While I was in Seoul, I got to visit a number of different sites. Bukchon Hanok Village, while a touristy place is also a residential district. It’s one of the ‘historical districts’ in Seoul. It’s set near a couple of the palaces, including Gyeongbokgung Palace.
You know how in the US, we’ll have some towns that are preserved, and you will see folks walking around wearing clothes centuries out of place, whether that’s Old West or Pilgrims? Yeah, something like that, only you can see folks walking around wearing hanboks.
High ranking officials would live in these homes, mainly due to the close proximity to the palaces so that if the Emperor called for them, they could arrive quickly. The buildings remained preserved in the style of the time, and the locals put a great deal into keeping them preserved.
It was very hilly throughout the district, and in the distant, between the buildings, you could see the Namsoon Tower – N. Seoul Tower – that is featured in, I swear, just about every modern k-drama ever. It’s just one of those landmarks that you can see throughout most of Seoul, even on cloudy days like this one (you’ll recall, I pointed it out when I was in Lotte Tower as well!). Think of it as a way to orient yourself, like if you were in Springfield, MO, knowing where Hammons Tower is. Er, wait… is that just me?
These homes were beautiful and were of varying sizes. While there was an overall feel of them being similar – you know they are built in the same time with the same style – but the homes were also so very unique. These were ranking officials, so they would have stone or brick walls blocking off their courtyards.
I need to stress, again, that this was a residential district At regular intervals, there would be ladies where hanboks, holding signs saying “Please stay quiet” or some rough equivalent thereof. A reminder that, while we are admiring the beauty, these are people’s homes and a gentle plea not to get too rowdy. I didn’t take any pictures of those signs since I felt it was somehow rude. Just me, personally – no one said it was rude, I just wanted to be respectful since it was their homes.
Some of the homes – those originally built for the highest ranking officials – had larger courtyards, some almost none at all. Korea is a much smaller area than China, so they couldn’t spread out nearly as much – hence the buildings were placed practically on top of one another. You could still see details over the walls, however, and some people had much more room to work with. You can see the sculpted trees and gazebo over the top of this one.
As we were walking, I noticed something glinting in the murky sun from on top one of the buildings. I mean, it’s me… Shiny! Zoomed in with my camera, and saw this fellow staring out at the folks walking beneath. I didn’t see a lot of Buddha statues sitting on roofs like this anywhere else, so of course I snapped a pic.
A few of the courtyards had cherry blossoms already starting to bloom. It was a couple of weeks off from a full bloom of all of them, but we could see a few peeking up over this wall.
One of the homes was actually open to tourists. There was an ahjumma, an old woman, sitting on one of the wood steps in the courtyard, and she was telling stories about the district. She had been raised there since she had been a little girl, so was sharing the history she actively lived through. She was surrounded by college-age foreigners, all sitting at her side, at her feet, listening to her, each visibly awestruck by this woman who had clearly lived through so much. She had a translator with her, softly translating her words into English for those who were listening. I believe it was a relative – a grandson or even a great-grandson.
It was the woman’s home, and while she opened it to us, she asked that we not take pictures inside. So let’s see how I do with words!
When you walked through the door from the street, you immediately found yourself in a small courtyard. By small, I mean something like ten by ten. It was VERY small, something like ten by ten. The ahjumma with her crowd of folks were all settled into one corner of this courtyard, leaving easy open access to the home itself.
Leaving your shoes in the courtyard, you walked into the first room, and there was a young woman there behind a counter and a cash register. Yeah, though this was her home, this ahjumma knew how to make money from the tourists and change and with the times!! There was art on the shelves directly to the left, and it opened to another room, in which you could purchase knickknacks and the like, even postcards.
The room was smaller even than the courtyard, but enough that you could go through and see.
Back the way you came, you go the other direction and found yourself in a narrow hall cutting along the other side of the courtyard.
….. Ok, I suck at following directions and snapped a picture of this. The hall was just a little broader than my shoulders, and again, preserved to keep with the times it was originally created. You can see there are doors along this small hall to the left, and these lead to the rooms where the people who still lived there slept. To the right, you could peek out at the courtyard. I didn’t open these doors because that really WOULD be a violation after they invited us into their home. I stuck to the areas they said were OK to puruse.
At the end of the hall, it opened to two rooms, cutting to the right, side by side. Inside, again, more art on the walls. You can even see the wall scroll in this picture giving bits of local history about the district. All of the rooms had the similar, light colored wood you saw in the hall. It was all very beautiful if it a bit small.
Please note the lack of heat, too. The homes were heated from below. The homes were built over slabs of stone with small pits beneath those. In the winter, you would burn wood and coal which would heat the stones and thus radiate upwards to warm the house from the floor up. In the summer, the way the homes are designed, you would open doors to the outside and allow the cross-breeze to do the cooling for you.
As with every place I visited, I’m pretty sure I could have spent hours and hours wandering the streets and admiring the sites. I very much look forward to a time when I can go back and take even more time exploring this section of Seoul.