Gazebos, Nature Go Hand in Hand In Koreans' Eyes

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Gazebos, Nature Go Hand in Hand In Koreans' Eyes

Many of Korea's best-known tourist attractions - particularly those placed in spots of scenic beauty - boast some kind of gazebo, a free-standing roofed structure, usually without walls, that allows occupants to view the nature that surrounds them.

The popularity of gazebos here indicates how much Koreans appreciate natural beauty - and that they know how to appreciate it in style.

In Gangneung city, Kangwon province, there is an old complex of houses called Seon-gyojang. The complex was built in the early 19th century by Oeun-geosa, the 10th descendent of Prince Hyoryeong of the Choson dynasty. It is the biggest private home in Kangwon province.

The complex was named after the village it is set in, Seon-gyori, which sits along the shore of Gyeongpo lake. At the time the village was established there, the lake was much bigger than it is now and people would use boats to travel to and from the village. The word seon-gyo literally means "boat bridge."

Seon-gyojang looks magnificent, with two houses located at each side of the main gate framing the whole complex, and a grove of old pine trees at the back. In the past, the numerous servants working at the estate would have occupied these two houses by the main gate.

The buildings in Seon-gyojang were very carefully placed according to geomantic principles, and indeed the place looks inviting and full of good energy.

Of the many buildings that make up Seon-gyojang, the outer house, named Yeolhwadang, and the gazebo, Hwalnaejeong, generate the most interest.

The outer house, built in 1815, was the most important building in the Seongyojang complex. This was once the preserve of men only.

The gazebo was built originally in 1816 by Oeun, but was renovated in later years by his great-grandson. When it was renovated, the gazebo was rebuilt in the shape of a right angle.

One side of this right angle reaches out into the pond, where the building is supported on stilts. The remainder of the building sits on dry land and is warmed by under-the-floor ondol heating.

The gazebo is enclosed by lattice doors, which can all be opened to provide a panoramic view. The lattice doors, decorated with Oriental paper and wooden slats in the Korean traditional style, add to the attractiveness of the gazebo, and a pleasant breeze runs through it on most summer days.

The gazebo was once a popular spot for visitors interested in poetry and calligraphy. Many of the visitors came to show off their skills in these arts and left the results in the gazebo for others to admire. Some have been preserved for modern-day visitors to admire at Seon-gyojang.

by Kim Young-taek

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