[OUTLOOK]For Mt. Bukak, move Blue HouseSeoul is a magnificent city, and it must have been even more attractive when it was called Hanyang during the Joseon period.
“Hanyang is surrounded by mountain ranges created by high mountain peaks and fast-sloped hills. In the dusk of evening with purple twilight, all peaks glow like semitransparent pink amethysts. The shade of the mountain is tinted with cobalt blue, and the sky darkens as it is dyed with golden green.”
Isabella Bird, a 19th century English traveler and writer, visited Seoul in 1897 and wrote her impression of the city in her book, “Korea and her neighbors.” She was fascinated by the mountains of Seoul. It is very rare for a metropolitan city to be surrounded by mountains.
Seoul’s guardian hill is Mount Bukak, north of the city. Mount Bukak is located where the spirits of the Korean Peninsula stop flowing from Mount Baekdu. Mount Bukak embraces the site of Gyeongbok Palace.
The main palace of the court of Joseon was surrounded by Mount Nak to the east, Mount Inwang to the west, and Mount Nam to the south. The capital town of Hanyang was created within the four mountains. Ms. Bird was impressed by the continuous line formed by the mountains.
More than a century later, only Mount Bukak remains the same. If you looked from Sejong Road at Mount Bukak, you would feel an urge to climb it. The mountain’s shape resembles a blooming peony, and the pinewoods are enchanting.
So we welcome the news that the Cultural Heritage Administration and the Blue House plan to open Mount Bukak to the public and restore Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace, to its original form. If we can climb the pinnacle of Seoul and look down on the restored history and culture of the Joseon Dynasty, we might be able to enjoy the view Ms. Bird had enjoyed.
However, the plan could have been better. The preparation to open the mountain to the public began last summer, when President Roh Moo-hyun climbed Mount Bukak and said, “It is unreasonable for the Blue House to monopolize such a beautiful mountain.”
The Cultural Heritage Administration used a phrase, “a complete opening of Mount Bukak.” However, according to the plan, the southern base, which covers almost half of the mountain, will not be open for security reasons. The Blue House can be viewed from the southern foot of Mount Bukak. Even if the mountain is opened to the public in October, 2007, we will not have the luxury to get a bird’s eye view of Gyeongbok Palace.
If the Blue House were not to monopolize the rooftop of Seoul just as Mr. Roh had said, it would be right to open the southern side, too. Traffic has been forbidden on Mount Bukak and Mount Inwang, from which the Blue House can be observed, since a North Korean armed infiltration incident of Jan. 21, 1968.
Since traffic was again allowed on Mount Inwang in 1993, there have not been any threats against the Blue House. Considering the current inter-Korean relationship, a similar incident to 1968 is not likely to occur again. In fact, it is hard to find a city as safe as Seoul.
There is one certain way to restore Gyeongbok Palace and completely open Mount Bukak. The Blue House can relocate. After the U.S. forces withdraw, a new presidential office and residence can be built in Yongsan Park.
The presidential palace of Ireland is located in Phoenix Park in Dublin.
It is better for the president to work in the middle of an open square than in a secluded palace.
The location of the Blue House lacks historical and cultural values. The Blue House originates from the official residence of the colonial government general during the Japanese occupation. Imperial Japan had positioned the office and the residence of the government general in front of and behind Gyeongbok Palace to insult the court of Joseon. Historically, the Blue House is a vestige of dishonor.
In order to restore the dignified history and culture of the Joseon Kingdom, relocation of the Blue House is a more important task than moving Gwanghwamun forward by 14.5 meters (47.5 feet).
If demolition of the colonial government building, made possible by former president Kim Young-sam’s resolution, was the first step to restore Gyeongbok Palace, the relocation of the Blue House, which was the residence of the colonial government general, will be a perfect finale.
* The writer is the international news team leader of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang