A profound sense of lossFrom the evening of Feb. 10, 2008 until early the next morning, Sungnyemun, the No. 1 National Treasure of Korea, burned down, along with the hearts and pride of Koreans. With our history of 5,000 years, the spirit of Koreans and part of ourselves was destroyed. The soul of Korea burned overnight. Now when we look at National Treasure No. 1, we feel more than shame. We feel profound sadness to see the grace and majesty of a national icon and our culture destroyed.
The incident took place in the evening, not even late at night, in the center of the capital, the biggest city in Korea. A country where such a tragedy can happen lacks something. Cultural heritage is the pride of the people. When designating architecture or an item as a national cultural treasure, the people promise to pay extra attention to preserve it. But somehow our No. 1 national treasure was destroyed. Korea is proud to be the world’s 12th-largest economy, but it has lost some of its soul. Built in 1396, the old gate managed to survive all types of natural disasters, the Imjin War, the Japanese invasion of 1592, the colonial period and the Korean War. But it was ruined in six hours due to our lack of care and attention. It is a shame that we live in an age that failed to preserve tradition and history properly.
The fire in Sungnyemun was waiting to happen. The National Emergency Management Agency distributed manuals on how to respond to different disasters to fire departments, but the manuals did not mention fires in cultural treasures. The firefighting authorities say they consulted the Cultural Heritage Administration by telephone on the spot. It shows they were not prepared for such an incident.
Yes, very little original wood remained from the 1398 construction or the 1479 restoration. And experts say it is possible to restore the exterior of Sungnyemun thanks to reports on the renovation in 1961 and the layout made in 2006. But that won’t necessarily restore people’s pride. Koreans take pride in having a rich cultural heritage.
We must think seriously if we only treasure our cultural heritage with words while neglecting to protect them in practice. Experts say it will take five years to restore Sungnyemun. During that time, we must not cover the spot, so we are regularly reminded of this dramatic loss with our own eyes. We must also relearn a love of culture from our ancestors who chose the name for the gate in hopes of preventing it from catching fire, and wrote it down carefully on its plaque.