Architecture Points to Decline From Big City to Small Town

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Architecture Points to Decline From Big City to Small Town

Ganggyeong-eup, in Nonsan-si, South Chungchong Province, is a small town; its population is just 14,000. But its claim to fame comes in the form of its speciality, jeokkal - salted sea products. Ganggyeong used to be a popular location for filming television shows set in the 1960s and 70s, because its well-preserved streets and buildings and its old-fashioned signboards. The tang of jeokkal in the air transports visitors back into "the old days."

It's hard to believe that this backwater town, where the jeokkal market now holds a monopoly on signs of life, was once one of Korea's "big three" commercial cities, along with Pyongyang and Taegu, from the end of the Chosun Dynasty until the Japanese colonial period.

Located in the southwest of Korea, Ganggyeong became the focal point of national trade and distribution in the early 19th century, thanks to its geological features; the town connected the Geumgang River and the Honam area. In the 40s, the town was home to 40,000 permanent residents. Count in the many businessmen from Japan and China who regularly commuted to the town and its population rose to 120,000.

It was at around this time that new buildings began to appear in Ganggyeong. Schools, hospitals, churches, stores and financial offices lined the city's streets. Today, approximately10 of these buildings are left, including the Hanil Bank building, the oriental drugstore Namildang and the Geumsang coffee shop.

The Hanil Bank building at Seochang-ri in Ganggyeong is the oldest of the survivors. Built in 1910 to house the Hanho Agricultural and Industrial Bank, the it has been through several modifications. It was used as a bank by the Japanese during the colonial period. Later it became the main commercial building in the Ganggyeong area when it was taken over by Chungchong Bank.

It is a south-facing, one-story building with a storage house on its right and living quarters in an annexe behind. It also has a depository. Except for the facade, each facet of the house is perfectly matched and symmetrical. Inside, the seven-meter-high ceiling makes the interior appear bigger than it actually is. The building was renovated after the roof was destroyed in the Korean War, while the storage house remains in a state of disrepair. Used as a public study room for a while during the 90s, it is now a jeokkal storage house.

Kim Jung-dong, professor of architecture in Mokwon University in Taejon, emphasizes the need for government aid in preserving the town's architectural heritage. He says that without aid it will be extremely difficult to protect the these remaining historical buildings from demolition or alteration because most of them are privately owned.

Nonsan-si will open a national university in the area next year and it is also preparing a big campaign to revive the Ganggyeong region, as a part of which the city is planning a cleanup for the Oknyeobong area, which was once a small trading port.

by Park So-young

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