The newly restored Gwanghwamun, the main and largest gate of Gyeongbok Palace, was unveiled Sunday in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule.
The country’s famous historical landmark was revealed to the public on Liberation Day after four years of painstaking work to restore the gate to its 19th century form. Its name panel, which had been in the center of dispute between those who supported a Hangeul version and supporters of the original Chinese character panel, was also revealed. The new name panel is a replica of the original name panel written in 1867.
First built in 1395, Gwanghwamun was repeatedly destroyed and then restored throughout the history. After Korea-Japan annexation treaty in 1910, the Japanese government deconstructed the gate to make space for the Japanese Governor General Building in 1926. The gate was then moved to eastern corner of the Gyeongbok Palace.
The Korean War once again completely destroyed the gate, leaving its stone base in disrepair. The latest restoration project, which started in 2006, was set to restore the gate to its original form of the Gojong era, correcting the renovation carried out using concrete in 1963. The restoration by the Park Chung-hee administration improperly positioned the gate, 3.75 degrees tilted away from the center of the palace. The newly restored gate is now properly located.
People gather in front of the newly restored Gwanghwamun after the Liberation Day celebrations at the Gwanghwamun Square on Sunday. Yonhap News
Park, while completing the restoration, wrote the gate’s name panel himself using three Hangeul characters. The new nameplate is a restored version of the original Chinese signboard written by Lim Tae-young, head of the Gyeongbokgung reconstruction team and a general, in 1867. Both Hangeul scholars and Park’s supporters have been protesting against the idea of Chinese nameplate, arguing a new Hangeul version developed by King Sejong or keeping the Park’s original plate would be more appropriate.
About 4,500 officials and citizens gathered in front of the royal gate to attend the Liberation Day ceremony at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul. “A hundred years ago we’d lost our country and had our gate blocked,” said President Lee Myung-bak in a statement. “The newly restored Gwanghwamun will be the gate that will open a new set of history of ours.”
The restoration of Gwanghwamun is a part of the Gyeongbok Palace restoration project which started in 1991. The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea said the second phase of the restoration project will continue in the next 20 years, aiming to restore 76 percent of the palace of the Gojong era.