Press briefing on the Comprehensive Program for Conserving, Managing, and Using Seoul City Wall
Date: May 7, 2012
Venue: Briefing Room, Seosomun Building, Seoul City Hall
Hello, beloved citizens,
Now, Seoul City Wall is set to embrace Seoul once again and reclaim its place in the history of this city. Some 600 years of history will be revived.
Built 600 years ago, Seoul City Wall is the oldest city wall in the world, and its history is based on humanism. According to Sambongjip (Collected Works of Jeong Do-jeon), it was built to protect our capital and its people.
It served as a safeguard for the dynasty and the people. As such, Seoul City Wall was a foundation as well as a buttress for the livelihoods of the Korean people. It is also known globally for being a historic site that blends well with the nature.
Based on its considerable historical value, it was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in April 20, 2012. Today’s citizens brought this history to light and made this accomplishment.
Now, how can we coexist with Seoul City Wall? On January 31, experts, citizens, public officials, and reporters visited Seoul City Wall, and they made some observations and came up with ideas. As a result, they developed a comprehensive program to conserve, manage, and use Seoul City Wall.
This is the plan we came up with:
First, we recognized that Seoul City Wall has preserved 600 years of our history, and that its rebirth was made possible by the citizens of Seoul. It was built in 1396 by the first king (King Taejo) of the Joseon Dynasty. Some 190,000 people from five provinces were mobilized for the construction, which took 98 days. After its completion, Seoul City Wall became a symbol of the newly-established capital. It was rebuilt in 1422, during the reign of King Sejong, by which time, the city wall had become a symbol of the national system. This time, about 320,000 people from eight provinces took part in the 38-day construction project. It was rebuilt again in 1710, in the reign of King Sukjong, and became a symbol of national restoration. This third reconstruction project was carried out as a means of restoring Korean pride from the damage caused by the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592 (Imjin Waeran) and the Manchu War of 1636 (Byeongja Horan).
Seoul City Wall was not built through a gradual process with the passage of time. Based on Confucian values—benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom—it was constructed to fully reflect the humanistic significance of Seoul’s inner and outer mountains, which led to the construction of the four main gates and four auxiliary gates. With these gates, Seoul City Wall acted as a hub connecting the eight provinces and provincial capitals nationwide.
Furthermore, Seoul City Wall was closely connected to the livelihoods of our ancestors, the details of whose lives have been handed down throughout the generations. A historical document from the Joseon Dynasty says, “Sunseong is when people who live within the wall walk along the wall in pairs.” Another historical record revealed, “In order to be completed properly, Sunseong should be done within one day, no matter how bad the weather is,” and “Merchants of Jongno clandestinely walked along the wall to pray for the prosperity and fortune of their shops.” These are intriguing pieces of our history, don’t you think? Even now, many people still walk along the wall in this way.
Especially, Seoul City Wall reflected the livelihoods of the people and the culture and art of the Joseon Dynasty. Black-and-white ink painters active in the Joseon Dynasty used the city wall as one of the key objects for their portrayals of the beauty of nature, solidifying its place as representative of our history.
However, Seoul City Wall was violated during the Japanese occupation. The wall connected to Sungnyemun Gate was demolished to increase the convenience of transportation for the Japanese crown prince, and Heunginjimun Gate was dismantled and used to build the first tram lines. In 1914, in order to build a residential complex for Japanese governors, Seosomun Gate was dismantled, and the wood from Donuimun Gate was sold as firewood for a mere 17 bags of rice. Igansumun Floodgate was destroyed and buried completely, and Hyehwamun Gate was demolished due to a lack of funds for reconstruction.
After liberation, Seoul City Wall was lost to history. Part of the wall was destroyed for the construction of the Namsan Arts Center, and it was used as embankments for the building. Its historic value was completely ignored and continued to be damaged in the rush of modernization, while its remnants were used to build embankments and walls for private properties.
However, history finally stepped out of the dark. In 1975, the Samcheong District was restored, and Seongbuk District was rebuilt in 1976. About 12,344 meters of the wall was restored by the time of the renovation of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park in 2009. Recently, an additional 1,156 meters have been restored. However, we still have a long way to go before restoring private properties, rejoining severed sections, and re-translating the sections that were poorly restored.
Although enormous efforts have been invested, some parts of the wall have not yet been fully restored, and some sections were clumsily reconstructed with cement. The original height of the city wall has not been clearly indicated by historical research, and some sections had stones on the walls—which were restored during the reign of King Sejong—that were engraved with writing from the time of King Sukjong. Poor restorations are the worst possible thing that can be done, because it deprives our descendants of the opportunity to restore the wall with authenticity and completeness. Even so, the city wall as a whole has largely been preserved as it was in the past.
Seoul City Wall was built using a unique technique that blends well with the surroundings. It is a wall that reflects the thinking of our ancestors, and how they perceived nature as part of their daily lives.
