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Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong print

Gyeongju Yangdong Village

Traditional Village with 600 Years of History

The houses and the people of Yangdong Village preserve the family traditions of the ancients and the spirit of the 'seonbi', the scholars of the 'yangban' aristocratic class. If you go and try to capture this same spirit, you will soon find that Yangdong Village is not a mere tourist attraction, but rather a living, breathing museum full of untold treasures.

As you enter into the Gyeongju Yangdong Village, the houses nestled in between the mountain ridges and valleys greet you with a picture-perfect scene of peace and security. This overall sense of peace may partially be because the scene often appears in Korean movies. However, it is also largely because the village is located in the ideal spot according to the principles of feng shui (geomancy). Since Yangdong Village stretches along the Seolchangsan Mountain ridge from Munjangbong Peak, comes down, and splits off into 4 separate ridges, it is said to look like the Chinese character '勿'. With its back towards the mountain and a waterway to its front, the village is built in accordance with the principle of 'baesanimsu', which describes this type of placement. Since the wealth of Gyeongju is said to come up from the north along the Hyeongsangang River and be carried into the Allakcheon Stream, one might even say this is the most prosperous and fortunate of all sites. The people of the village believe that since the entrance of the village is narrow and the plots of land are wide, that any 'luck which comes into this bamboo basket shape cannot go out once it comes in'. Since the entrance to the village is so narrow, Yangdong was a village not widely known before being registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.

Recommended Course

Village entrance → Gwangajeong → Hyangdan → Mucheomdang → Nakseondang → Seobaekdang → Simsujeong → Ganghakdang → Suunjeong → Allakjeong (approx. 2hrs, 30min)

Yangdong Village is a village encircled by mountain valleys with 54 tranquil tiled-roof houses and 110 thatched-roof houses that boast 500 years of tradition and history. Since the village is large with plenty to see, it is difficult to see much unless you plan ahead. Before your trip, be sure to visit the Yangdong homepage for maps and recommended travel courses.

So who was the person who set up the foundations of such a lucky site?
Yangdong Village, a village of the 'yangban' (aristocratic) class, boasts over 600 years of history and tradition. At the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, Yi Gwangho of the Yeogang Yi Clan took up residence in the village. His granddaughterin- law Ryu Bok-ha of the Pungdeok Ryu clan came to live there as well. Later, Sonso (1433-1484) of the Wolseong Son Clan married the only child of Ryu Bok-ha and moved to Yangdong. After some time, Sonso's daughter was given in marriage to Yi-beon (1463-1500) of the Yeogang Yi Clan, who then moved to Yangdong Village to live. The two families, the Wolseong Son Clan and the Yeogang Yi Clan, lived and grew together and the history of Yangdong Village began in earnest. Yangdong is sometimes referred to as the Oeson Village (village of the grandchildren on the mother’s side), which reflects the patrilineal society of Joseon and the fact that people like Ryu Bok-ha and Sonso moved in with their wife's parents.

Hyangdan & Gwangajeong, Representative Houses of Yangdong Village

Partway in the village, facing a 600-year-old gingko tree, is the old house of Gwangajeong. Gwangajeong, along with Hyangdan to the right, are the two representative family homes of Yangdong Village.

Gwangajeong was once the private home of Son Jung-don (1463-1529), civil servant and loyal subject of the Joseon Dynasty. Son Jung-don was a government official appointed during the time of King Jungjong, and served as 'Yijopanseo' (the highest ranking official of the department of personnel appraisal), and 'Daesaheon' of the 'Saheonbu' department (inspection authority). His high status can be compared to that of today's chief of a national ministry.

The name Gwangajeong means: 'As you see the grains grow, so will you see your descendants increase'. If you go up on the 'maru' (main floor) of the 'sarangchae' (men's quarters) where the signboard reading 'Gwangajeong' hangs, you will be able to look out over the open fields of the surrounding farmland. Gwangajeong is laid out in the shape of a 'ㅁ', with the 'sarangchae' stretching out in a south-westerly direction. The sarangchae was built on top of a base of stones measuring 1m high. If you go through the middle door, decorated with a yinyang pattern, you will come across the 'anchae' (women's quarters). Something interesting to note here is that there is no kitchen. However, this is not because it originally did not have one. The main room of the anchae had a kitchen to the front, but it is thought that during the Japanese colonial rule, Seokbaekdang became the head household of the clan and the kitchen was converted into another room.

