The First Traditional Market in Seoul: Gwangjang Market
Located in Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu, Gwangjang Market is 110 years old, as of 2015. After its abundant displays of food were aired on a popular entertainment program several years ago, the market quickly became (and remains) quite famous. The major items sold at Gwangjang Market include not only food but also hanbok, fabric, and vintage clothing. Gwangjang Market is the first year-round market established by private merchants in an effort to combat the Yukuijeon (six shops on Jong-ro in the Joseon Dynasty that held exclusive rights to supply the royal family) and then later the Japanese, who sought to set up shop in the Jong-ro area after gaining commercial supremacy in the Namdaemun area. The one-story hanok that initially housed the market’s shops was completely destroyed during the Korean War. In 1959, the current three-story building was built as part of the city’s reconstruction effort, and in the 1960s, the name was changed from “Dongdaemun Market” to “Gwangjang Market.” Gwangjang Market remained famous as a seller of hanbok and fabrics until the 1980s. Ihyeon, the part of the market near Dongdaemun, sold fruits and vegetables, while Chilpae (near Bongnae-dong) sold fish to a constantly bustling crowd of customers. Today, over 100 years after its birth as the first civilian market, Gwangjang Market continues to tell the stories of the people who use it while striving to revive the material abundance of its heyday.