10 January 2011

Seoul: Part Du

I couldn't stay away from Seoul for very long.  After spending just 3 days in my hometown I was on my way back to the capital.  One of my friends had just gotten back from a trip to Europe and was staying in Seoul for a few days so I decided to head back up to the soul of South Korea.  I didn't get into the city until about 4 o'clock on Saturday, so the National Museum of Korea ended up being my only sightseeing adventure during my first day.  But for anyone interested in history, as I just so happen to be, this place is a sightseeing extravaganza.  You could easily spend half of a day walking around the museum.  I went through it in about two hours, which is really the minimum amount of time it takes to see everything.

So as a gift to the faithful readers of my blog (and to anyone else who happens to have a connection to the internet), I present you with a guided tour (in English of course) of the National Museum of Korea.

Let us adjourn!

Welcome to the National Museum of Korea.  My name is Justin ( 저스틴 ) and I'll be your tour guide today.  Please follow me into the lobby and we can begin the tour.

The first floor of the museum meanders its way through the history of the Korean peninsula.  You will be seeing everything from the first artifacts to many culturally important items that still show a lasting impact on modern-day Korea.  So let's move into the first room and take a look at the time-line of human existence in Korea.

As you can see, human presence on the peninsula dates back to as early as 700,000 BC.  The first kingdom arose in the year 2333 BC and the country has changed hands numerous times since then.  The Korean people have experienced a violent past, but have succeeded in defending themselves against invading forces from Japan, China, and Mongolia.  Now we can just briskly walk through through the first few rooms until we get to Goguryeo room. (Honestly, I just didn't take any pictures of the stuff in Paleolithic Room, Neolithic Room, Bronze Age & Iron Age Room, or the Proto Three Kingdoms Room.  For the most part it was pretty basic stuff that you could see in any museum that covers prehistoric man.)

Welcome to the Goguryeo Room.  Goguryeo was the oldest and largest Kingdom of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.  It is believed that the Goguryeo arose around the end of the Gojoseon Kingdom in the 2nd century BC and lasted until 668 AD when it was conquered by an alliance of Silla and Tang forces.  The capital was moved twice before finally being established at Pyongyang.  At the height of its power, Goguryeo stretched from modern day Seoul into Manchuria and parts of northern China. 

A Goguryeo crown
The next room covers the Baekje Kingdom.  This Kingdom was founded in 18 BC and survived until 660 AD when it fell to the Silla-Tang Alliance.  Baekje did not control as much land as Goguryeo, but reached its largest size in 375 AD when it controlled the western part of the Korean peninsula from the southern tip to Pyongyang.

Baekje bronze incense burner
Please follow me into the Gaya Room.  The Gaya Confederacy was a collection of small city-states that existed during the time of the Three Kingdoms.  Gaya was located in the southern part of the peninsula in between the Baekje and Silla Kingdoms.  The Gaya Confederacy was annexed in by Silla in 562 AD.

Gaya warrior
The archeological gallery will now conclude with the Silla Room.  The Silla Dynasty was the longest lasting kingdom from the Three Kingdoms period.  Silla eventually conquered both the Baekje and Goguryeo Kingdoms and managed to also annex the Gaya Confederacy.  By doing this, Silla became the firsty Kingdom to successfully unify the southern portion of the Korean peninsula.  Silla eventually yielded to the Goryeo Dynasty in 935 AD.

Silla crown
We will now make our away across the hall and visit the Historical Gallery.  Please feel free to take pictures of the 10-story pagoda in the hallway and browse around the first room in the exhibit, which is the Unified Silla Room.

10-story pagoda
Monkey warrior statue from the Silla Dynasty
Welcome to the Balhae Room.  The Balhae Kingdom was established after the fall of the Goguryeo Kingdom and coexisted with the Silla Dynasty until it was defeated by the Khitans (Mongols) in 926.  Balhae occupied most of the land that had belonged to Goguryeo.  Upon its defeat, the northern portion of the Kingdom was controlled by the Khitans, while the southern portion became part of the Goryeo Dynasty.

Dragon head from Balhae
As we step into the Goryeo Room, we will see artifacts from the first true unification of Korea.  Goryeo ruled over almost all of what we now know as Korea (the name Korea originates from Goryeo).  Goryeo was established in 918 and continually expanded until its peak in 1374.  Not long after, in 1392, the Goryeo Dynasty came to an end when Yi Seonggye, later known as King Taejo, dethroned the King and began the Joseon Dynasty.

Goryeo Pottery
Stone Coffin
We now finally enter the Joseon Dynasty.  The next four rooms are dedicated to the Joseon Dynasty and are named as follows: The King and His Reign Room, The Socio-Economic Life Room, The Prints and Maps Room, and The Foreign Relations Room.  The Joseon Dynasty took control from the Goryeo Dynasty in 1392 and was sustained until 1897, when it turned into the Korean Empire.  Joseon controlled all of modern-day Korea and was actually able to sustain 200 years of peace on the peninsula (which is pretty amazing considering the history of Korea).  So please have a look around before we move onto the second floor.

The backdrop features 5 peaks, which symbolize royal authority
Joseon adopted this flag, which is very similar to South Korea's flag, in 1883
Before we move upstairs, let's check out the stele in the middle of the museum.

Alright.  If everybody would follow me up the escelator, we can look around the Fine Arts Gallery, which will be on your left (from the main entrance).

Huge canvas in the Buddhist Paintings Room
On the other side of the museum you can see the Donation Gallery, which consists of eleven rooms and showcases art from private collectors.

Heading up to the third floor, on your left will be the Fine Arts Gallery II and on your right will be the Asian Arts Gallery, which contains pieces from outside of Korea.

From the Indian & Southeast Asian Art Room
And there you have it! The National Museum of Korea tour has ended.  I hope you enjoyed the tour and any tips are always welcome.

The museum with N Seoul Tower in the background
As for the rest of my weekend, I met up with my friend after I left the museum and ended up going out in Itaewon, which has the most foreigners of any area in the city.  Then on Sunday I went on a little architecture tour of Yeongdong before catching the 5:40 train back to Waegwan.

No, that isn't an optical illusion.  The building is actually curved.
Upclose.  The buildings in Seoul just keep getting better.
Another awesome building
One shot couldn't do it justice
Okay.  This is starting to get out of control.

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