To the back of the house is the family shrine. During the Joseon Dynasty, it was seen as absolutely necessary to construct a shrine at the head house of one's family (typically, the house of the eldest) to enshrine the ancestral tablets of the clan. These tablets ('wipae') were wooden panels in which the spirits of a family's forefathers were said to dwell. Gwangajeong played the role of the head house of the family, and at the same time was where Son Jung-don and his descendants came to perform 'jesa' (ancestral rites) to honor their ancestors. Even in modern times, these memorial services are performed every year on March 15 according to the lunar calendar. In the yard is a large juniper tree. Juniper trees were planted in the compound not only because they lived for a long time, but also because their fragrance was used during the conducting of jesa. In traditional Korean architecture, if you see a juniper tree in the inner yard, you know that the house was the head house of the family or clan.

The large and ornate house to the left of Gwangajeong is 'Hyangdan'. This is the old house that represents the Yeogang Yi Clan. The house is said to have been built when Yi Eon-jeok (1491-1553) of the Yeogang Yi family was appointed as 'Gwanchalsa' (the highest ranking official of the local district, equivalent to today's governor) of Gyeongsang-do Province during the time of King Jungjong, as a place for him to take care of his sick mother. However, others say that the house was built for Yi Eon-jeok's younger sibling Yi Eon-gwal (1494-1553) who took the responsibility of taking care of their ailing mother.

Hyangdan is a unique structure even within Yangdong Village. In the house, the haengnangchae (servant's quarters), anchae, and sarangchae are all placed together in one area, and there are two yards. In between the yards is a large room and an area that separates the space from the outside. This type of construction, which prohibited those on the outside from seeing into the house, was done out of consideration for the women who lived there. Together with Seobaekdang, Mucheomdang, and Gwangajeong, Hyangdan is one of the few private residences built before the Japanese Invasion (1592-1598) that still remains in existence today, giving it much historical importance and value as a private residence. The building was once a sprawling 99 ‘kan’ (kan: a traditional unit of measurement), but was destroyed in the Korean War (also known as the '6.25 War'). When the building was restored, it was reduced to only 56 kan.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to explore each and every corner of Hyangdan. This is because it is not an empty building. Most of the buildings of Yangdong, including Hyangdan, are currently inhabited, so it is very impolite to venture in too far. Since Yangdong is an actual village, as opposed to a mere tourist attraction, it is important to maintain proper etiquette so as not to disturb the residents.

Mucheomdang, the main house of the Yeogang Yi family, was a building constructed as a 'byeoldang' (detached house) by Yi Eon-jeok in 1543. Even though it was built as a byeoldang, the Yeogang Yi family used it as a 'jongga' (family house) for discussing family matters and housing guests. Currently, Mucheomdang is mainly used as a 'sarangchae', but is also used as a 'jecheong' (place to stay during ancestral rites) when the family performs jesa.

The sarangchae of the building is shaped like a 'ㄱ' with ‘ondol’ (traditional floor heating) rooms to the right and left of the central main room, and an upperstory loft ('numaru') that sticks out to the left. If you sit in the 'daecheong' (main room) and look out to the front, you can see the bamboo and oak forests of Mulbongdongsan Mountain and the big road making its way up to the village.

In the front of the daecheong is a signboard reading 'Mucheomdang'. To the right of this sign is another signboard reading 'Jwahaegeumseo', and to the left is a sign reading 'Mulaeseook'. 'Jwahaegeumseo' was written with a bamboo pen by the hands of Heungseon Daewongun (1820-1898), the father of King Gojong (1852-1919), the 26th king of Joseon. 'Jwahae' refers to Yeongnam, while 'geumseo' has the meaning of the 'geomungo' (a Korean zither) and books. Together, the inscription means that Mucheomdang is a representative place of Yeongnam, with a high appreciation of music and learning. Facing this sign is the sign reading 'Mulaeseook', which designates the place as a library for the storage of books. By reading these signs we can get a glimpse into the lives of the classical scholars and a real sense of the close relationship they had with their books. At the numaru as well hang many signboards reading things like 'Ocheseosil', 'Seilheon', 'Cheongokru', and 'Changsansegeo'.

If you look carefully at Mucheongdang, you may be surprised to spot a slight architectural oddity. Looking at the roof, you will notice that there are two different types of roofs meshed together. The roof over the daecheong and ondol living quarters is that of a 'matbaejibung' roof (a roof shaped like a slightly open book, as in the Chinese character '八'). The roof over the numaru is a more ornate 'paljakjibung' roof (a roof whose top part is graced by triangular components). The reason for the different roofs is often that the two sections were built separately at different times. In this case, since the different spaces had a different function, the roofs as well were built in different styles.

