Seoul Museum of History was one of the first places that I visited when I arrived in South Korea. Located on the grounds of Gyeonghuigung Palace, I was surprised to see how big and voluminous the content of the museum is. You can acquire so much knowledge about the city and the best part is, it is free!
The Seoul Museum of History, as I mentioned, was one of the first places that I visited when I arrived in Korea. It is a great way to get acquainted with the fascinating city of Seoul
South Korea is a country with a history and culture very different from where I am from. When I first arrived in this city, I realized that I really didn’t know much about the country. Everything I had learned about Seoul, and Korea, had been through the lens of Kpop and Kdramas. My knowledge really only brushed the surface. If I wanted to call Seoul home, I was going to get to know the city a little better.
Korea has an impressive and complex history that it is not easy to summarize in a few words. For that reason, I believe that the museum could be a perfect start, since they display so much information about so many events, in a way that is fun to consume and also visual.
The Seoul Museum of History focuses on the city itself. Being the capital of Korea for so long, throughout so many wars, invasions, and uprisings there are more than enough events and stories that happened here to keep you entertained.
If it was up to me, I could easily take two hours to read just about Han River development. There really are so many interesting historical facts about Seoul!
Zone 1 – Joseon Capital
Zone 1, also known as Joseon Capital, talks about the establishment of the king’s residence from the period of 1392 to 1863.
This zone is divided into four main historical events or places.
1. Hanyang : The Joseon Capital
Explains how Hanyang (former name of Seoul) became the center of the nation, and kept this title, until the end of the dynasty.
2. Hanyang’s Changes
The Japanese and Manchu invasions led to the capital being completely leveled. The entire city had to be reconstructed. This changed the way of life for people in Seoul forever and resulted in the redirecting of the economy.
3. Hanyang Prospers in Late Joseon
Late 17th century and 18th century, Hanyang boomed economically. Merchants, artisans, and wage laborers moved to the city from all over the country.
4. Villages Inside Seoul City Wall
More distinct areas and neighborhoods were formed within the city. There were five administrative districts, which included regions outside the wall, and within the wall. The different regions were distinguishable by their unique populations, natural landscapes, and economic specialties.
5. Seongjeosimni : The 10-li Radius Outside the City Walls
This exhibit covers the late Joseon era when most of the population lived outside the wall boundaries. The area became agricultural-focused and at the time, a commercial center.
Note: read more about Zone 1 here.
Zone 2 – The Capital of Korean Empire
This zone focuses on Korean tradition during the period of 1863 to 1910. It includes 4 different sections.
1. Opening up to the World
After the Treaty of Ganghwa in 1876, Korea finally started to have foreign affairs with travels and commerce. Before that, it was known as the hermit kingdom. Much like modern North Korea, Joseon was once closed off to the rest of the world.
2. Jeong-dong: the New Heart of Seoul
King Gojong attempted to make Seoul the capital of a new empire, fusing tradition to modernity.
3. Jongno: a Street of Modernity
Old temporary commercial buildings were demolished to give life to new and modern tramways and streetlights. It was a major advancement in the country’s infrastructure and the seeds of modern Korean nightlife.
4. Seoul as Imperial Capital
An urban renovation planned on making Seoul a city that was modern and multicultural while bringing the positive aspects of Korean traditional culture into the 20th century.
Note: Read more about Zone 2 here.
Zone 3 – Seoul Under Japanese Control
This zone shows the history of Korea between 1910 and 1945 when Korea was subjected to Japanese occupation.
1. Gyeongseong: Loss of Tradition
Japanese domination included using Korea as a mine for natural resources and using it as an area to stage attacks in northeast Asia. The Gyeongseong administration was known for agreeing with Japanese demands.
2. Center of Popular Resistance Against Japanese Rule
The March 1st Movement of 1919 was the event that symbolizes the initial resistance against Japanese invaders. Many patriotic heroes that sacrificed themselves to preserve Korea’s identity and culture are remembered in this exhibit.
3. A Look around Gyeongseong
Japanese occupation changed the way of life in the city regarding technology. This gave the impression of superior Japanese development while exposing Koreans to new information.
4. Gyeongseong Shrouded in the Shadows of War
With the invasion of China by Japan in 1941, Koreans were forced to live in poverty while withstanding the Japanese appropriation of territory, education, and labor of Koreans.
Note: Read more about Zone 3 here.
Zone 4 – Period of Rapid Growth Seoul
Zone 4 focuses on the growth of Seoul after Japanese control during the period of 1945 to 2002.
1. Seoul in the Era of Liberation and War
After Japanese Liberation, South Korea started a period of American Army Military Government rule.
2. Overcrowded Seoul
During this period, Seoul grew rapidly in population, causing infrastructure problems, but at the same time, forcing the city to develop.
3. Seoul Under Construction
In the ’60s, every part of Seoul was under construction. According to the mayor in 1966, this period is remembered for its “Aggressive Construction”.
4. Development of the Hangang River and Yeouido
The expansion forced the city to expand along Hangang River and Yeouido, developing areas like Gangnam. Big companies and conglomerates were built thanks to this period.
5. Development of Gangnam
The Gyeongbu (Seoul-Busan) Expressway was a huge player in the development and migration of people to southern areas of Seoul like Gangnam and Yeongdeungpo.
6. Suite No. 9-xxx of Seocho Samho Apartment
In the 1970s, the Seocho Samho apartment complex in Gangnam was the perfect construction to house Koreans who wanted to live a western style. The typical apartment had a living room, an entrance, kitchen, and rooms. It standardized the floor plan we generally see in modern Korean apartments.
7. Going Beyond the Era of Development
Cultural and physical development were still being highly discussed during the ‘90s. Proof of accomplishment on being an important city was the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002.
Note: Read more about Zone 4 here.
Zone 5 – Seoul, Now and Future
1.The City Model Image Hall
A multifunctional exhibition space for urban life in Seoul is presented. It is a great place to understand the improvements of Seoul and future development plans.
Note: Read more about Zone 5 here.
Conclusion of Part I
The Seoul Museum of History definitely has many things to see and learn. I wrote a brief overview of the permanent exhibitions inside the museum. This shows just a little of the history that they have to show at this place, so I would put it as a “must go” spot for history lovers!
Seoul Museum of History @ Gyeonghuigung Palace Address: 45 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul Korean address: 서울 종로구 새문안로 45 경희궁.시립미술관 Operating Hours: 09:00 AM - 06:00 PM *Closed Mondays
Right next to the Seoul Museum of History, you can find Gyeonghuigung Palace. Click Here to read all about it!