Seoul’s Oldest Building Succumbs to Drunk Old Man

13 02 2008


In a devastating loss for South Korea, the country’s National Treasure No. 1, the Namdaemoon, fell to a fire started by a drunk old man. Or at least, that was how the first reports were calling him. The latest word is that it was started by a man who also tried to set fire to the Royal Palace two years ago. Apparently he has some land issues with the government, I guess this was his way of getting some attention from them. But after this, he will only get the other kind of attention from the government.

The Namdaemoon was the southern gate of Seoul when it was a walled city in the past. Apparently the Japanese tore down the walls during its occupation of Korea and the Namdaemoon is the only remaining remnant of the great wall of Seoul. Standing in the middle of a busy intersection, it was a great reminder of the Korea of the past.

On the bright side, the stone base of the Namdaemoon received little to no damage. A heritage group will rebuild the famous landmark at a cost of $21 million and it will take three years to finish. Although it’s nice that it will be rebuilt, that aura of the old building will be gone. Oh, I wish wood wasn’t so susceptible to fire.


Published: February 12, 2008

SEOUL, South Korea — The destruction in a fire of the 600-year-old southern gate to what was once the walled city of Seoul, a landmark that survived foreign invasions and wars to be designated South Korea’s top national treasure, has shocked the nation.

A 69-year-old man suspected of setting the fire was arrested Monday night on Kanghwa Island, west of Seoul, The Associated Press reported the police as saying. The man was identified only by his family name, Chae.

The suspect “has confessed his crime,” said Kim Young-soo, chief at a police station handling the case in Seoul, The Associated Press said. The police have a letter from the suspect complaining about a land dispute with a development company, Mr. Kim was quoted as saying, adding that the suspect maintains he did not get enough compensation from the developer for his land in Kyonggi Province near Seoul.

Mr. Kim said the man had been charged in 2006 with setting fire to the Changgyeong Palace in Seoul, which caused $4,230 in damage.

“The Republic of Korea could not even defend its national treasure No. 1!” one front-page newspaper headline lamented, using South Korea’s formal name.

The fire destroyed Sungnyemun, better known to Koreans and foreign tourists as Namdaemun, or Great South Gate. “With this fire, our national pride was burned down as well,” said Lee Kyung-sook, top aide to President-elect Lee Myung-bak, who rushed to the scene of the blaze on Monday.

Namdaemun, made of wood and stone with a two-tiered, pagoda-shaped tiled roof, was completed in 1398 and served as the main southern entrance to Seoul, which was then a walled city. It was the oldest wooden structure in Seoul, an iconic reminder of old Korea in this modern Asian city, the capital of South Korea, and a major tourist attraction. The site is surrounded by a bustling commercial district. Lately, homeless people had sought shelter there.

The gate survived the Chinese and Japanese invasions that devastated the city. It was repaired several times, most recently after the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. When the South Korean government cataloged its national treasures in 1962, it gave the gate the No. 1 ranking.

Some historians opposed that designation because Japanese invasion forces had passed through it in the late 16th century to destroy Seoul.

The fire was first reported Sunday evening. By late Sunday night, firefighters said they believed that they had contained it. But the fire roared out of control again after midnight and finally destroyed the structure, despite the efforts of more than 360 firefighters.

Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for President Roh Moo-hyun, called the loss “an utterly unfortunate and unspeakably deplorable incident.”

“The gate has been our representative cultural asset that has been with us for 600 years,” Mr. Cheon said in a regular news briefing. “All Koreans were shocked and hurt when they saw the gate crumbling in flames.”

The Cultural Heritage Administration said it would take three years and $21 million to rebuild the structure.

Namdaemun succumbed to the very thing it was designed to fight off, according to Korean legend: fire. Korean kings chose the site in the belief that the gate would protect the capital from the fiery spirit of a mountain south of Seoul, historians say.




3 responses

4 11 2010
Cooker Hoods ·

there are many tourists attractions to choose from, the only problem that we have is the money to spend to see most of them *

3 12 2010
Neon Light

well, there are so many tourist attractions that you find on asia and europe. i would really love to travel a lot .*~

30 08 2017

They should give him a death penalty. One that as cruel as possible. Should let him rot in hell. Or they had to shot him to death when they spoted him

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