Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

With our stomachs full from lunch, the next stop on our itinerary was Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장), a huge public space that stretches from the beginning of Cheonggyecheon Stream (청계천) to the entrance of Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) and is close to 20,000m² in size. (I'm still in awe at how big it was in real life!) The main attractions of the Square include: the statues of King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) and Admiral Yi Sun Shin (충무공 이순신), the 12.23 Fountain (분수 12·23), and the Yeoksamulgil (역사물길) or "Waterway of History".

Reigning from 1418-1450 as the 4th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong is probably one of the most respected kings in Korean history. So whenever you're watching, hearing or reading about Korea, his name (and a picture of his statue) will bound to pop up somewhere. For me, I've seen his statue countless times on variety shows, dramas and YouTube videos, so it felt surreal seeing it in person for the first time. I remember being stunned by the size of it because it was much bigger than I had imagined. (FYI, the statue stands at 9.5m in height.)

As you would know, King Sejong also invented the Korean alphabet, Hangul (한글), to reduce the illiteracy in Korea. Up until 1446, only the privileged aristocrats or yangban (양반) could read and write fluently in Chinese. But now, the illiteracy rate in Korea is almost zero. When you're in the Square, don't forget to take a look at the tactile paving because the government even imprinted the Hangul chracters on each bump in King Sejong's honour!

After a good 15-20 minutes "above ground", we went inside an exhibition hall conveniently located underneath the statue, called The Story of King Sejong (세종이야기), which has on display some of the king's most notable contributions to the development of Korea as a nation. To me, the exhibition hall felt like a mini museum because you could learn about the king's democratic ideologies, the technological advances during his reign and King Sejong as an individual. You could even listen to music composed by the king himself, but what I liked most in the exhibition hall was the Hangul Gallery because it had some really beautiful artworks of the Korean alphabet (of course) and even a Hangul chair!

For someone who's used to being crowded by tall buildings and narrow roads, I loved Gwanghwamun Square. I felt so free just standing in the middle. Though, I wished we spent more time there because I don't think I even have a proper photo of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, who was a naval commander most noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions in the 1500s and a national hero of Korea.

However, we did go again at night because I wanted to see its beautiful night views, which Gwanghwamun Square is known for. Despite the fact that it was raining and our feet were in pain from all the walking we did that day, it was totally worth it. (I don't think I would've forgiven myself had I skipped seeing the Square at night.)

Gwanghwamun Square is not a landmark that requires you spend a lot of time at, but it's NOT a place to be missed. In fact, I would suggest going twice because the Square gives off a different vibe in the daytime and at night time. Summer would also be the most appropriate season to visit, but because we went during winter, it wasn't as "lively" as I had hoped it to be. However, it was still a good stop nonetheless and if you're a big fan of open spaces like me, you'll love Gwanghwamun Square.

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