“Cheong Wa Dae” is the heart of the Republic of Korea. The place is in front of the Bugaksan Mountain, which was the “guardian” mountain of Joseon capital. This presidential residency was built with blue roof tiles, looking like a round antique site. Cheong Wa Dae, also known as the “Blue House” was only allowed for the president, thus veiled to citizens. However, in May 2022, Cheong Wa Dae came into the arms of the people after it was spruced up! It’s been about seven months since the opening of the Cheong Wa Dae, the Blue House has become Korea’s leading historical and cultural attraction. By introducing the blue-roofed Cheong Wa Dae, hope to learn about the history and culture that penetrates the past, present, and future of South Korea.
Meaning of Opening the Cheong Wa Dae
Interestingly, Cheong Wa Dae has been steadily opened by previous presidents. Syngman Rhee, the first president occasionally unveiled the part of the Blue House for the cherry blossom season to share the beautiful garden with the citizens. And President Park Chung-hee opened the place as an annual event, where he enjoyed time with the citizens. However, it became closed after the 1968 1.21 incident, also known as "Kim Shin-jo incident", in which North Korean armed forces infiltrated the mountain behind the Cheong Wa Dae, in a failed attempt to kill President Park. Because of the case, the presidential guard was further strengthened, and the opening was suspended for a long time. Furthermore, the main street and surrounding roads were completely blocked, and the entry of Inwangsan Mountain and Bugaksan Mountain was banned. Immediately Cheong Wa Dae became a prohibited area, no one could approach it for nearly 20 years. Consequently, the Blue House literally turned into the “Nine Wall Palace”, referring to a palace that is located deep enough to be difficult to access. No one knew what's going on in Cheong Wa Dae.
After that, Chun Doo-hwan dominated the government by leading a military coup and became the 5th president. At that time, traditional hanok “Sangchunjae” was built, but the building completion ceremony was never held. The military dictatorship once again made the Blue House an isolated palace. In 1993, the 7th President Kim Young-sam put forward “Tightening History” as a slogan, and removed the barricades installed on main street. He intended to clear up the remnants of the military dictatorship and opened the Inwangsan Mountain trail to the public. In 1998, the 8th President Kim Dae Jung allowed visitors to visit Cheong Wa Dae compound. He included the “Chilgung Palace” to the tour course, which comprises the ancestral tablets of Joseon Dynasty’s royal concubines on the southwestern section of the Cheong Wa Dae. In the first year of implementing, more than 200,000 people including foreigners visited the Cheong Wa Dae compound. In 2003, the 9th President Roh Moo-hyun further expanded the scope of viewing from the “Main Office Building” to “Nokjiwon”, and he also opened the northern gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace for the first time in 38 years. After that, the 10th President Lee Myung-bak expanded the Hyoja-dong Saranbang to open the “Cheong Wa Dae Sarangchae”, a tourism promotion center where visitors can see the footsteps of previous presidents. He also secured daily accessibility by creating a city bus route to the Blue House. In summary, former presidents have been trying to actively open the Blue House. However, due to the impeachment of the 11th President Park, the nickname returned, “Nine Wall Palace”. Since then, the opening of the Blue House and relocation of President Office begun emerging as an election pledge. So, the former President Moon Jae-in opened the main street, allowing the entire section from the fountain of the Main Office Building to Bugaksan Mountain to the public.
One of the 10 election commitments of the 20th President Yoon Suk Yeol was “Presidential Office Reform”. The government announced the Blue House will be dismantled to liquidate the imperial presidency and improve the efficiency of state administration. Accordingly, the presidential office will be relocated to the Seoul Government Complex, and the site of Cheong Wa Dae will be prepared by collecting public opinion and experts. After candidate Yoon was elected as president, the presidential office was moved to the previous Defence Ministry Building in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. And his official residence was moved to the Foreign Minister’s official residence in Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu. At the same time, the Blue House was fully open to the public for free. Opening Cheong Wa Dae is not just a pledge of the current administration, former President Moon declared to transfer the presidential office to the Gwanghwamun Government Complex under the slogan “President who enters and communicates with the People”. Moon said, “the current Blue House will open and return to the people”. Therefore, returning the Blue House is evaluated as a reform for the government that breaks down the limitations of the spatial structure and communicates with the people.