The shrine at Mucheomdang is located on top of stairs between the sarangchae and anchae. The building has a 'matbaejibung' roof and is colored with traditional multicolored paintwork called 'dancheong'. If you go past the yard, you will come across the anchae. Since the anchae is currently inhabited, it is not open to the public.

Seobaekdang, Similar in Scale & Form to the Main House of the Family

Seobaekdang is the oldest private home in Yangdong, and is found at the innermost part of the village. The house was built in 1454 as the 'jongga' (the main, head household) of the Wolseong Son Clan by Sonso, the founding father of Yangdong. In order to match the height of the house, which was built on a sharp incline, the anchae and sarangchae were built on top of high bases.

If you go inside the front gate, you may be surprised to find that you are not met with a yard, but are rather standing right in front of the base of the sarangchae and the high numaru. To the left is the direction towards the anchae, and to the right are the sarang madang and the path to the family shrine. Since the anchae is the main living quarters, it is closed to visitors for the protection of the privacy of its residents.

If you go to the sarang madang, you will notice a signboard reading 'Seobaekdang'. In the olden days, people sought to give their houses a good name, the same as they did with their children. The name 'Seobaekdang' means 'to write the word patience 100 times'. In Korea when one lived in the head household, there was always much to do and many problems to solve; it was extremely difficult. This name conveyed the idea that in order for the Son family to continue to live on through its oldest grandson, the jongga must face the complicated and difficult work of the family with patience to promote a peaceful household.

High up behind the sarangchae is the 'sadang' (family shrine). In the garden to the front of the shrine, the juniper tree that Sonso planted in commemoration of the construction of the house shows off its timeless elegance. More than just a thing of beauty, this 550-year-old juniper tree stands as a living witness of the proud history of the family home.

Seobaekdang is also famous as the birthplace of Son Jung-don and Yi Eon-jeok, representative figures of Yangdong. These two men were some of the greatest historical figures ever to have been produced by Yangdong Village. Son Jung-don was the second son of Sonso and successively served in high-ranking positions such as the Minister of the Interior and 'Uchanseong' (1st-rank public post at Uijeongbu, the top administrative body of Joseon; equivalent to today's Deputy Prime Minister). Yi Eon-jeok, borne of Sonso's daughter, was one of the first generations of scholars in the early half of Joseon politics and history of thought to adopt the rationalistic Neo-Confucianist theory of Zhu Zi, a noted philosopher of the Chinese Nan Song (Southern Song) Dynasty.

Down from Seobaekdang and across the village road is Simsujeong. This building was built in honor of Yi Eon-gwal, who turned down a government post for the sake of his older brother Yi Eon-jeok, so that he could take care of their ailing mother. The pavilion is part of the household of the Yeogang Yi Clan and is composed of two structures: the pavilion and a 'haengnangchae' (servants' quarters). The two buildings form the shape of a 'ㄱ'. Of all the pavilions of Yangdong, this pavilion is particularly large in scale.

Centered around the daecheong to the east and west, are ondol rooms (rooms with traditional Korean floor heating). To the front is a numaru (upper story loft) with a railing. Over the fence running alongside the path to the 'Ganghakdang' (place for learning), you can see a room, maru, another room, and the kitchen of the haengnangchae, connected to the northwest.

Did you know? The Nobles on the Highlands, the Commoners on the Lowlands

In Yangdong Village, you can tell a lot about the Confucian order and social status of a house of Joseon just from where it is located. Generally speaking, the houses of the yangban aristocratic class were located in the higher regions. This was because, it was deemed right according to the social hierarchy, that the high-ranking yangban be able to physically look down over the commoners and slaves. Even among those of the same aristocratic family, the house of the head of the clan was located on the land of the highest elevation, beneath which were the houses of his descendants.

Below the houses of the aristocrats, at lower elevations, are thatched-roof houses called 'garapjib'. The servants of the yangban who lived outside the main house in their own homes were called, 'waegeonobi'. These waegeonobi lived in these types of thatched-roof houses. The houses of servants were called different names depending on the region, but are known as 'garapjib' in Gyeongsang-do.

At the pavilion are signboards that pass on their teachings to all future generations. Hanging at the top front is a signboard reading 'Simsujeong'; hanging above the doorframe of the room to the right is a sign reading 'yi yangjae(二養齋)'. 'Simsujeong' means, 'the water at the middle of the heart', which represents the thinking of Yi Eon-gwal, who practiced great self-control and high moral standards. 'Yiyangjae' means, 'scholars must refrain from music and language, using their strength to keep a clean mind and body'. The sign that hangs on the edge of the daecheong reads 'Samgwanheon', meaning, 'if you see three things, you can know the person'. This means that you can tell a benevolent person by how he treats others, a wise person by how he handles situations, and a strong-willed person by what he says. The last sign, which hangs on the numaru, reads 'Hamheoru', which means 'a modest character must be made through modest morals'.

