It’s easy to forget while we’re busy living our everyday lives in Seoul. Just 100 years ago, Korea was still under Japanese rules and Seoul was a place where many cruel atrocities took place. Through the Seoul Dark Tour, let us take a look around several important historical sites and remember the history that should not be forgotten.
Namsan Path of Humiliation
A place of cherry blossoms in spring, fall foliages in autumn, and romantic scenery during the night, Namsan has been an important Seoul landmark over the years. Although a very romantic attraction, it wasn’t always so during the Japanese occupation of Korea and continues to harbor sites of great tragedy.
After the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876 (Treaty of Ganghwa Island), many Japanese people came to live in Seoul, expanding their presence in Chungmuro at the foot of Namsan Mountain. Afterwards, with the onset of Japanese invasion, several facilities were built within Namsan to rule Joseon. Namsan Path of Humiliation was built along the remnants of that period to preserve and remember the tragedy that happened during the occupation.
Course A 2 km course connecting KCIA Namsan Headquarters (south of Seoul Youth Hostel) - Japanese General Government Building (Seoul Animation Center -currently under construction) – Nogi Shrine (Lila Elementary School) – Kyungsung Shrine (Soongeui Women’s College) – Hanyang Park (Hanyang Park Stone Marker) – Joseon Shrine (Seoul City Wall Excavation Site)
Subway Subway Line 4, Myeongdong Station, Exit 1 (10 mins on foot toward Seoul Youth Hostel)
Path of Economic Takeover
The area starting from the south of Bosingak Pavilion, through Sungnyemun Gate, to Seoul Station was a major financial district with a lot of banks including the Bank of Joseon, a central bank of colonial Korea. The Bank of Joseon used to exist at the site of present day Bank of Korea Money Museum while the Joseon Savings Bank stood next to the present day Shinsegae Department store. Hanseong Bank stood in place of Shinhan Bank, and various community banks including Dongil Bank stood in place of present day Gwanggyo Pharmacy. Pretty much the Wall Street of Gyeongseong, this area was a major business and financial district during that era.
In addition to those, there were other such institutions set up by the Japanese to drain Korea’s land and resources during 1908. One of them was the Oriental Development Company, which stood at the site of present day KEB Hana Bank. At the present, there’s a statue of Na Seok-ju, a Korean activist who bombed the building of Oriental Development Company.
The former Bank of Joseon opened in 1912. The Japanese used this place to seize Korea’s finances and lay the foundation for invading China. The building is currently in use by the Bank of Korea Money Museum.
The King’s Road
"Agwan Pacheon" was an incident where King Gojong sneaked out of Gyeonbokgung Palace to seek asylum in the Russian embassy after the assassination of his wife, Queen Myeongseong. The site was used as a residential area for employees working in the US embassy until 2011, when it was returned to Korea after negotiation took place between the the US and Korea. The path that King Gojong took while fleeing the palace was promptly restored. A reminder of a humilating time when Korea was helpless, the King's Path is a short 120 m path that can be walked through in just under 10 minuters. However we can imagine how that 10 minute must have felt like an hour for King Gojong.
The King's Path leads to the former Russian embassy building. Damaged during the Korean War, only the steeple and the basement tunnel of the building remains intact. At the present, visitors are prohibited from entering due to safely reasons and can only view the building outside.
After staying at the Russian embassy for about a year, King Gojong relocated to Deoksugung Palace in Jeongdong where a large number of foreign diplomats were staying. Afterwards, Jeongdong became a hotspot of incidents leading up to the Japanese occupation of Korea. However, it's important to remember that the start of Korea's modern history and tragedy all began from the alleyway in Jeongdong.
Course A 120 m course starting from across the Salvation Army building through Jeongdong Park, to former Russian embassy.
Hours 09:00 - 17:30 (Closed Mondays)
Directions Subway Lines 1 & 2, City Hall Station, Exit 3 (7 mins on foot toward The Salvation Army, Seoul First Corps)
Seodaemun Prison History Hall
Seodaemun History Prison Hall was a place that held many Korean activists prisoner. Opening in 1907 as Gyeongseong Gamok (Prison), the name of the building changed many times from Seodaemun Prison to Seoul Correctional Institute to Seoul Detention Center. In 1988, prior to the Seoul Olympics, there were much discussion of demolishing the site. However, it was restored as a historical museum for educational purposes.
Close to 40,000 Korean activists were imprisoned at this 1,500 sq. m site at one time or another during Japanese rule of Korea. Out of all the activists that passed through these prison doors, only records of 5,000 activists still exists today. In the exhibition room displaying the records of all these activists, there’s a deep sense of heavy solemnity permeating the air.
Cells without windows to let in a single sunlight, restored interrogation rooms showcasing the torture that went on in there, doors where corpses were secretly thrown out and disposed of – It’s easy to see the traces of what happened back in the past. There’s a famous quote which states “A nation that forgets its past has no future”. With the passing of time, the history of 100 years ago starts to fade away. However, this site is a brutal reminder that history should not be forgotten, no matter what.
Hours 09:30 - 18:00 (Closed Mondays)
Admission Adults KRW 3,000 / Teens KRW 1,500 / Children KRW 1,000
Directions Subway Line 3, Dongnimmun Station, Exit 5 (5 mins on foot)