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The present paper gives valuable insights into Korean history, culture and architecture observed through a journey up the Bukhansan Mountain. The national park of Bukhansan is full of historic buildings and monuments. Here a traveler can find Jinheung’s Sunsubi, a memorial commemorating the border inspection of King Jinheung; the Bukhansanseong Fortress, an eighteenth-century defensive structure; and many Buddhist Temples. The top of the mountain offers a view of a modern city with all its cultural and economic controversies. From the peeks of the Bukhansan Mountain, hikers can contemplate the shift from the standardized structures built in the late 20th century towards preserving the national culture in the early 21st century. In brief, for tourists who have a minimal amount of time, it would be beneficial to take a hike up the Bukhansan Mountain to get a complete picture of the Korean culture.
Foreign visitors to Seoul are often amazed by its architecture due to the prevalence of uniformed high-rise apartment blocks. However, a closer look into some of the quieter neighborhoods, Buddhist temples, fortresses, and palaces reveals a rich heritage of ancient traditional, colonial, and modern architecture (Jackson, Koehler, & Jin-Hyuk, 2014). One of the most pleasant and convenient ways of contemplating Korea’s cultural legacy is to climb up the Bukhansan Mountain. Many historic sites, Buddhist temples, and cultural assets make this place one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Korea (Oh & Lee, 2016). The present paper offers a look at Bukhansan National Park as the quintessence of Korean culture, architecture, and history.
Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, is surrounded by many mountains as it helps the city’s defense. Bukhansan Mountain is located northwest of the city and is a national park. The mountain has three triangular peaks: Baegundae, Insubong, and Mangyeongdae, for this reason, the locals often refer to the mountain as “Samgaksan Mountain” (Oh & Lee, 2016).
One of the most important attractions of the Bukhansan Mountain is King Jinheung’s Sunsubi, a monument commemorating the border inspection by King Jinheung of Silla. The monument was built between 561 and 568 A.D. during the Three Kingdoms period (Jackson et al., 2014). The upper part of the monument is missing, while the lower part shows why and how King Jinheung visited the Bukhansan Mountain. This monument is an important cultural site as it contains one of the earliest Korean writings.
Seoul got its original shape during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) when Taejo Yi Seong-gye (1335-1408) ordered to lay a new city (Yun, 2017). During this period Korea suffered many invasions, hence defense became a great concern for the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. While hiking up the Bukhansan Mountain, a traveler will surely come across one of the most remarkable memorials of this time, the Bukhansanseong Fortress. This fortress was built as a stone structure in 1711 for the emergency purposes of the kings and could stand independent of the capital city (Jackson et al., 2014).
As Oh and Lee (2016) point out, the Bukhansan Mountain is also home to many Buddhist temples, such as Beophwasa, Deokamsa, Nojeoksa, and Sukchunsa. All of the temples, while having a unique Korean style, are tributes to Chinese architecture. The temples are built under pungsu, the Korean adaptation of feng shui, where nature had the most fundamental influence. Mountains and rivers are crucial elements of pungsu, as they provide wind protection and water sources correspondingly. In short, Bukhansan Mountain provides excellent examples of cultural sights of all the main periods of Korean history.
Modern Korea as Seen from Bukhansan
While hiking to the top of the Bukhansan Mountain can make any traveler forget the urban vanity and hustle, a look down from any of the three peaks changes everything. A large almost faceless modern metropolis, Seoul, rises before one’s eyes with the prevalence of uniformed high-rise apartment blocks. In the early 1990s, there arose a need for globalization, as the country’s growth was slowed tremendously ethnocentrism that had prevailed before (Yun, 2017). On the one hand, because of the tendency, Seoul began to expand in an economically effective way, thus adopting standardized structures. On the other hand, the city accepted a cosmopolitan tolerance to other cultures, with this intention many western-modeled buildings arose.
In the 2000s the development priorities shifted towards acquiring the image of a cultural city. At the beginning of the 21st century, it occurred to researchers, that Seoul could attract global investments if the city shifted its focus “from manufacturing industries to cultural industries, and to promoting a higher quality of life” (Yun, 2017, p. 4). The result of this trend was a discourse alternation that led to designing Culture History Routes in the historic part of Seoul to preserve cultural heritage. These areas can also be seen from the top of Bukhansan Mountain and add a unique tinge to the grey picture of a modern city.
From the top of the Bukhansan Mountain there comes a realization that due to the rapid urbanization of Seoul there appeared a need for recreation zones. Humans “maintain a stable mental state when the environment around them is comprised of at least 30% green” (Oh & Lee, 2016, p. 33). As artificial structures take up 80%-85% of Seoul, Bukhansan National Park serves as a significant environment and emotional purification zone for the citizens. In brief, while Bukhansan National park is a resting place for numerous cultural and historical sights, the views from the top of the mountains offer a picturesque view of modern South Korea.
Buchanan National Park is a unique place that offers a short insight into Korean heritage. It allows travelers to look at Buddhist temples, historical monuments, and ancient buildings. Nevertheless, a view from the top of the mountain provides a picturesque scenery of Seoul, a modern metropolis. In conclusion, a hike up the Bukhansan Mountain offers a broad overview of Korean history and culture in a short period.
Jackson, B., Koehler, R., & Jin-Hyuk, L. (2014). Korean architecture: Breathing with nature. Seoul, Republic of Korea: Seoul Selection.
Oh, H., & Lee, C. (2016). An exploratory study on the value preservation of Bukhansan National Park. International Academy of Global Business and Trade, 12(2), 29-41.
Yun, J. (2017). Globalizing Seoul: The city’s cultural and urban change. New York, NY: Routledge.