Seodaemun Independence Park
Seodaemun Independence Park is a historic cultural site comprising a range of historic monuments and buildings. It includes the Independence Gate (founded in 1897 by the Independence Club), Independence Hall, and the Declaration of Independence Monument (independence activities and peaceful demonstrations on 1st March 1919 in the Japanese occupation). It also houses many memorials and statues to commemorate the activists who fought for Korea’s independence during the Japanese occupation. Seodaemun Prison, one of the prisons from that era, has been transformed into a monument to the memory of those who participated in the struggle for the nation’s freedom. Known as Seodaemun Prison History Museum, it has assembled a great number of relics and records from that era, and enables people to learn about this dark period in the nation’s history and about its patriotic heroes.
The Independence Hall, originally known as “Mohwagwan”, was once the place where Korean diplomats held receptions and welcomed envoys from China, during the period of suzerainty over Korea in the time of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In 1897 it was remodeled into the Independence Hall by the Independence Club, so as to serve as a forum for Korean scholars to teach self-reliance and strengthen the spirit of national independence. After undergoing considerable destruction and rebuilding during the wars, the modern-day Independence Hall is now complete once again, and since 1996 it has housed 2,327 memorial tablets to Korean independence activists. It also comprises many memorials and statues of patriots, such as the statue of Seo Jaepil (a Korean independence activist) and the Patriot Martyrs Monument, as part of the Seodaemun Independence Park. As an educational and cultural park, it is a major tourist attraction in the Seodaemun-gu district of Seoul, with nearly half a million visitors annually.
Independence Gate: commemorating the desire for freedom
The Independence Club was a socio-political body in the modern concept organized by Seo Jaepil and intellectuals during the Japanese occupation for the purpose of defending Korean independence and supporting Korean political reform. The Independence Gate was built to replace the Yeongeunmun Gate, which was regarded as a symbol of toadyism, reflecting the nature of diplomatic relations between the Joseon Dynasty and Qing Dynasty in China. The Independence Club had raised funds for constructing a new gate that would represent Korean independence and supremacy. Eventually, in 1897, their efforts bore fruit in the Independence Gate, a massive granite gate measuring 14.28 meters in height and 11.48 meters in width. It was modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Independence Gate bears a plaque at the front to underscore its purpose and symbolism, and bears the national flag on each side of the gate. Two stone bases still remain from the previous gate, which is designated Historic Site No. 33.
Statue of Seo Jaepil (Korean independence activist)
A view of the Declaration of Independence Monument
Seodaemun Prison was a jail where Korean independence activists were held and tortured by the Japanese army during the time of Japanese occupation. The original prison was restored by the Seodaemun Independence Park project, which was started in 1995; and on the 5th November 1998 the prison was re-opened as a museum called the Seodaemun Prison History Hall in remembrance of the prison’s victims, and to honor the indomitable spirit of those who fought for Korean independence against the Japanese army.
Prison cells line the hall
Instruments of torture on display – reminders of a terrible past
Inside view of Seodaemun Prison
Patriot Martyrs Monument