When you visit to foreign countries of old history, you will be amazed at old castles they have. At first, we are surprised at the beautiful castle which looks just cut-and pasted from a fairy tale, and amazed again by the fact that it has been coming down for over the hundreds of years. Tourists will continue to visit there, appreciating that how this beautiful castle still remains.
However, Korea also has many traditional buildings coming down through a few hundred. The best one is a Korean-style old house. Although it is not as high as other foreign castles, the whole structure and the view of the house is a piece of the artwork. It is a harmony of Korean style building placement and the composition of natural garden. It is said to be admirable even to the modern architects. From now on, let's go to see the grandeur and beautiful ancient houses representing Korea.
Sunkyeojang in Gangneung
An ancient house Sunkyeojang, located at Gangneung, was originally built by the 11th descendants of Prince Hyo-nyeong, the older brother of King Sejong, and has come down to the present going through the work of enlargement for 10 generations. This is a typical house for the gentry which comprises 99 units of area, and has higher value on its prototype which was preserved almost perfectly for a long period of 300 years. In 2000, the Korea Broadcasting Cooperation chose Sunkyojang as the best traditional house of Korea of 20 century. This place has been drawing people's attention as a film location for various dramas and movies including “Man of the Princess” which recently drew a large popularity. In addition, this place is often shown as a background in many programs on TV, and also became a visiting place for the ministers of tourism of Korea, China and Japan.
At this point, there is something which should be clarified. Koreans are familiar with the term, ‘a tile-roofed house with 99 units’. Then, why didn’t they build 100 units, adding one more unit? This was associated with the taboos of the past. Due to the fact that only the palace for a king's residence was allowed to be built more than 100 units of area, so the civilian house was restricted to 99 units utmost since no one could not live in a larger house than King's, as thought to be a general truth of the reason. This is proved by the story that Leem Sang-ok, a wealthy merchant of the latter period of Joseon Dynasty, got all sorts of sufferings from the accusation of building more than 100 units. Reaching to the end of the former Korea, with the regulation becoming disturbed, the cases of building over 100 units of houses gradually increased. However, on the whole, the limit of 99 units has been well kept. By the way the ‘unit’ means the land size not a room.
Sunkyeojang is located in front of the Maewalldang memorial place where you can see after the Gyeongpo intersection and turning left on the Unjung intersection. It opens for public from 9 am to 6 pm in summer, from 9 am and to 5 pm moved up by one hour in winter, and admission fee is 3000 won for an adult. If you come earlier,, you can enjoy the place more comfortably with introduction by commentator. Smoking is prohibited all over the area as the whole buildings were made of wood.
A lodging experience is a representative and practical use of this place. With a large site and many buildings, 9 choices for lodging, from a tile-roofed house for the group to a thatched house for the elegant residence, are prepared without missing anything. Although cooking is not allowed for safety of the building, lower prices and cozy facility is attractive enough.
Besides, the cultural experience is also very plentiful. Traditional food, folk play, courtesy, and a public performance experience are made ready basically, and a finishing school and calligraphy school are opened on not-permanent standing. And in 2009, a library, holding above 2000 copies, will be made in Yulwhadang, a gusting room in Sunkyeojang, which will introduce visitors to the joy of reading. Moreover, surroundings are full of famous attractions such as Gyungpodae, Jungdongjin, Ojukheon, Odae Mountain., Seorak Mountain, etc. The number of tourists visiting Gangneung continuously increases.
130 Years of History, Songso Ancient House
Before looking into the history of Songso ancient house, we need to look over the history of the Shims of Cheongsong area.
The Shims, started by the originator Shim Hong-bu during the reign of King Choong-yul of Goryeo dynasty, settled in Cheongsong area which became a place of their origin. Their power reached the highest during the reign of King Gong-min and a King Yu. The two prominent figures from the Shims then were brothers, Shim Duk-bu and Shim Uen-bu. The older brother, Shim Duk- bu had served the ministry as a meritorious retainer for the foundation of a country, and the daughter of his fifth son Shim On became an Empress Sohyeon, a wife of the King Sejong in Joseon Dynasty.
