The QiRanger Adventures

Archive for July 13th, 2010

Wongudan: Korea’s Temple of Heaven

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Wongudan Altar

The World Cup is over and Spain has claimed victory. I know it seems like a strange way to introduce this entry, but the World Cup played a major part in me discovering this hidden gem in the center of Seoul.

It was late in the afternoon, and after spending a few hours on the lawn of Seoul Plaza, I needed to empty my bladder. Seeing that most of the port-o-johns were occupied, I opted to cross the busy street. Upon doing so, something caught my eye: a large temple gate. I quickly debated on whether or not to continue my current mission, or take a side trip. Since I knew the gate wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to move forward with the public restroom.

Once my business was done, I inspected the gate and learned a little bit of history. As someone who’s traveled around Seoul quite a bit, I’ve never seen anything describing this, especially since it’s located directly across from Deoksugung.

What’s even more amazing, is that this treasure is on the grounds of the Westin Chosun Hotel. That makes it a nice and quiet alternative to some of the other sights in Seoul.

Wongudan is Korea’s Temple of Heaven. An altar used for ritual rights to ensure a bountiful harvest. The practice of these sacrifices dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, but ceased as China and Korea developed close ties. When King Gojong declared independence from China and set himself up as Emperor of the Daehan Empire, he created this altar in the image of Beijing’s Temple.

The grounds of the altar are a stark contrast to the highrise buildings that surround the quiet garden. That being said, visitors are treated to a fantastic experience. You can enter from Seoul Plaza or the Westin Chosun Hotel. What I fond interesting, was that the main entrance to the actual Temple was a small side gate, while the main, ceremonial gate, can no longer be used to gain access. (You can still step down and walk through and photograph this area though.)

The base and grounds of Wongudan are guarded by mythical haetae. Unfortunately, these fire-eating beasts weren’t able to protect the structure when Japan annexed Korea in the early 20th Century. However, the present three-story sanctuary is beautiful and well worth the few extra minutes for a visit. If you’re a photographer, you’ll have many chances to get some fantastic shots of the plethora of haetae that cover the grounds.

I think that this is probably one of the more memorable sights in Seoul, because so few people know about it. You can literally have the entire place to yourself. It made the experience, that much more special, since I could take my time and not have to worry about blocking someone’s view or getting in the way of a picture. It does present a problem though… no one to take your picture!

For the travel documentary, check out my video on YouTube!

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