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Myeongdong Matters
In the Heart of Seoul Beats Myeongdong, the Commercial Center of Korea’s Capital. Yet This Vibrant Neighborhood Offers More than Just Shopping; It’s an important piece of Seoul’s Historical Heritage
A bird’s eye view of the energy
of Myeongdong
Myeongdong, located at the historic center of Seoul in Jung-gu, is one of the core districts in Korea and encompasses central areas of the city such as parts of Namdaemunro, Namsandong, Chungmuro and Euljiro. With hundreds of shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities, Myeondong attracts hundreds of thousands of people every day. Although there are only about 3,000 actual residents of Myeongdong, the number of people going through this area daily is estimated to be more than one million. It’s no wonder the streets of Myeongdong are always so crowded.

With hundreds of fashionable shops lining the streets, this area mostly appeals to the younger generation. The route taken most commonly to the shopping areas of Myeongdong is by getting off at Myeongdong Station, line 4, exit 5. Right in front of the subway exit is Migliore, a large shopping mall where young people enjoy to shop. Down the street, you can find a variety of individual shops including such foreign brand name stores as Tommy Hilfiger, Anna Sui and Adidas.

Myeongdong is also famous for its variety in restaurant choices. Whether it’s Western, Asian, fusion or traditional Korean cuisine, Myeongdong offers endless choices for different palates. Myeongdong kalguksu, or noodle soup, is one of the most famous dishes that represent this district. Myeongdong Kyoja is the restaurant that offers the original taste of this dish. Originally gaining fame in the 60s and 70s due to rumors that first lady Yook Young-soo, wife of then-President Park Chung-hee, frequented the restaurant, it’s retained its popularity for more than 40 years — with line-ups going out the door at lunchtime.

As in all other popular districts in Korea, Myeongdong has movie theaters, noraebang (or karaoke rooms) galore, as well as other entertainment outlets. Dating couples frequent the area as part of their “dating course” as there are many things to do all within arm’s reach, including the newly reborn Cheonggyecheon not too far away. Coffee shops where you can enjoy board games and private rooms where you can watch DVDs are some of the entertainment facilities available in Myeongdong.
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With all the flash and flare, it’s easy to overlook Myeongdong’s long historical background
The busy streets of Myeongdong’s shopping district→
● Colonial History Leaves Its Mark
With all the flash and flare, it’s easy to overlook Myeongdong’s long historical background. During the early Joseon period, this area was called ‘Myeongnaebang’, which was later shortened to Myeongdong, which means “bright village.” At that time, rather than being the colorful shopping zone it is today, this area was a quiet residential district. It was only during Japanese colonial rule that Myeongdong became a prominent center for business. As more Japanese people started to live here, the Japanese erected many buildings in Myeongdong. Shopping malls, as well as banks and other institutions, were built during the colonial rule. The Shinsegae Department Store and Korea First Bank in Myeongdong were actually the sites of a Japanese shopping mall and bank, respectively, in the 1930s.
The beautiful interior of Myeongdong Cathedral, the heart of Korean Catholicism
Unfortunately, many of the architecture built during this time was lost during the Korean War. The whole district, devastated after the conflict, was only brought back to life when the Korean government decided to begin reconstruction in the area. Although at first, during Japanese occupation, certain parts of Chungmuro were much more rapidly developed, by the late 1950s, Chungmuro started to fade away as a shopping district. It was only then that Myeongdong became the popular shop-ping hub that it is today. As movie theaters, bookstores and tea houses (or dabang) opened in the area, Myeongdong soon became the social hotspot for artists, poets and movie directors. With fashionable shops opening all around the
The Renaissance-style Bank of Korea Museum, formerly the headquarters of the Bank of Korea, built in 1912
area, it was during this time that Myeongdong became known as the fashion Mecca of Seoul.

The Bank of Korea Museum is a place where you can feel Myeongdong’s long history. Built in the early 1900s soon after the start of the Japanese occupation, this landmark building features Renaissance-style architecture. Designed by Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingko, this building was used as the head office of the Bank of Joseon during Japanese colonial rule. After being repaired from the damages it suffered during the Korean War, the building was designated as National Historic Site No. 280 in 1981.
● Passageway to the Heavens
Seou newest landmark, Post Tower, opened in 2007 as the headquarters of the Korean postal system
Another historical structure is the Myeongdong Cathedral, the first Roman Catholic parish in Korea. In 1784, the first Catholic community gathered in Myeongdong (or ‘Myeongnaebang’, as it was known then). After purchasing the parcel of land in 1883, construction of the cathedral began under the supervision of the French Catholic priest Eugene Coste. The structure was designated as a historic monument in 1977 and, now well over a hundred years old, serves as the national symbol of Catholicism in Korea.

Behind the Westin Chosun Hotel is the Wongudan Altar built in 1897. Here, the sacrificial rite of Heaven, Wonguje, was performed. These rites have existed since the days of the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.), and ceremonies have been held on and off during the course of history. As a tourist attraction, it has great historic value as the monument has stood through time to witness the last days of the Joseon Dynasty, Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War.

Rapid industrialization and modernization has given Myeongdong a unique setting where the 21st century is intertwined with architectural reminders of Korea’s past. Beyond the shops and shoppers, these historic landmarks amidst the modern architecture in the middle of Seoul convey the true beauty and importance of Myeongdong and its fascinating historical background.
→ For more on the Myeongdong Cathedral, click here!
Written by Ahn jisu / Photographed by Ryu Seunghoo
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
Date 01/09/2008

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