A Ribbon of Green Nature in Seoul

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streamtrees

streamside2Escape into a peaceful green ribbon of nature away from the hustle and bustle of this huge city.

Cheonggyecheon Stream and Park—a beautiful fresh water stream, right next to big roads full of traffic and lined with skyscrapers.

Parts of Seoul seem to be a collection of endless rows of concrete buildings decorated with an incredible number of colorful signs. The apartment complexes, all seemingly designed in the same Soviet-style blocks, begin to blend together. However, hiding behind the towering high-rises and perpetually crowded streets are many green oases, and Cheonggyecheon is one of those.

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You’ll find various art works painted on the walls along the edge of the park
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A map of a section of the park

Tucked along the stream, this park is often overlooked by visitors, but not by locals. Locals can escape the monotony of city life and find a momentary respite in the almost-hidden shrubbery-lined pathways of this green ribbon. We also found it perfect for escaping the noise and traffic of the city. Just wandering along the edge of the stream, with the soothing sound of gurgling water and fish swimming around, is balm for the soul. Is very restorative. You don’t even have to walk, you can just sit in the shade and enjoy it.

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More art work. Note the stepping stones over the stream
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Even under the bridges is decorated

We approached Cheonggyecheonby the stairway 12 not too far from the Euljiro-3metro station and wandered along a fair bit of the path along the stream. Cheonggyecheon is an urban stream nearly 11 km long running through Seoul that once served as a sewage and drainage channel during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Cheonggyecheon was enclosed during the Stream Coverage Project after Korea regained her independence in 1945 as it was considered an eyesore, and was covered in concrete for roads and had an elevated highway constructed along its length.

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The tile painting

tilewall2It stayed like this until being renovated into its present form in 2005. Since this painstaking restoration work was undertaken, Cheonggyecheon has been completely refurbished as a cultural and arts venue, providing various areas for recreation, including the beautiful promenade alongside the stream. The stream passes under a total of 22 bridges before flowing into the Hangang (Han River) and boasts many attractions along its length, notably art works, the most famous being the tile painting of King Jeongjo’s Royal Procession.

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The tile painting is amazing

It was a contentious restoration, partly due to its cost, but also as many people thought it was unnecessary, and would cause worse traffic flow. However, it has proved to be well worth every won spent on it: it’s become a great park for locals to walk in, relax and enjoy; tourists have also discovered it; amazingly, It provides natural air conditioning, and makes the surrounding areas cooler in summer (and warmer in winter!); and in fact traffic flow is much improved.

Running alongside the Cheonggyecheon walkways is the Banchado of King Jeongjo, the largest tile painting in the world.

Depicting a royal procession, it is made up of 5,120 individual ceramic tiles, each one 30cm square and 2.4cm thick. It was painstakingly reproduced as close as possible to the original in detail, as well as in quality and craftsmanship.

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Such detail on the tiles

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Me and part of the tile painting

It depicts King Jeongjo in his 9th reign during the Joseon Dynasty, leading a royal procession to visit the tomb of his father at Hwaseong (Suwon) in 1785, escorted by his mother Hyegyeonggung Hong. The original painting, created by famous artists in the Joseon era, including Kim Hongdo and his peers, is 63 pages long in total. The Banchado of King Jeongjo recreates the work on a magnificent scale in this tile painting.

Banchado of King Jeongjo is divided into two major sections: the royal procession; and a street map of Seoul in the Joseon Dynasty called Suseonjeondo. The original Suseonjeondo is a woodblock street map of Seoul produced by Kim Jeongho in 1825 during the late Joseon period. It depicts many details of the entire city at that time, including streets, roads and fortress walls, boasting a high level of accuracy.

One point of interest in the painting is that King Jeongjo is not actually seen, but only the

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Tile map of old Seoul

procession of his mother’s beautiful palanquin. This is because the King’s appearance was limited in paintings due to a strict ancient taboo. It was believed that for spiritual safety the king could not be described or painted in any material form.

The Banchado of King Jeongjo and Suseonjeondo on the tile wall painting are described in Korean and English on information boards so that both local people and overseas visitors can truly appreciate the historic and artistic value of the works of art.

