'Eight Sceneries' Greet Visitors to Cheolwon in Korea's Northeast

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'Eight Sceneries' Greet Visitors to Cheolwon in Korea's Northeast

Cheolwon city in Gangwon, South Korea's northeastern province, is a city brimming with cultural heritage. Although small in size, Cheolwon boasts many historically significant sites and natural wonders. Tourists usually flock to the Cheolwonpalkyung, or "eight sceneries," which include Jiktang waterfall and the Sundamkyegok valley, as well as Goseokjung, a resting place above a rock formation which overlooks the Hantan River. Visitors and residents can also enjoy rafting in the Hantan River during the summer and bird-watching in the winter.

Interwoven among these natural sights are tales of Korean history. Goseokjung is where Lim Kuk-jeong, a Robin Hood figure in Korean history, used to hide out. Gungye, the king of the Hukoguryo dynasty, crossed the Hantan River as he was being chased by Wanggeon, a former member of the court who led the rebellion against his king. Gungye fled to Mt. Myungsung, where he then built a fortress. Despite all his efforts, he was ultimately defeated by Wanggeon, who later founded the Koryo dynasty. Mt. Myungsung is known as the "crying mountain"; according to local folklore, the mountain cried in sympathy after Gungye broke down in tears of defeat.

In the north of Cheolwon are scattered remnants of the Korean War. The Baekmagoji are highlands where North and South Korean troops battled. Woljeong station is a former train station that was shut down when the war broke out, and which lies at the border between the two countries. The Seungil Bridge was built by both South and North Koreans, and is often referred to as the Korean "bridge over the River Kwai."

The Seungil Bridge connects Jangheung village and Galmal district, and was initially built from the Galmal-eup side by North Koreans in 1948. The bridge was planned by Kim Myung-yoe, a teacher, who borrowed architectural methods from the former Soviet Union to design the arch-shaped, three-pier support system. Construction of the bridge halted, though, when the war broke out.

In 1954, during the reconstruction of the south after the war, South Korean soldiers built a temporary wooden bridge there, but in 1958, the South Korean government finished the construction of the present Seungil Bridge. The method of construction, however, differed from that of the original North Korean builders, giving the bridge two distinct looks. For example, the arch built by the South is rounder in shape than the North's arch. Also, the name of the bridge was changed from Hantan Bridge to the present Seungil Bridge. It is believed that the bridge was named after a military officer, Park Seung-il, who died during an army mission to the North.

Seungil Bridge was once praised for its immense size - it stands 35 meter high, 120 meter long and 8 meter wide. The bridge gained even more attention when the last scene of the Korean war movie, "Red Muffler," was filmed there.

Now, the bridge remains a mere relic, overshadowed by the Hantan Bridge, a 166 meter-high iron bridge that opened in 1999. Recently, Cheolwon city officials filed an application for the Seungil Bridge to be designated an official cultural heritage site.

by Park So-young

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