Sungnyemun, other heritage hurt by protectors

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Sungnyemun, other heritage hurt by protectors


One of the biggest cultural stories of this year was the undeniable mess that was made of Sungnyemun, Korea’s National Treasure No. 1. Destroyed by arson in February 2008, the 600-year-old gate also known as Namdaemun reopened to the public on May 4 following a costly and high-profile restoration.

Large celebrations followed, but serious problems became apparent after five months. By October, lawmakers, the media and cultural heritage experts could see that Sungnyemun was already displaying signs of damage on its dancheong (the traditional designs painted onto Korean wooden structures), wood and roof tiles.

Sungnyemun is considered by many to be the face of Korea and the country’s dearest historic treasure, which is why its destruction in 2008 moved people to tears. And that is also why the news of its improper restoration further disheartened the nation.

As experts investigated what went wrong, many irregularities were discovered at the Cultural Heritage Administration, which oversaw the restoration, including the use of unfit, cheap materials.

Such developments have led President Park Geun-hye to take action. On Nov. 11, Park ordered a thorough investigation into the restoration and fired Byun Young-sup, the head of the heritage administration.

Making matters worse, the media also discovered that the Seokguram Grotto (National Treasure No. 24) and the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks (National Treasure No. 32) also sustained damage, either from restoration or from poor maintenance. Following those revelations, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced that it would conduct a general inspection of cultural properties nationwide, together with the heritage administration.

By Kim Hyung-eun

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