If you enjoy shopping, you have probably heard about Dongdaemun Market. Korea’s newest fashions appear and spread from here. That’s why people usually remember Dongdaemun as ‘Dongdaemun Market.’ But Dongdaemun is more than just about shopping – stories of the people and history exist here as well. Everywhere you go in Dongdaemun, you’ll find hidden ‘True Stories’ of its long history and its people.
From Hanyang (former Seoul) to present day Seoul, Heunginjimun Gate (also known as Dongdaemun, or east gate) has existed in its same location for 600 years. An endless series of stories awaits us like treasures in this area; including Gwangjang Market, a market from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) with 100 years of tradition; Gwanghui-dong, a small global village inside Dongdaemun; Seoul City Wall and Igansumun (Water Gate), which were hidden underground until recently; and Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which creates a new landscape with streamlined architecture.
These are the true stories of Dongdaemun we didn’t know before. Now, shall we go on a treasure hunt?
<Walk on Dongdeamun's Story> Course Guide
The course provides stories related to the history, culture, and life of the Dongdaemun area.
There’s more to Dongdaemun than just a fashion town. Since the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, 600 years of Seoul’s history resides in Dongdaemun. We can continue to feel the ongoing history of Dongdaemun from the Seoul City Wall, Igansumun, Heunginjimun, Gwanghuimun, Hullyeonwon Park, Gwangjang Market, and the Car House.
Many of Korea’s firsts, such as movies and trolleys were first introduced at Dongdaemun. The Dongdaemun Activity Photograph Center introduced new cultural items, Gyeongseong Stadium started sports in this country, Gwanghui-dong becomes the “Silk Road” of Korea, Kim Swoo-geun and Kim Joong-up, the two fathers of modern architecture, built Gyeongdong Church and the old building of Seo Obstetrics Hospital, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza represents the newest cultural addition of 21st century.
And finally, Dongdaemun houses Dongdaemun Market, which has been serving the people of Seoul for last 100 years. Each market possesses a unique feature, and merchants have been intricately stitched into the fabric of these communities. You can experience various markets and meet people in Dongdaemun, including Jungbu Market, Bangsan Market, Gwangjang Market, Pyeonghwa Market, Changsin-dong, Jeon tae-il Bridge, Fashion Town, and Hwanghakdong Market.
The course is a short 1 hour and 40 minute walking course that allows people to be able to explore and get a feel for the Dongdaemun area. Heunginjimun, Ogansugyo (Bridge), Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, Gwanghui-dong, Hullyeonwon Park, Bangsan Market, and Gwangjang market will be introduced though insightful storytelling. The already familiar Dongdaemun will now be shown in a new light through stories, exhibition, and performance. Welcome to the true Dongdaemun.
Walk on Dongdaemun's Story
Heunginjimun Time Capsule (Dongdaemun Seonggwak Park) – Heunginjimun – Sanga Wollyeongga (Ogansugyo) – 600 Years of DDP's memory (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) – Dongdaemun History & Culture Park – Gwanghui Junction –Hunllyeonwon Park – Bangsan Market – Gwangjang Market (total 5 hours)
[The last of the four main gates of old Seoul ]
Heunginjimun is the last remaining gate of Joseon in the city of Seoul, and is the symbol of Hanyang. This gate is the living history of Joseon’s 500 years and modern Seoul’s 100 years. It has kept its place throughout the turbulent history of Korea, including foreign invasions, the Japanese occupation, and the Korean War. Men on donkeys going to the market, oxcarts carrying firewood, Joseon’s best and most extravagant Neunghaeng parade, and trolleys that first arrived in Seoul before going to Tokyo - they all passed through Heunginjimun. The gigantic gate of the east protected Hanyang since it was built 600 years ago with its overwhelming height and size. In the past, people walked for days to see Heunginjimun for the first time in their life. And before they knew it, they were showing respect for the gate. They had to tilt their head all the way back to see the entirety of Heunginjimun. Today, Heunginjimun looks a bit small and even a bit humble for its title as Korea’s National Treasure no. 1, but nothing stood taller and more grandeur back then.
Shall we close our eyes and travel back 600 years to Hanyang? Erase the giant shopping malls and large markets one by one, all the cars that are passing by Heunginjimun and Changshin-dong, and the modern buildings of Dongdaemun. Erase them all. Let’s go back in time to Hanyang, when the population was a mere 200,000. There are no high-rise buildings near Heunginjimun; here aren’t as many people. Amidst the quiet scenery appears the medieval city Hanyang.
