Seoul cultural jewel, Namdaemun gate, restored five years after fire

More than 1,000 craftsmen helped repair the Namdaemun gate and bring pride back to Seoul

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 2:47am


Five years after an arsonist burned it down in a spectacular blaze, South Korea yesterday unveiled its newly restored Namdaemun gate, a national treasure painstakingly rebuilt at a cost of millions of dollars.

The cultural jewel in central Seoul will reopen to the public on Saturday, following one of the longest and most expensive restoration projects undertaken in South Korea, involving hundreds of highly skilled craftsmen.

"Using traditional methods and materials, we've done our best to restore it to its original state," said Kang Kyung-hwan, head of the government's Heritage Conservation Bureau.

Seoul's 600-year-old Namdaemun (South Gate) is listed as "National Treasure Number One" and a source of immense cultural pride.

The largely wooden structure, which survived the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean war, was reduced to ashes by a disgruntled 69-year-old man with some paint thinner and a cigarette lighter on February 10, 2008.

The five-year, 27-billion-won (HK$188.5 million) project involved 35,000 people, including more than 1,000 craftsmen who used traditional tools to restore the gate to its former splendour.

"The restoration took longer than we originally thought because my team used no modern tools, only chisels and hammers," said Lee Eui-sang, a 72-year-old master stone carver.

"At first I was so nervous about restoring our precious national treasure, but I've poured all my energy into rehabilitating our crucial cultural heritage."

The restoration team said the original stones and materials were used as far as possible, while they left some scorched wooden pillars in their damaged state to alert the public to the danger of fire.

"It's wonderful to see our foremost national treasure again. The gate looks unfamiliar due to its fresh paint but I think our pride has been restored," said Lee Un-seok, a 35-year-old engineer.