Monday, October 12, 2009

Gwanghwamun Plaza: Treeless Wonder

Going to Anguk station. Transfer at Chungmuro. Waiting for the train.

After the 2S2 initial meet up at the Twosome Place cafe near Anguk station, we took off to visit the newly renovated Gwanghawmun plaza.
Although the new design was interesting and funky there was a strong lamentation by Rob that there are no trees. In their place were these, as he called it "plastic pods" which offered minimal shade.

Rob isn't the only one with lamentations on this treeless wonder. Blogger "Seoul Village" writes:

As pointed out earlier, the square itself cruelly lacks natural shade. It was a deliberate choice for security reasons : like Seoul Plaza, the area might be used as a demonstration spot, but this time right in front of the Government's headquarters. On the other hand, no more ginkgo trees means that you can enjoy the panorama on the mountain from any point. But this flat area will be as chilly in winter as it is mercilessly hot in summer. More than the embarrassing sea of flowers covering the Northern section of Gwanghwamun Plaza, waterworks do provide some welcomed refreshment, and flower pot benches do grow a few useful metallic umbrellas... but under a scorching sun, it's safer to bring your own shade.
Everyone must suffer the eye-sore of no trees and the berating heat and cold due to the fear that protesters will come to this area, which they often do. I also wonder if the scheduled water fountain display that shoots up water can double as a way to deter protesters..hmm?
Consider this though, before the area was restored there were ginkgo trees but due to planning issues they didn't make it into the renovation. Actually you can still spot them on the other side of the road.
The plaza restores Gwanghwamun’s significance as the center of Korea’s history, politics and culture. To restore the uninterrupted view of Gwanghwamun, Gyeongbokgung, Mt. Bukak and Mt. Bukhan, the gingko trees planted by the Japanese were transplanted in May of 2008, signaling the start of the Gwanghwamun Plaza project.
One wonders that if those trees were of a different variety and planted by Koreans that they would have been spared being pulled out. I guess their main purpose was for one to get an uninterrupted view of it all, which yes is very possible now when you walk through the plaza.

Minus the trees and you are left with a granite floor, pod like shelters and various sculptures along the plaza strip.
The waterway, 2 centimeters deep and about 1 meter across, runs for 365 meters along the plaza's east side. On its floor lie 617 stones recording with major events from the beginning of Joseon in 1392 through 2008

The carpet of flowers is located at the northern part of the plaza. Measuring 17.5 meters wide and 162 meters long, it presents 220,000 flowers symbolizing the 220,000 days from when Seoul became the capital of the Joseon Kingdom up to the opening of the plaza.

For a great synopsis of the history of Gwanghwamun area take a look at My Nice Day!'s post. If you look through this post you will see design choices for the plaza, one of which includes trees.source

Apparently we came around the time when they recently revealed the new King Sejong statue.

The second quarter will be unveiled on Hangeul Day, commemorating the birth of the Korean writing system, on Oct. 9.

The long-awaited bronze statue of the Great King Sejong (1418-50), who is credited with promulgating ``Hangeul'' with a group of scholars, will join that of Admiral Yi Sun-shin on Gwanghwamun Plaza. It will be the landmark for entry into ``The King Sejong Story,'' an artistic underground museum space for pedestrians below the plaza's bed of flowers and water fountain streams.

Wanting to check out the underground museum required waiting in a very long line. I will have to check it out when the crowds are fewer.
There will be five permanent multimedia exhibition halls focusing on King Sejong's humanity, democratic ideals, sagacious leadership, the creation of hangeul and developments in science and the arts under his rule. A sixth zone will be allotted for temporary exhibitions.

Seated up high above everyone and glistening amongst the sunshine you do feel a sense of awe. I tried to find out what material it was made from. My guess is bronze but really it doesn't look like it. Maybe a mixture of something.
Anyways, the statue sure sits proudly in the plaza.

Although there are a lack of trees and amazing urban design the plaza is a new hot spot to check out. Who knows? Maybe as time passes additions and subtractions will be made to the plaza. I hear it is a wonder to check out at night as the fountain performance is lit up. Finally, the Gwanghwamun gate itself will eventually be reveled and I guess the whole thing will be complete.


  1. I was wondering about those fountains being used as protest deterrents too.... I wonder if it's true...

  2. Next time, be sure to head underground and look at the photo exhibit showing numerous European plazas that were supposedly used for inspiration. A common feature shared by many would be a lack of trees. Most are completely hard-scaped open areas whose only shade comes from surrounding buildings. Do a quick google search of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca and Madrid, the Zócolo in Mexico City, plazas in Florence and Venice Italy for examples of fabulous and fabulously treeless plazas.

    Not to say that Gwanghwamun is perfect but I would include lack of places to sit and isolation from the surrounding pedestrian oriented street life would be bigger negatives.


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