Sanga Wollyeongga Station (Ogansugyo (Bridge))
Walk along Cheonggyecheon (Stream) to Dongdaemun, and you’ll see pictures hanging on Pyeonghwa Market. <Sangga Wollyeogga (Song of Merchants)> shows how Dongdaemun merchants lived for past 100 years through paintings, photographs, and writings. Farmers have Nongga Wollyeongga (Song of Famers), and merchants of Dongdaemun have Sangga Wollyeogga. Go down to Cheonggyecheon to see the explanation on Sangga Wollyeogga.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun has completely changed, thanks to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), the newest landmark of Seoul. Dongdaemun Stadium was demolished, and DDP replaced the location. DDP’s external appearance is beyond imagination. Some say it looks like a hill, while others say it looks like a wave. Forget straight and even; the whole building looks like it’s tilted. If your idea of a building consists of straight lines, this building will shatter all your preconceptions.
The shiny external appearance of DDP comes from 45,133 sheets of aluminum paneling covering the building. But if you take a look at each one, you’ll see that every aluminum panel looks different. No two sheets look the same.
Taking a look inside DDP, some spaces are nothing more than a hollow dugout, which many might consider to be useless space. But it doesn’t stop there. DDP is built very low, at only four stories high in such an expansive and premium location!
In contrast, the park is huge. Green space, including the History & Culture Park, take up half of the entire space. A grassy park is also located at the roof of the building, effectively blending the building’s grassy mountain-like ridge into the green fields of the History & Culture Park. The attitudes and preconceptions that people generally had towards architecture has begun to change though DDP’s innovative design and streamlined curves, which all come together to resemble the flow of nature. . There is zero urban sensibility. From the crowded and congested streets of Dongdaemun, people can visit this green oasis for a break from it all. DDP, located right next to the City Wall of Joseon Dynasty, encompasses the past and present culture, history, and the environment of Dongdaemun.
In the era of skyscrapers, DDP has become Seoul’s newest landmark not with the number of floors, but with its design. It is a new fantasy offered by Seoul, an endless changing metropolis.
Dongdaemun History & Culture Park
<600 years of Seoul quietly resurrected from underground. >
Cities have age- Buyeo is 1800 years old, Gyeongju is 1500 years old, and Seoul is 600 years old. Compared to Buyeo or Gyeongju, Seoul is quite young. Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence to prove Seoul’s age, and many don’t even think of Seoul has a historic city. During the Joseon Dynasty, it is said that Seoul was a walled city surrounded by approximately 18km of Seonggwak, meaning castle wall in Korean. Unlike its title of a ‘walled city,’ there weren’t any semblances of a wall. But following the demolition of Dongdaemun Stadium in 2008, remains of the City Wall and Igansumun, which were once thought to be completely lost during the 1925 construction of Gyeongseong (Dongdaemun) Stadium, were unearthed.
No one expected this discovery. The wall was 265 meters long, and the 2-chamber Igansumun was discovered in nearly its original form. Igansumun was a sluice used to pump out water from Namsan (Mountain) to Cheonggyecheon (Stream). These were some of the once lost evidence of Joseon that had been hiding underground for over 80 years. From the culture-filled area of Dongdaemun, some of the lost history of Seoul was resurrected.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), the Japanese Empire focused on destroying City Wall of Seoul, and even created a division called the ‘City Wall removal committee.’ Following the liberation from Japan and the Korean War, the country suffered devastating poverty during the 1960s and 70s. Lacking proper shelter to protect themselves from the elements, people used materials and remains of the crumbling City Wall for survival. The wall was essentially broken-down during this time and slowly forgotten. But Seoul City Wall patiently waited for us for 83 years under the soil of Dongdaemun Stadium and finally came back. Dongdaemun and the citizens in Seoul celebrated in joy as the area now serves the people once again as the History & Culture Park to remind everyone that Seoul is indeed a city where history lives on.
Seoul City Wall wasn’t the only remain discovered underneath the Dongdaemun Stadium. Five sites of Hadogam were found here as well. Hadogam was a part of Hullyeondogam, a military unit of the Joseon Dynasty. Hadogam had around 390 rooms, and it’s estimated to have housed facilities such as the firelock storage and gunpowder storage. A portion of this facility was found at Dongdaemun Stadium, including a building site, well and drainage facility, and diverse artifacts. A particularly interesting discovery was a furnace, which was probably used to make metal weapons. You can even see the blackened inside from its use. During the Japanese occupation, Japan took down the tiles of Hadogam and mixed them with stones to construct roads, and placed convex and concave tiles in juxtaposition to create a drainage canal. The road and drainage canal are now restored and exhibited.
