over the past few decades of Seoul’s modernization and is, therefore, an important part of the cultural heritage of the city.
Seoul City Wall also features low-rise, multi-family housing that was built to suit the hilly landscape. These multi-family housing communities along the fortress wall are inhabited mainly by residents who have lived in their communities for at least 30 to 40 years and, as such, have developed strong emotional attachments to their homes.
Recently, a number of citizen-participatory programs are being conducted in these areas by civic groups. Also, as many of the neighborhoods have been used as filming locations for movies and TV dramas, showcasing their unique atmosphere and scenery, they are now becoming increasingly popular tourist destinations. This increased visibility has led to greater citizen interest in them, raising their value in the eyes of the people.
The Ihwa and Chungsin areas, located at the foot of Naksan Mountain, were popular scenic spots during the Joseon Dynasty. After the Japanese colonial period, however, the poorest inhabitants of Seoul gathered here and created shantytowns and “plank villages.” In the late 1950s, public housing complexes were built on these sites. And with the redevelopment of dilapidated housing in the 1970s, the Ihwa and Chungsin areas took on the appearance that we see today.
However, the neighborhood retains its narrow alleyways, where parts of the past and present intermingle, and landscape, created by the decades-long accumulation of the residents’ everyday lives. After a public art demonstration project was conducted here in 2006, which led the neighborhood to be introduced as a “wall painting neighborhood” on a popular television entertainment program, it suddenly began attracting large numbers of tourists from Korea and abroad. Recently, artists have begun working with the residents on various community projects, including the creation of a neighborhood museum.
Samseon is a neighborhood located outside the fortress wall at the northeastern foot of Naksan Mountain. In the past, it was the site of an air-raid shelter and so-called “plank villages.” After Korea’s liberation, it remained a shantytown, inhabited by those unable to find housing within the fortress wall. The poor quality housing, built on state-owned land, began to gradually change in appearance in the late 1960s due to legalization and housing improvement efforts. But even today, there are many places in the neighborhood where you can find the characteristic alleyways and lot shapes of its earliest days. Home to long-time residents who have created a distinct, closely-knit community with a peaceful atmosphere, Samseon is a true everyday cultural heritage site of Seoul.
Seongbuk is located along the northeastern section of Seoul City Wall. In the Joseon Dynasty, it was a favorite spot for the scholar-literati to enjoy the arts against the backdrop of beautiful natural scenery, clear streams, and ornamental rocks. After the establishment of a state office in charge of the city’s defense, people began to move to this area. And with the launch of a residential land development project by the colonial government in 1936, Seongbuk became one of Seoul’s most representative residential districts. While many unauthorized houses were built on the hilly land at the foot of Bugaksan Mountain after the war, other areas became sites for the construction of high-end housing and diplomats’ quarters in the late 1970s. Today’s Seongbuk-dong retains many of its traditional buildings. Building on its historical resources, natural scenery, and the everyday culture of its residents, a new culture is being created here with the introduction of art galleries, handicraft shops, and guest houses.
As it is located outside the fortress wall at the foot of Inwangsan and Baegaksan mountains, Buam features beautiful scenery and many historical and cultural resources, including Seokpajeong Pavilion, Baekseok Dongcheon, the villa of Yoon Ung-ryeol, and the former site of the home of Prince Anpyeong. Over the year, only limited redevelopment has been conducted in this area due to its designation as a “military protected area” and “limited development district.” After the 1970s, Buam became the site of a wealthy residential area, and with the creation of a walking trail along the fortress wall, the area became a popular attraction in Seoul, full of cafes, art galleries, and handicraft shops. Its natural scenery, created by Inwangsan and Bugaksan mountains and Seoul City Wall, combines seamlessly with its residential atmosphere. Now, this neighborhood is becoming better known for its distinct atmosphere, formed by its combination of various cultural heritage sites, old stores, and small accessory shops.
Haengchon-dong is a residential area along the fortress wall’s western flank that includes spaces both inside and outside the wall. It is home to several important cultural heritage sites, including Gyeonghuigung Palace, Dongnimmun Gate, and Sajikdan, and is characterized by its historical assets. As a result of a residential environment improvement project, Haengchon-dong features a high concentration of multiplex housing, but this does not detract from the beautiful sight of the fortress wall, which can be seen from the alleyways and steeply sloping paths of its hilly foundation. Sajik-dong, technically part of the damaged section of the fortress wall, retains a number of hanok and former residences of Western missionaries from its days as a residential area inside the fortress wall. Also, the Gyonam-dong area features old, well-preserved pathways, waterways, hanok, and other relics of the rich history and culture of the area.