Now, we have inherited Seoul City Wall, allowing the traditional and modern to coexist. As such, we have been given a sacred duty to restore Seoul City Wall and pass it on to our descendants.
Now, I will tell you about our promises. But first, I sincerely want all of you—distinguished reporters and citizens—to promise me that you will take a walk around the city wall before the weather gets too hot. You do not have to walk it all in one day. The important thing is, when you go up there, you will see Seoul in a very different light. I’m sure it will be a touching moment. You will see everything that we should be both proud and ashamed of. In one glance, you will see what Seoul means to us, what is missing from our urban planning, which area is most beautiful, and why we should live together and preserve our communities.
We can seek solutions within our communities by clearly recognizing Seoul’s circumstances and determine how Seoul should step forward into the future. As such, Seoul City Wall is like a history book or an enlightening piece of poetry.
Thus, I would like to read and write down this history for all Seoul citizens. This is one of the promises we are eager to keep.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will restore the entirety of the city wall by 2015, and in the process, its authenticity will be maintained. To this end, areas that are difficult to restore will be marked with signs, and to educate citizens about what the city wall has endured, some sites will contain signs bearing relevant historical information.
Our children will, at least, inherit our dedication and commitment to restoring our heritage, and pathways that harmonize well with the city wall will be reconstructed. Old trees and shrubs will be rearranged according to specific guidelines, and the paths will be restored using traditional techniques.
Second, Seoul City Wall will be made together with our citizens. Seoul City Wall was an achievement made by our ancestors together with the dynasty, and we have inherited their commitment. Citizens from the eight provinces of South Korea will be appointed as honorary inspectors of Seoul City Wall, and they will be assigned to specific parts of the wall. Also, some citizen-led events will be held at Seoul City Wall in October 2013 to celebrate the October 26 completion of the wall, as recorded in a historical chronicle of the first king of the Joseon Dynasty (Taejo Sillok), and its October 31 completion, according to King Sejong’s treatise on geography (Sejong Sillok Jiriji). The current restoration of Seoul City Wall will be completed at around that time as well.
Also, a community that harmonizes well with Seoul City Wall will be created. Communities with long histories will be preserved, and Dal-dongne (a poor hillside village) in Seongbuk-dong will be reconstructed with traditional Korean houses. This will not be done by the authorities, but will be decided and led by the residents and citizens themselves. The transfer of military units and private facilities will be carried out only after sufficient consultations with the parties concerned. In particular, the mayor’s residence shall be the first to be relocated. A variety of opinions will be taken into account throughout the entire process, which is slated to be completed by March 2013. Private properties will be purchased and construction will begin from 2015 onwards.
Third, we promise to restore Seoul City Wall. A system exclusively responsible for operating and managing the city wall will be implemented, and an advisory committee composed of citizens and experts will be organized. Also, a museum and a research institute dedicated exclusively to Seoul City Wall will be established, and an inspection committee, which was first organized in the Joseon Dynasty, will be set up to supervise the administrative work regarding Seoul City Wall. During King Sejong’s reign, the head of the inspection committee was either the first vice-premier or the second vice-premier. Therefore, whoever takes this role now can consider it a significant promotion, am I correct?
Fourth, we will hand Seoul City Wall down to our descendants as a priceless piece of our cultural heritage site. Through a step-by-step process, Seoul City Wall will become a UNESCO World Heritage in 2015. This will be the starting point for the stable and consistent management of Seoul City Wall.
Seoul City Wall will shift the paradigm of Seoul’s urban planning. Previously, Seoul was merely a target of reckless development and thoughtless interests—a state of affairs that significantly damaged our pride.
But Seoul will now leap forward as a cultural city that has recovered its history. I believe this will restore our pride and emerge as an engine for Seoul’s future growth.
Seoul City Wall is a living piece of history, not a dead relic. As such, being registered as a UNESCO World Heritage is not our final goal. The city wall will become a part of our lives; we will walk along it, work out next to it, walk with our lovers, sell stuff, study, and contemplate life. With the power and courage gained through the restoration of the city wall, we will be able to look back on the past and reflect on the future from a new perspective. And in the future, we will hand down a part of our lives to our descendants.
Additionally, Seoul City Wall will become a means of attracting 20 million tourists to Seoul. At present, the number of foreign tourists to Seoul is about 8.86 million, but these days, a growing number of tourists are visiting Seoul City Wall. Thus, Seoul City Wall will not be limited to being only our own cultural heritage site; it will be positioned as a part of global cultural heritage that is loved by many citizens from around the world.
For the future of our city wall, I will declare in front of you today that Seoul City Wall will be completed by today’s citizens, just as it was in the past. After restoring its 600 years of history, Seoul City Wall will permeate every part of our lives, becoming a new symbol of Seoul that embraces all citizens wholeheartedly based on the spirit of community.
Seoul City Wall will become a place that transforms the impoverishment of materialism into warmhearted humanism.
Seoul City Wall will be completed by the people, allowing you to open a new chapter in history.