President Yoon delivered greetings on the opening of the Blue House:
My fellow Koreans, Cheong Wa Dae, also known as the Blue House, will open its doors wide and welcome the people back from May 10, 2022. Not only the main office building and the state reception hall Yeongbingwan, but also the garden Nokjiwon and state guesthouse Sangchunjae, both of which are highly praised for their glorious beauty in all seasons, will be returned to my fellow Koreans. This full access to Cheong Wa Dae will elevate the scenic avenue stretching from Gwanghwamun to Bugaksan Mountain into the prominent cultural and historical icon of our nation. True presidential power comes from the people. With this thought deeply engraved in my heart, I will make each and every one of your voices heard.
The first written record of the Cheong Wa Dae site dates back to 1104. In the ninth year of King Sukjong’s reign during the Goryeo Dynasty, royal palace halls were built near the location of Cheong Wa Dae. Goryeo had three scenic spots, including capital Gaegyeong (Gaesong, northern North Korea), Seokyeong (Pyongyang, western North Korea), and Donggyeong (Gyeongju, eastern South Korea). But King Sukjong installed “Igung” palace to make it Namgyeong (southern South Korea). Later, the Cheong Wa Dae site appeared in history in 1394 Joseon Dynasty, King Taejo Lee Seong-gye tried to establish a new capital, Seoul. He sent officials to find a palace site, but Igung was too narrow to build a new palace. So, they decided to go down to the south and flatland. Thus in 1935, the royal palace was built further down from the site of today’s Cheong Wa Dae, and it was named “Gyeongbokgung Palace”. However due to the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, the whole grand area of Gyeongbokgung Palace was completely destroyed. The rear garden was burned to the ground, their ruins remained for nearly 270 years until 1865, when Prince Regent Heungseon began reconstruction in the second year of King Gojong’s reign. During Japanese colonial rule of Korea in 1910-45, the rear garden of the palace was used to hold the Joseon Exposition from 1937-39 and later served as a park before the Japanese governor-general’s official residence was built at the site. The location was later renamed “Gyeongmudae”. After the Republic of Korea was officially established on Aug 15, 1948, President Rhee Syngman and his wife moved to Gyeongmudae from their private residence “Ihwajang”. The name "Cheong Wa Dae" was chosen given the structure's blue-tiled roof after the inauguration of 4th President Yun Bo-seon.
On May 10, 2022, the first Cheong Wa Dae opening ceremony was held to open the hiking trail and main gate in the precincts. Since the opening means opening for the first time in 74 years, 74 civic representatives were invited to hold a commemorative event. At the end of the presidential inauguration, civic representatives passed through the main gate with plum blossoms in their hands, meaning that “President Yoon’s promise to return the Blue House to the people before spring is over” was fulfilled. In addition, 26,000 citizens visited the Blue House, and the Royal Culture festival held on the same day, showed tightrope walking and fusion music performances. In July, a night event called “A Walk on a Summer Night in Cheong Wa Dae” was planned. The event includes a guide and classic performance, and a “Chadam” program to enjoy traditional snacks and drinking tea. The current government is trying to create a sustainable historical and cultural space in Cheong Wa Dae and its area “Bugaksan Mountain – Cheong wa Dae – Gyeongbokgung Palace – Gwanghwamun” by launching a management and utilization advisory group. The advisory group will present a detailed and systematic management utilization roadmap that utilizes various fields such as history, culture, art, content, tourism, landscaping, and architecture. Now in Cheong Wa Dae, various programs have been prepared to promote citizens’ experience of Korean traditional culture and art.
Introducing Cheong Wa Dae
Cheong Wa Dae is constructed with Main Office Building, Yeongbingwan, Official Residence, Nokjiwon, Sangchunjae, Chunchugwan, and Chilgung Palace.
