At This Bridge, History Trumps Architectural Value

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At This Bridge, History Trumps Architectural Value

Aesthetic value is not necessarily a qualification for being designated a heritage site worthy of preservation. The Bridge of Liberty that connects two small areas in Kyonggi Province, Uncheon-ri and Nosang-ri, was built to replace two bridges in the area that were destroyed during the Korean War. Originally intended as a temporary bridge, the Bridge of Liberty was quickly built for the exchange of prisoners of war between North and South Korea in 1953.

The bridge is made of wood, and is 83 meters long, 4.5 to 7 meter wide and 8 meter high. Each pier of the bridge is made up of 16 standing logs divided into four sections. On top of the piers are wooden planks for use as a foot bridge. At the time of the prisoner exchange, 12,773 repatriates crossed the bridge to return to the South while cheering, "Freedom!" Even though this bridge lacks any sort of architectural value, it was designated as one of the Kyonggi Province memorials in 1996 because of its symbolic association with freedom.

There are still many people who confuse the Bridge of Liberty with the Gyeongui Cheolkyo (iron bridge) more commonly known as the Dokgaedari, because the Bridge of Liberty was constructed right at the south end of the Dokgaedari. So during the Korean War, South Korean soldiers and UN prisoners of war walked across Dokgaedari, and then crossed the Bridge of Liberty by car.

Immediately after the exchange of the captives took place, an new road was connected to the Dokgaedari bridge. Since then, the Bridge of Liberty has not been in use except when secretly dispatched officials of the South went to the North before the Joint Declaration of North and South Korea of Jul. 4, 1972 for unification talks and when the delegates of both sides visited each other to attend official meetings. It is also used as a place of mourning for those whose families have been separated by the war.

The city of Paju renovated the bridge and opened it to the public last March to celebrate the beginning of reconciliation between South and North Korea. And, the bridge is gaining a lot of attention, along with other tourist attractions which symbolize the division of the nation, such as Panmunjeom, the joint security area between UN and the North, and the Bell of Peace in Imjingak near the armistice line, which is also a place of mourning for the separation of a nation and its people.

The Bridge of Liberty was once in danger of being removed as talks on the restoration of the Gyeongui Cheolkyo and the demolition of the Bridge of Liberty. The decision was made in the aftermath of the South-North Summit in last June; however, the suggestion that the Bridge of Liberty be replaced by a railway was abandoned in the face of public opinion that the symbol of the separation should not be destroyed.

by Park So-young

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