Since the door to Simsujeong remains closed, visitors will not be able to see the interior. However, if you go from the pathway to Ganghakdang to the back of the house, you will able to get a glimpse of Simsujeong nestled cozily in the heart of the mountain.

If you follow the path to the front of Simsujeong, you will come across 'Ganghakdang', free of any doors or gates. Ganghakdang is the 'seodang' (village school) where the children of the Yi family learned to read and write. You may wonder why the school was built up on the mountainside instead of near the houses. This was done to convey the higher meaning of studying and to allow students to understand the difficulties of the achievement process for themselves. Embracing this, children would be able to learn the strong spirit needed to face the world, and to respectfully serve their teachers and parents. This type of traditional education, grounded in respect for the teacher, still stands at the root of Korean educational institutions.

Apart from these sites, there are many other noteworthy houses and pavilions at Yangdong such as Sujoldang, Geunam Gotaek, Dugok Gotaek, Allakjeong, and Suunjeong.

Did you know? One-day Trip to Downtown Gyeongju & Yangdong Village

It is not easy to travel to Yangdong Village using public transportation. This is because it is located too far from downtown Gyeongju to walk to and buses run infrequently. There are however taxi tours in Gyeongju operated by drivers who have completed basic courses in tourism. If you want to take an efficient tour in a short amount of time, by using these taxi services, you will not only be able to see Yangdong, but also many of the famous places of Gyeongju.
Course A Silla History Museum (Gyeongju Folk Craft Village) → Seokguram Grotto → Bulguksa Temple → Bomun Area → Bunhwangsa Temple → Hwangnyongsaji → Gyeongju National Museum → Anapji → Cheomseongdae Observatory → Gyerim → Daereungwon Tomb Complex → Jaemaejeong → Poseokjeong → Najeong → Terminal (Gyeongju Station).
Course B Silla History Museum (Gyeongju Folk Craft Village) → Bulguksa Temple → Seokguram Grotto → Munmudaewang Sujungneung Tomb → Gameunsaji → Girimsa Temple → Golguram → Daereungwon Tomb Complex → Terminal (Gyeongju Station).
Course C Silla History Museum (Gyeongju Folk Craft Village) → Bulguksa Temple → Bunhwangsa Temple → Hwangnyongsaji → Gyeongju National Museum → Daereungwon Tomb Complex → Sambulsa Temple → Poseokjeong → Najeong → Jaemaejeong → Terminal (Gyeongju Station).
Course D Munmudaewang Sujungneung → Gameunsaji → Girimsa Temple → Golguram → Yangdong Village → Terminal (Gyeongju Station)

  • 100,000-150,000 won

Tour Cab Gyeongju Tourism

  • 0505-530-5886
  • (KR)

Gyeongju Tour Taxi

  • 0505-815-6388
  • (KR)

Gyeongju Gyerim Taxi Tourism

  • 011-543-9530
  • (KR)
Subway + Bus (travel time: approx. 6hrs / fare 32,750 won)

From Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station, take Subway Line 2 in the direction of Seongsu → At Euljiro 3(sam)-ga Station, transfer to Subway Line 3 in the direction of Ogeum → Get off at the Express Bus Terminal Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 2 (30 min / 1,250 won) → From the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, take a bus for Gyeongju (Gyeongbuseon Line) → Get off at the Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal (4hrs, 30min / 30,300 won) → Take Intercity Bus 203 → Get off at Yangdong Village bus stop (1hr, 6min, 1,200 won) → Go 100m to the entrance of Yangdong Village

Subway + Train + Bus (travel time: approx. 4hrs / fare 49,450 won)

From Jonggak Station, take Subway Line 1 in the direction of Incheon & Sinchang → Get off at Seoul Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 1 (5min / 1,150 won) → Take the KTX for Singyeongju (Gyeongbuseon Line) → Get off at Singyeongju Station (2hrs, 10min / 47,100 won) → From the bus stop in front of Singyeongju Station, take Bus 203 → Get off at Yangdong Village bus stop (1hr, 35min / 1,200 won) → Go 100m to the entrance of Yangdong Village

More Info

1330 Korea Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

* Information above was updated as of December 2012.

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