[Silk Road of Seoul, Central Asia of Seoul]
Seoul - a place we think we know well, but in actuality don’t. The same goes for Dongdaemun. An odd street exists here that even the many residents of Seoul don’t even know about. Visit Gwanghui-dong in Jung-gu, and you can drink Mongolian Mayuju. Mongolians call Gwanghui-dong ‘Little Ulaanbaatar.’ Gwanghui-dong started out as Russian town, evolved into a Central Asian town, and is now most popular as a Mongolian town. Today, the streets of Gwanghui-dong are covered with the Russian alphabet, which instantly render Koreans illiterate. People from various countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia entered the Dongdaemun textile market and turned Gwanghui-dong into the “Silk Road” of Seoul. Its transformation from a Russian town to a Central Asian town, then finally to a Mongolian town resulted in a diversity of ethnic cuisines in the area. There are Mongolian restaurants and cafes, Uzbekistani restaurants, a Russian-Korean bakery, Kazakhstani, and even Kyrgyzstani restaurants. Experience Mongolia, Kirgizstan, and Kazakhstan, all without having to leave Seoul. This hidden gem in Dongdaemun houses treasures of diverse culture. Mongolians call Korea “Seoleongeos,” which means rainbow in Mongolian. People from Korea are also called by the same name. What other country call Koreans by such a beautiful name?
Silk Road Station
Gwanghui-dong, an eccentric town unknown even to the people of Seoul, houses ”Silk Road Station,” which is an entrance to Seoul’s Silk Road. The station was built by stacking rocks and planting trees. It’s the unofficial boundary between Seoul and Mongolia, Central Asia, and Russia. This border doesn’t exist to block entry or discriminate. It’s always open to all people. Everyone becomes a nomad in Silk Road Station. We freely enter the borders to diverse nations.
Park of Seoul Hunlyunwon
[Spirit of Joseon's last soldier]
“We disbanded Joseon’s army.”
On August 1, 1907, soldiers of Joseon gathered at Hunlyunwon and received devastating news. Disbanding of the army was a conspiracy by Ito Hirobumi, the resident-general of Joseon.
“If a soldier can’t protect its nation, if a subject cannot be loyal to its motherland, his life is worth 10,000 deaths.”
Seunghwan Park, the commander of the protest battalion, left this in his will, cheered for the Korean Empire, and took his own life. The news of his death led the soldiers of Joseon to start a gun battle with the Japanese army. The site of Hullyeonwon houses the shameful history of the disbanded army, and the loyalty of Joseon’s soldiers who fought until the end. The last soldiers of Joseon demonstrated their determination through death. Unbroken by the shameful ruination of their country, the soldiers of the Korean Empire struck terror into the Japanese Empire with their armed resistance.
[Trivial wins here. ]
Bangsan Market is more of a printing and packaging street than a market. They make labels for clothes, shopping bags for Thanksgiving gift sets, and paper that line the baskets of bread in bakeries. Anything can be found at Bangsan Market. Trivial things that normal people don’t give much consideration to are all made here and are distributed throughout the entire country. Items that are always around us but never receive attention are the heroes of Bangsan Market. When you walk in Bangsan Market, you can’t stop yourself from saying, “so this is where they sell these things!” The market is also known for stores that sell baking ingredients and tools. Any ingredients needed for baking, such as dried fruits, dairy products, and spices can be purchased at Bangsan Market. It’s the one and only sanctuary for all bakers of Korea. Its name Bangsan, meaning mountain of pleasant scent is such a perfect name, isn’t it?
[Panoramic Theatre of Life ]
In the heart of Seoul is scenery of a countryside food market. Endless stories of history and ordinary people await you here. Everyone gathers comfortably, fills their stomachs, and has a drink or two. Some people have sold food for tens of years, and some people have come to eat for tens of years. Storeowners and customers share the same history of the poor past. You don’t need to dress up at Gwangjang Market. It may be crowded, hot, cold, or a little bit messy, but it doesn’t matter because people come to Gwangjang Market precisely for that. Longing for something, the nostalgia of their time – that’s what draws people here.
Customers at Gwangjang Market think back to the poor old days with mini gimbap in their mouths. They eat the mini gimbap not because it’s delicious, but because of their nostalgia – the time when petty foods tasted good. Small is now special, and remnants of poverty are now a delicacy.
Tens of years later, mothers became grandmothers, and their stores are now run by their daughters. Gwangjang Market means “gather wide and treasure” in Korean, and as its name suggests, the market embraces all kinds of people. Storeowners and customers talk about everyday topics and exchange the energy of life, regardless of business. Merchants of Gwangjang Market don’t just sell food – they share life. Even those with expanded businesses with of employees come to the market at dawn and work until late night as if they were working alone. Some are too old to work now, but they still come to the market. They don’t come to work, but they come to meet friends and have good times. Gwangjang Market is everything for the merchants. Gwangjang Market’s food street is a panoramic theatre of lif