I did write a bit about the tile painting before. See here

https://vivskoreanadventures.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/stories-in-tiles-and-pictures/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daehangno District: Murals

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Street in Ihwa Village
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Map of Iowa area
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One of the streets with murals

(Please note, I will be away in Paris for a week or so and may not be able to post on here for a couple of weeks. My apologies)

Part 4: Murals

Behind Maronnier Park many narrow streets lead uphill to much larger Naksan Park, passing through Ihwa Village.

Ihwa Village, still very much inhabited by locals, is known for its murals, created by “Art in the City” project. The murals began to appear in 2006 as the city ministry launched a project to develop the poor neighborhood as a tourist landmark with a unique atmosphere.

 

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The first mural I saw

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murals2I visited some of the lower streets and the murals are really colorful and interesting. However, I also heard that many of the local residents are not at all happy with all the tourists who troop by, taking photos and making a lot of noise.

I guess that must always be a problem if public art is located in a somewhat private area.

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Daehangno District: Outdoor Statues

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Front of Arko Art Center

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buildinggardenPart 3 in the Daehangno District: Statues in Gardens of Arts Council of Korea

To one side of the park is The Arts Council of Korea (ARKO), housed in Arko Art Center (architecture by Kim Swoo-geun, 1977). 
Arko Art Center, which has become an important landmark in the Daehangno area, is one of the most representative works by Kim Swoo-geun, who wanted the building to be a “poem written with light and bricks”.

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The building has exhibition spaces inside, where local artists of all kinds can have their works exhibited. There’s also a café, but I didn’t go into that.

An attractive garden surrounds two sides of the building and I found some fascinating outdoor sculptures in the garden, done by local artists. Here are two, as examples.

The first is called “Ecology Cycle”, 2005, by Lee Sangho (see below)

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The second is “Outflowing Strength”, 1978, by Noh Jae Seung (see below)

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Daehangno District in Seoul: Part 1

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A street in Daehangno
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The theater district stretches out from the edge of Marronnier Park

Daehangno District in Seoul

Get there on Metro Line 4, Hyehwa Station, exit 2.

Part 1: Introduction and Daehangno Street

Our Korean hosts at Seoul National University told us that the campus at Gwanak is relatively new and that it used to be located in Seoul city center. So, one day I decided to explore and find the original location. I did, and it turns out that this is a really interesting part of Seoul today—the center of performance culture, with a lovely park, and colorful murals.

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One of the theaters
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 ….If  you need to park your car

Daehangno Street is the center of performance culture in Seoul, with over 150 small theaters. This area is called the “Play Mecca”, “Theater Mecca”, or “Young Street” as well. This is where you an enjoy theater and impromptu performances by young artists. Daehangno area bustles with people who come to enjoy plays or musicals or just to stroll along the streets and soak up the ambience, especially on car-free weekends. Not many performances are in English, but attending one can still be an enjoyable spectacle. There are also many restaurants, bars and movie theaters.

At first this district was popular with mainly the twenty-something crowd but now it attracts diverse age groups as well. Young people still dominate the scene, but more families with children and middle-aged couples are coming, due to the variety and abundance of attractions offered.

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Replica of original Seoul National University campus here

But the area was not originally planned as a theater district. Keijo Imperial University was located here, during the first half of the 20th century, when Korea was under Japanese occupation (Keijo, or Gyeongseong in Korean, was the colonial-era name of Seoul). When Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Seoul National University opened in its place. In 1975, the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Law moved to its current Gwanak campus south of the Han River, and many of the school buildings were demolished.

But, the modern red brick building that had housed the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was spared, plus three horse chestnut trees (marronnier) that are still reminders of the former university site. A park was created at this site, which people began to call Marronnier Park.

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Part of Marronnier Park

arkoartsMore red brick buildings were built around the park, to complement the previous university building. These include Munye Theater (current Arko Arts Theater), which opened in 1981. In the 1980s, many theater groups started moving to Daehangno. At the same time, movie theaters, live-cafes, regular cafes and pubs sprung up and the area developed into a cultural and entertainment center.

When the Seoul Metropolitan Government officially adopted the name Daehangno in 1985, it hoped to create a global cultural destination like Montmartre in Paris, once the world’s mecca of modern art; or Tokyo’s fashion hotspot Harajuku; or London’s Piccadilly Circus. Daehangno has become a theater district widely known among performing artists around the world, so maybe the city’s ambitions did come true!

