Saturday, October 24, 2015

Walking with Peter Bartholomew

Many people are unaware of the many historical sites in Seoul, but Peter Bartholomew, former president of the RAS and living in Korea for well over 40 years, gives a tour of just, the big historical sites of Seoul, focusing on the architecture and especially the architecture of the palaces and yang ban residences. 

Here is the RAS write-up of the excursion:

This excursion is organised to explain to residents and visitors to Seoul the vast cultural heritage and history in and around the extensive royal compounds. While walking through historical compounds and buildings we will be shown how Seoul's massive palace compounds were organized and contiguously linked, from the five major palaces (one “Pŏp-Kung” and four“E-Kung”), to the 15 detached palaces (“Pyŏl-Kung”) and their service palace compounds. The palace compounds originally extended from Dŏksu to the present Seoul National University Hospital in the "Daehak‑ro" area, with insightful explanations of the history and reasons for their designs, uses and aesthetic layout. We will see little known nooks of virtually forgotten royal compounds.

The leader will explain the events leading to the establishment of Seoul as capital of Korea in the 1390’s, how (and why) it was originally laid out, and its evolution during the following 500 years into a massive royal complex comprising 5 major palaces, over 15 detached palaces, government administrative centres, numerous shrines and how the city grew up around it, first as primarily a royal government center and then evolving into the economic / commercial, social and cultural centre as well. He will also describe the tragic wars and purposeful demolitions that have erased all but a handful of the original buildings and compounds.

Dŏk Su Palace

This palace became the seat of the royal government only from 1896, following the assassination of Queen Min earlier that year and the subsequent abandonment of Gyeongbok (Kyŏngbok) Palace. It was the centre of the vortex of imperial power games swirling around Korea in the late 19th to early 20th century, with China, Japan, Russia, the British Empire and the United States all having a stake in the game. The tour leader will describe these events while visiting the very buildings and rooms in which King Gojong tried to steer Korea through the maelstrom of international political intrigue. Additionally, the leader will describe in detail the architectural and aesthetic aspects of Korean traditional palace design and science, using this palace’s exceptional styling to illustrate these points.

Dŏk‑Su Palace Library, “Chung Myŏng Chŏn” (Jung Myeong Jeon),which was formerly part of Dŏk Su palace, later becoming the Seoul Club from around 1906 until the 1970's, in which certain ministers in the King Gojong court were coerced by the Japanese to put the royal seal on the Protectorate Treaty papers, called the “Ulsa” Treaty in 1906, and the adjoining former Czarist Russian Legation site with other former diplomatic mission sites in Jeong‑Dong. All of these buildings were part of the violent period of imperial competition of the 1880’s through 1910 that finally led to Japan taking over this country, with Korea squeezed in the middle.

Kyŏng-Hui Palace (Gyeong Hui Palace), a little known secondary palace on Shinmun-ro 2-ga built in 1616 and having a chequered and colourful history (later became Seoul Boy's High School site and now partially restored as a palace). The Seoul History Museum occupies the front part of the palace compound. This is an exceptional example of Chosŏn (Joseon) period aesthetic, being built on a hill with different elevations for each of the ceremonial courtyards and buildings.

Meditating in front of the central building at Kyunghuigung.
This quiet palace is recently reconstructed (with work still in progress), little known and is great for relaxing and for excellent beauty spots as the palace is built on a slope and each of the buildings is a bit higher than the previous.
The compound of the 600 year-old White Pine in Hyoja Dong, and several of the large traditional Korean houses (hanok) in that former Choson Dynasty aristocratic residential area. Important sites surrounding Gyeongbok (Kyŏngbok) Palace, formerly serving the royal compound, while it was the center of the Joseon (Chosŏn) Royal Government until the late 19th Century. The leader will describe the spatial relations, history of development and architectural aspects that make Korea’s traditional architecture so unique. While we will not go into Gyeongbok (Kyŏngbok) Palace, the leader will explain the complex, vast layout and history of the largest Korean royal palace complex ever built. We then will walk between the north wall of Gyeongbok Palace and the “Blue House,” the official compound of the President of the Republic of Korea on our way to “Bukchon” / Ga-Hoe Dong.

The Blue House, resident of the Korean president. When in the area either walking on this street behind Gyeongbokgung or hiking on the hiking trail behind the Blue House, photos taken in the direction of the Blue House are strictly forbidden, except in photo zones like this one.
The Jong‑Chin‑Bu, Office of the Royal Household, the An‑Dong Detached Palace (An‑Guk‑Dong), and 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, still occupied today by the son of Yun Po-Sun.

The Royal Astrological Observatory next to Chang‑Dok Palace (on the grounds of Hyundai’s headquarters), and the Unhyŏn Palace, former residence of the Daewon-gun, or Prince Regent, Yi Ha-ung. Unhyŏn Palace is the only remaining (somewhat!) in-tact “detached palace,” where offspring of the king (those who would not become the next king) lived up through the late 1960’s to 1980’s, when expelled by the Korean Government. The Taewon-gun's second son, born and raised in Unhyŏn Palace, went on to become King Kojong, the second to last reigning king in Korea prior to colonization (and the last King who truly reigned with power of the state; the last monarch, King Sunjong, was put into power by the Japanese in 1907 was simply their puppet!). This compound has residential buildings of exceptionally refined, sophisticated architecture which will be explained in their historical, aesthetic and execution contexts and a two story European style residential palace building, the last of its style remaining in Korea.

Other interesting Chosŏn 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" (“Bukchon”), the other primarily aristocratic residential area of the Joseon (Chosŏn) period, between the Gyeongbok and Changdok Palaces.

We are fortunate to have as our excursion leader Mr. Peter Bartholomew. Mr. Bartholomew has lived in Korea for more than 40 years and has made an intensive study of the Joseon (Chosŏn) Dynasty period from the architectural point of view with analysis of its history, culture and politics. He has made a special study into the evolutionary aspects of the royal capital city of Seoul. His fascinating article entitled "Choson Dynasty Royal Compounds ‑ Windows to a Lost Culture" can be found in Volume 68 of Transactions of the RAS, Korea Branch. He will continuously narrate the excursion with historical, cultural and aesthetic / architectural descriptions.

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