Museum at History Site Draws Fire

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Museum at History Site Draws Fire

"They are planning to dig up places around Mongchon Toseong Fortress. How dare they build a large museum right in front of a historical site?" Residents, citizens' groups and academics are strongly protesting against plans to build an art gallery around Mongchon Fortress at Songpa-gu, historical site No. 297. The site is in southeastern Seoul, in the area of the Olympic Park.

The Seoul Olympic Sports Promotion Foundation wants to build the Olympic Museum there. It will cover 9240 square meters, with two floors underground and two above ground. The foundation plans to move some statues indoors, but is still facing a severe backlash from critics of the project. Residents and civic groups say the building will destroy the park and the historical site.

Protesters say the building, 13 meters high, will block the view of the fortress and ruin the park. Residents plan to set up placards and banners and to hold a special rally to protest. They also plan to collect signatures for a petition to the Songpa-gu Assembly. The group also plans to petition other institutions, such as ward offices.

This is not the first controversy over the site. In 1997, the foundation planned to build an Olympic memorial hall there. The plan was scrapped after a public outcry. Now residents believe the foundation is again up to no good. "They're always coming up with new building projects that would destroy all the green areas," lamented Lee Hong-soo, 83, a Song-Pa-gu resident who have been visiting the area for 10 years.

The leader of one protest group, Kim Ik-soo, said: "Mongchon Fortress, along with Punganp Earthen Fortress, another significant site, is one of the most important cultural heritage sites of the late Paekchae Kingdom. Planning procedures for projects of this type need to be thoroughly reviewed. The existence of Mongchon Fortress is at stake." He said the group would continue to protest.

Academic circles fear that construction work on the site, less than 100 meters from the fortress, could damage relics.

"The disputed site has never been looked at properly; not a single official investigation was ever made," said Chungnam University archaeolgy professor Park Sun-bal, who helped excavate Mongchon Fortress in 1988. "Once you start construction work, there is no return. One might come across a relic or two, but in general there is no way to undo the damage that would be done in the first place."

The foundation has a different view.

"The present outdoor museum was initially established as nothing more than a convenient spot for people to sit," a spokesman said. "It is absolutely inappropriate for display and preservation. Statues made of raw materials like wood and marble are in danger of corrosion. We need more indoor space to ensure more effective and systematic management."

The foundation also stressed that the museum was not being built to make more money or to harm the park, but to renew the area's cultural heritage. The foundation says the plans have met all fair and legal requirements.

by Kim Sung-tak

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