Korea in Other Places

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Chicago’s Art Institute

A small sample of Korean culture in Chicago. The fame of old Korean pottery has spread around the globe. We’ve seen a wonderful history of Korean pottery in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, but here it is in Chicago too, at the Art Institute, one of the world’s top Art Museums.

We visited the Art Institute in Chicago (mainly to see the special exhibition on Van Gogh’s Bedrooms) on our way to Korea last April. So, we decided to also look at the Art Institute’s special small exhibit on Korean Goryeo Pottery/Celadon.

It was a small exhibit, but each piece is perfect, mostly the delicate green color, very shiny and exquisitely crafted. It’s wonderful to see masterpieces from so long ago, each one a true work of art.

There were many ewers, some with floral or bamboo themes, illustrating the importance that bamboo has played in Korean culture for so long (I recently wrote about a Korean Bamboo Park, see here https://vivskoreanadventures.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/damyang-bamboo-park-juknok-won/ ).

Korean pottery seems to be distinguished from other Asian pottery in that it’s green,

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Melon-shaped ewer with stylized floral scrolls. Celadon glazed stoneware with underglaze inlaid decoration with gold repair. Early 13th century

with an elegant classical style. The pieces were all made to be used by wealthy people—oil lamps, water jugs etc—to be used in the home or Temple.

Korea is very famous for pottery, so here’s a bit of background.

Quick History

(Summary taken from the information boards in the Art Institute)

Over the last 2,000 years, Korean potters have created ceramics of amazingly diverse form and technique. Probably the most distinctive are celadon-glazed stonewares that were commissioned for use by the imperial court, aristocracy, and large Buddhist monasteries during the peaceful and prosperous Goryeo dynasty (918-1392).

Initially emulating celadon imported from China, Korean potters created a soft green-glazed ware by firing iron-rich clay coated with an iron-oxide glaze in a reduction (low oxygen) kiln. By the 12th century, they had created surfaces of previously unseen luminosity by adding porcelain stone to the glaze mixture. These Korean celadons display a radiant bluish green “kingfish er” glaze. This was either left pure or enhanced with decorative motifs that were gracefully carved or pressed into a mold. Designs painted in underglaze iron oxide created bolder effects.

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Oil bottle with chrysanthemum sprays, 13th century

The Goryeo potter’s most innovative contribution to the celadon tradition was inlaid decoration (sanggam). They created this by cutting designs into the unbaked clay and filling the grooves with creamy white and brown or reddish brown inlays. The white was primarily crushed quartz, and the darker color was melted and crushed glaze materials. The surface was then scraped smooth of excess inlay and the vessel glazed and fired. Inlaid designs include pictorial scenes, dynamically twisting dragons, and, very commonly, small, symmetrically placed chrysanthemum blossoms.

Most Goryeo celadons were elegant and functional vessels—wine ewers inspired by melons or bamboo, petal-lobed cups, and stands for wine or tea, small cosmetic basins, and flattened bottles possibly used for hair oils. The potter, however, also made intricately constructed and exuberantly fanciful pieces, such as the bird-shaped ewer (No 1 below).

No 1: Bird-shaped ewer with crowned rider holding a bowl. Goryeo dynasty, 12th century. In this whimsical ewer, an official with a formed head-dress rides astride a plump, crested waterbird. The birds’ wings are extended as if in flight and its tail swoops up to form the handle. Liquids could be poured into the round vessel held by the rider and out through the bird’s smiling beak.

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Vase (Maebyong) with stylized floral sprays. Celadon-glazed stoneware with underglaze painting, 12th century (pic below).

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Lobed vase with stylized floral scrolls. Celadon-glazed stoneware with underglaze painted decoration, 12th century (pic below).

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Bottle with bamboo fluting. Celadon-glazed stoneware with underglaze carved and incised decoration, 13th century.

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Gourd-shaped ewer with twisted rope handle, lotus leaves and floral sprays. Celadon-glazed stoneware and underglaze carved decoration, 12th century.

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Ewer formed as a sprouting bamboo. Celadon-glazed stoneware with underglaze carved and incised decoration, 12th century.

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Lobed cup and stand with chrysanthemum flower heads. Celadon-glazed stoneware with underglaze carved and incised decoration, 12th/13th century.

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All delicately gorgeous! Master craftsmen so long ago.