The Cheonggyecheon Museum decorated with long glass installation symbolizes the Chenggyecheon stream, which was newly restored and reopened on October 1, 2005. The Museum consists of a Permanent Exhibition hall, a Special Exhibition hall, and an auditorium for cultural events. Visitors can learn about its restoration project, which ran for two years and three months from July 2003 to October 2005, changing the face of the city forever.
Cheonggyecheon is a major stream that ran through Seoul’s downtown area long before the city was made the capital of Joseon. The history of Cheonggyecheon, which has run alongside the history of the city, is on display at the Permanent Exhibition Hall of the Cheonggyecheon Museum.
The first section of the exhibition concerns the history of the Cheonggyecheon before it was covered up. Then visitors are led through the space where Gwangtong Bridge, which had been buried underground until the restoration, is recreated to learn about the restoration project. The exhibition will also help people to gain a better understanding of how the restoration project has changed (and will change) the surrounding areas and aesthetic value of the city, as well as how the Cheonggyecheon has played a part in people’s lives since the Joseon period. Visitors will also be able to find out about the future roles that the Cheonggyecheon is destined to play as Seoul makes a big leap forward to become an environmentally-friendly city.
For the people of Hanyang, the stream that ran west to east in this Joseon Dynasty’s new capital was a critical natural component that both supplied fresh water and carried away the sewage. Also, according to the principles of geomancy, it was this stream that elevated the status of the space within the city walls to be regarded as a propitious site. However, flooding constantly threatened the lives of people, due to the facts that mountains surrounded the city, that a large portion of annual rainfall was heavily concentrated in the summer months, and that streambed was mostly sand. Leaving the stream in its natural state was not an option if the residents were to live in peace. In 1411, King Taejong established a department within the government (Gaegeodogam, later renamed Gaecheondogam) responsible for engineering the stream and building levees. ‘Gaecheon’ refers to the task of dredging and widening a natural stream, or the stream which had been engineered in such ways. Around 52,800 workers from Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Gyeongsang Provinces worked for two months to transform what was a natural stream into a Gaecheon. Since then, the Gaecheon has been flowing for more than 600 years as an inextricable part of the city residents’ everyday lives.
Cheonggyecheon’s nickname during the Japanese occupation period was ‘city’s cancer’, and the levee road was dubbed ‘killer road.’ Population increase, industrialization, and changes in lifestyles rapidly degraded the water quality, and the traditional folk events that took place by the stream during the holidays disappeared. People demanded to cover the Cheonggyecheon, but it was largely ignored by the Japanese authorities. The plan to permanently eliminate the ‘city’s cancer’ only emerged after the 1936 expansion of Gyeongseong’s boundaries, but this plan only remained on paper in the years after, when all resources had been mobilized for Japanese war efforts. The construction to cover it finally began in 1958 and was completed in 1977. Cheonggyecheon became Cheonggye Road, and markets and factories were built next to it to lead Korea’s industrialization. The Cheonggye elevated Motorway, built above the Cheonggyero Road, symbolized Seoul’s progress and Korea’s modernization for a long period of time, along with the Samil(3.1) Building constructed next to the highway.
The collapse accidents of Seongsu Bridge and Sampoong Department Store in the mid-1990s, followed by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis marked the end of the development era of the past generation. As more authority was devolved from the national to local governments, managing ecological environment and preserving historical and cultural heritage emerged as local governments’ important goals over growth and development. The Cheonggyecheon road and the Elevated Motorway that cut through Seoul’s core showed significant signs of aging, requiring immediate and major renovation. The argument that Cheonggyecheon should be restored by demolishing these remnants of the development era rather than continuing to spend money for maintenance gained momentum. It became a major issue during the 2002 Seoul mayoral election, which was also the third local mayoral election. Candidate Lee Myung-bak won the election over the opponent who argued for temporary renovation of the roadways and planned for restoration of the stream over the long term. The restoration project thus became Seoul’s top priority, and Mayor Lee quickly established organizations to oversee the Restoration Project after taking office in July of 2002. The restoration was completed after 2 years and 3 months, restoring Cheonggyecheon over its 5.84km corridor.
October 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Cheonggyecheon’s “restoration.” It took relatively a short period of time to transform it from a stream buried underneath unsafe and aging concrete structures to one with clean water and recreational waterfronts. Cheonggyecheon immediately became Seoul’s new hot spot after its restoration. Currently, around 60,000 people visit the stream every day, to both walk by and take a break. Many foreign tourists and urban water experts frequently visit Cheonggyecheon as well. Seoul residents are quite satisfied with this transformation. However, there are also a number of critical opinions that the project did not place enough emphasis on properly restoring the ecological environment or historical and cultural heritage as initially announced to the public. The critics continue to point out today that the stream was just another development project rather than true ‘restoration.’ They point out that it is an artificial waterway, maintained by pumping water from the Hangang River instead of water from its natural tributaries. Along with the stream, restoration of historic heritage was minimal as well. Cheonggyecheon today remains incomplete, with its future open to the people of Seoul.
|Assortment||March ~ October||November ~ February|
|Sat, Sun, Holidays||9:00 ~ 18:00||9:00 ~ 18:00|
|Tue ~ Fri||9:00 ~ 18:00|
|Closed||Jan. 1, Mondays|
530 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul (Postal Code: 04704)
Tel. 02-2286-3410 / Fax 02-2286-3414 / Website https://museum.seoul.go.kr/cgcm/index.do