The quaint neighborhood of Tongui-dong beckons visitors looking for art, culture, and reminiscences of the past.
The old city of Seoul clustered around Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), attracts people for its many charms. Samcheong-dong, to the east of Gyeongbokgung, is a trendy hotspot for restaurants and boutiques. Insadong is famous for its streets filled with Korean tradition and style. Between these two areas is Gahoe-dong, where the small alleys are lined with Hanok houses. Aside from the popular destinations east of Gyeongbokgung, there is a serene area west of the palace with its own special charm: Tonguidong. It is a small neighborhood frequented mostly by art lovers and city adventurers for its many art galleries along the alleys.
JUST BEYOND THE PALACE WALLS
The best way to explore Tongui-dong is on foot, starting from Gyeongbokgung Station. Do not be alarmed by the uniformed policemen strolling through the neighborhood. They are on patrol as the area is in close proximity to Cheong Wa Dae, the South Korean presidential residence. From the main street of Tongui-dong, the blue roof of Cheong Wa Dae can be seen over the western wall of Gyeongbokgung. The close proximity to the palace and the presidential residence is what gives Tongui-dong its unique historical and tranquil character.
During the Joseon Dynasty, Tongui-dong was home to government offices in charge of procuring meats, salts, and firewood for the palace. High court officials walked through this neighborhood to go to work, and middle-class merchants and craftsmen set up shops there. The air of authority lingers to this day, for Cheong Wa Dae was built in the 1970s just beyond the palace. For security reasons, buildings within this area cannot exceed four stories, and windows cannot face the presidential residence. Commercial businesses are reluctant to establish their presence in this area because of the lack of pedestrian traffic and the strict building code, but these are precisely the reasons that the area has attracted galleries, achieving a classy and peaceful ambience like no other.
Jean Art Gallery is one of Korea's oldest galleries.
One of the first galleries to come to Tonguidong was Jean Art Gallery in the late 1970s. It was a pioneer in shaping the Tongui-dong gallery scene at a time when art galleries were relatively new in Korea. In the more than 30 years since, more galleries such as Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, Brain Factory, and Ryugaheon have moved into the neighborhood and created a new identity for Tongui-dong as a gallery district.
The neighborhood is dotted by some 20 galleries, each with its own unique character reflected even on the exterior. Ryugaheon is a studio and gallery that specializes in photography. Situated in a small alley between residential houses, Ryugaheon is actually an original Hanok that was remodeled to house the gallery and a café. Like most galleries in this area, visitors are free to walk into the Hanok without paying any admission fee and view the latest exhibit or just rest on the wooden porch.
Founded in 1996, Daelim Contemporary Art Museum was Korea's first museum that specialized in photography.
Tongui-dong Boan Yeogwan used to be an actual inn, as indicated by its name Yeogwan, which means inn. It opened in the 1930s, and in the 1950s young aspiring writers and poets, including the famous poet Seo Jeong-ju, stayed at the inn before settling in the city. Even after it was turned into a gallery in 2007, the building façade and the original name were left unchanged, carrying on the history of the building.
While walking along the alleys of Tonguidong, visitors can feel the history and lives of the locals quietly mingling with modern art. This is a truly unique part of Seoul. A day spent in Tongui-dong is sure to end with pleasant surprises and perhaps a new flare for art.
*Article from Korea Magazine (April 2012)
Source : www.korea.net/NewsFoc... ( English Korean )
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