On the other hand, the younger brother Shim Uen-bu, unlike his older brother, opposed to the dynasty revolution and went into the Dumundong confining himself at home, and the rest of his descendents also stepped down from the government and came back to their hometown, Cheongsong, following the will of an ancestor. They worked together in cooperation and brought the wealth enough to be one of two richest families with the Choi's of Gyeongju, the southeast region of Korea. The myth of a person who owns fields yielding as much as 10,000 seok of rice over 9 generations, were born from them. Among them, Songso Shim Ho-teak, a 7th generation descendant, built the Songso ancient house in 1880, naming it under his pseudonym.
Songso ancient house has a typical upper-class house configuration of 7 sections and 99 units of area, and with being recognized of the almost perfectly preserved value, was designated as an Nationally Important Folk Material No.250. Having been neglected for 20 years since the descendants left, it was reborn as a hands-on experiencing place of Korean-style house after repaired in July 2010. The change proved to be successful by receiving the best award called, the Star of Korea Tourism, in lodging.
The look of a tall front gate made of 7 units, standing in the entrance, overwhelms the visitors. Entering the gate, there appears a garden where maple trees and pine trees were planted. Sarangche, men’s space appears on the right side of it. Looking at the view from high above, you will learn that entire place is divided each into spaces for living, working, and welcoming guests. Besides, each building has its own independent yard, so the total is 9.
In Songso ancient house, you can find many interesting details everywhere.
First of all, entering into the tall gate, ‘ㄱ’ shaped-wall, called heotdam, separating wall. It was used to prevent children and women of inside from encountering the male guests visiting sarangche. In addition, when you take a closer look at the Kkotdam, a flower wall, you can find the hole in line with eye-level, which is said to be a hole used for the children and women inside of the house to see the outside. Who knows it could be used vice-versa?
Also, when you see the roof, a little bit scary picture is painted at the edge. This is said to be the purpose to expel the evil spirit. If you see the upper part, you can see the two holes which were made for the birds to build a nest easily, and recognize the warm heart of ancestors.
Lastly, we will take a look at the byeolche, women’s space, sticking out of the side of Songso ancient house. This place was a space for the unmarried women in Songso ancient house, and the girls over seven years old should move to byeolche and live locked in the place until she gets married. This place was indeed a space for raising the women of a boudoir who hadn’t experienced the outside. However, at present, this place turns to be the most expensive accommodation because of its uniqueness and a harmony with surrounding landscape. How about staying one night here and feeling the mood of the lady who dreamt of a dear future husband?
The Scar Left by Japanese Imperialism, Imcheonggak
Imcheonggak is a unusual Korean-style house in a sense that the present appearance is quite different from the one in the past. In the early days, Imcheonggak stood with a proud of its dignified appearance of 99 units of area. However, since it was found that 9 pro-independence fighters were born in this house, Japanese demolished almost half of the house by putting down the central railroad in the front of the house. In addition, as the descendants refused to add themselves to Japanese family register, Japanese confiscate their house and sold to others. Since then, the descendants had to wander around orphanages.
Imcheonggak is one of the oldest ancient houses, and used to be outstanding in its scale until 19 century. Built in 1519, its scale has become huge by continuous expansion. It has the board written by Lee Hyun-bo and Lee Hang-bok, the prominent civil ministers in the mid Joseon Dynasty, so we can imagine their high social reputation was.
The full figure of Imcheonggak has a flat formation which looks like a Chinese letter, ‘用 (lyong)’’. It tells that it separated each place by gender and social status. Also, Gunjajeong, located at the center of Imcheonggak and later designated as National Treasure, is for welcoming guests, which looks like a letter, ‘丁(jeong)’. This is the best spot to take a view of Nakdong River flowing over the front and the Yeunnam Mountain surrounding the building.
Ancient houses were not built with 99 units of area from the beginning. They got bigger and bigger for a long period of time. It was for practical use rather than ostentation. When the house was crowded with peoples, it needed a lot of rooms for many literary guests and travelers from all over the country as well as for the family, relatives, and the servants to take their own space. Distinguished family always emphasized to welcome their guests. With this, we can see the fact that what they concerned about is a human being rather than property.
The biggest lesson, which the ancient house is giving to us, seems that we should live together, harmonized with others.