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
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.
|A bird’s eye view of the energy
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
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.
|With all the flash and flare, it’s
easy to overlook Myeongdong’s long historical background
|The busy streets of Myeongdong’s shopping
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.
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
area, it was during this time that Myeongdong became known as the fashion
Mecca of Seoul.
|The Renaissance-style Bank of Korea Museum,
formerly the headquarters of the Bank of Korea, built in 1912
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
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.
|Seou newest landmark, Post Tower,
opened in 2007 as the headquarters of the Korean postal system
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!
by Ahn jisu / Photographed by Ryu Seunghoo
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine