What's in a Treasure? Palace Bedchambers Sport Chimneys Named As National Artworks

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What's in a Treasure? Palace Bedchambers Sport Chimneys Named As National Artworks

For a building to be designated a "national treasure" or "treasure" in Korea is a special privilege that not all well-known buildings are afforded. There must be a distinctive quality, an artistic value other than just historic importance, for a building to be recognized a treasure.

And some buildings boast certain features that cry out for particular attention and protection in their own right. For example, some of the chimneys in Gyeongbok palace meet the standards to be named special works of art..

Sipjangsaeng Chimney and Amisan Chimney are national treasures even though they comprise simply a part of some rather unremarkable buildings that were used as bedchambers in the Choson Dynasty.

Sipjangsaeng Chimney is beautifully decorated with ornamental patterns of a crane, a turtle, a pine tree, a cloud, a mountain and others, and is attached to Jagyeongjeon, the Queen Mother's bedchamber.

Sipjangsaeng in Korean means ten things that are believed to possess long life. In the old days, Korean people would embroider or paint these emblems onto precious objects to bring themselves longevity.

Amisan Chimney, within the confines of Gyotaejeon, the Queen's bedchamber, actually consists of four smokestacks. They stand on a small artificial hill made using the soil removed to create Gyeonghoeru, the main palace pond.

Each is a hexagonal tower of red bricks fitted with a small traditional Korean tile roof, called a giwa. On top of each roof is a fixture created in the shape of a house, and under the tiny eaves of these little houses are located the holes from which the smoke is emitted.

Each side of the four chimneys is decorated with beautiful patterns - apricot trees, bamboo trees, orchids and chrysanthemums.

Those patterns are made of baked mud and are set in rectangular frames on each of the chimneys' six sides. The spaces between the patterns inside the frame are filled with white mud. Above and below these main rectangular frames are placed smaller ornamental frames containing small patterns of animals, including the bonghwang, Chinese phoenix, and starfish. People believed that these animals helped drive away evil sprits and prevented fires.

Both Sipjangsaeng Chimney and Amisan Chimney are national treasures, No. 810 and No. 811 respectively, and are beautiful enough to be considered works of art.

by Kim Yeong-taek

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