Seoul mayor’s plan to join forces for fortresses’ recognition falls by the wayside

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Seoul mayor’s plan to join forces for fortresses’ recognition falls by the wayside

Korea has three fortresses of which it is particularly proud: the Seoul Wall (also known as Hanyang Fortress) in the capital; Namhansanseong (which literally means “South Han Mountain Fortress”) in Gwangju, Gyeonggi; and Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi.

Hwaseong Fortress was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1997. Korean officials have been working to get the other two recognized as well, and there have been debates over whether Korea should work to inscribe them together or separately.

“It is appropriate that attempts to inscribe the Seoul Wall on the Unesco list be done together with such attempts for Namhansanseong,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told lawmakers on July 5, adding that he believes that strategy will increase the odds of inscription for both.

Local media reported that Park was so determined on the initiative that departments within the Seoul Metropolitan Government were making all-out efforts to reach out and cooperate with the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, which has been cool to the idea.

Gyeonggi officials spent 10 years and 20.3 billion won ($18 million) trying to get Namhansanseong on the Unesco list.

And their efforts have shown signs of paying off. In January 2010, Namhansanseong made it to the tentative World Heritage list. The Gyeonggi government plans to submit an official request in January, with hopes of getting the site inscribed in June 2014.

In contrast, it was only quite recently that the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that it will connect the severed Seoul Wall by 2014 and push for inscription on the Unesco list by 2015.

Putting an end to the debate, the Cultural Heritage Administration announced recently that the members on its world heritage committee decided that the Seoul Wall and Namhansanseong should push for inscription separately.

An official at the CHA explained that the characteristics of the two fortresses are distinct, so separate initiatives should not hurt their chances. “Namhansanseong is a city formed through a mountain fortress and it is also a secondary capital for times of war,” the official said. “In contrast, Seoul Wall is a defense facility at the capital and became the standard for other fortresses.”

Within a few years, Koreans should find out if their beloved treasures will be valued by the world as well as become the world’s treasures.

By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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