Firstly, the “Main Office Building” is facing directly south from Bugaksan Mountain and was used as the official working headquarters and guest reception space of the President. This traditional Korean-style structure has a hipped-and-gabled roof covered with around 150,000 Korean-style blue tiles, which created a majestic and imposing appearance. The basement is dominated by the office of the first lady, and the huge staircase catches the eye. The president's office is on the second floor, along with a reception room and dinner hall. The wide lawn in front of the building is used for welcoming state guests, events for honor guards of each military, and inspection of traditional honor guards. Next, “Yeongbingwan”, the state reception hall is the venue for large-scale meetings and official events for state guests. When a head of state or government from another country visits Korea, traditional Korean performances and dinner banquets are typically staged here for a ceremonial welcome. This is also where the president holds large meetings or banquets for over 100 guests. The “Official Residence” for the President and his family provides a private living space apart from the workplace. Consisting of living quarters and detached reception space, the residence has an extensive front with a traditional Korean-style garden and Sarangchae for men’s quarters.
“Nokjiwon” is the most beautiful and scenic outdoor space in the site, fostered with 120 kinds of trees as well as commemorative trees planted by presidents over the years. “Sangchunjae” was built in the traditional Hanok style, displaying Hanok’s beauty to the state guests where receptions or unofficial meetings were held. “Chunchugwan” was completed in 1990, and is the place where the President speaks to the media and nation, and the Presidential Press Secretary holds news briefings. The name comes from Chunchugwan, the recordkeeping office of Goryeo, and that of Joseon, Yemun Chunchugwan. The name echoes the unbiased recordkeeping practices of the two offices and perfectly resonates with the concept of freedom of the press. This place is connected to the entrance. “Chilgung Palace” comprises of seven shrines dedicated to the ancestral tablets of seven royal concubines who gave birth to a Joseon king. The name means “seven palaces” including “Yuksanggung”, the shrine for the mother of Joseon King Yeonjo. The opening of Cheong Wa Dae also includes Chilgung Palace now.
Tour Information of Cheong Wa Dae
Anyone can reserve a visit to Cheong Wa Dae online by visiting the reservation section on official homepages. It opens every day except for Tuesday, operating hours include 09:00, 10:30, 12:00, 13:30, 15:00, 16:00, a total 6 times a day. The maximum number of participants for an individual reservation is up to 6, a group reservation is from 20 to 50. A confirmation code will be sent on the day you make a reservation, and entrance demands the code and ID card only.
They recommend choosing one of the three recommended routes in advance to see various places without missing anything. There are three entrances namely the “Yeongbinmun Gate” on west, the main central gate, and “Chunchumun (Spring & Autumn) Gate” on east. The first route started from Nokjiwon, second route at Yeongbingwan, and lastly from Chunchugwan. Please refer to the photo below for a detailed route. Additionally, a guide tour is provided to the people who want to enjoy the history and tradition, it will be a beneficial time for all of you. The guide tour operates 5 times a day and departs from Nokjiwon to visit most of the buildings and where you can learn the building’s function and construction. Besides the historical interest, Cheong Wa Dae is the newest hot spot to take photos. There are some photo zones to enjoy. The heliport located next to Chunchugwan is the first photo zone, where a President’s dedicated helicopter takes off and lands. The place is decorated with colorful tents, shade screens, and bean bags to lie down. People take breaks and enjoy the scenery of Bugaksan Mountain. Cheong Wa Dae is also provides a cultural space where people can experience traditional games such as “Tuho Nori”, which is throwing arrows at long bottles, rice cake making by hitting steamed glutinous rice grains with a large hammer, and stone hitting. Another photo zone is in Yeongbingwan. The banquet hall is decorated with beautiful patterns featuring “Mugunghwa”, the rose of Sharon, and “Taegeuk” patterns symbolizing South Korea. The pattern harmonizes with shining chandelier making the photo stand out even more. The last photo zone is in Chunchugwan. Here, you can take a concept shot standing on the podium of the briefing room where the press conference is held, just like the President on the news.
Bugaksan Mountain, which forms the background of Cheong Wa Dae, has opened its hiking trail. The “Blue House National Open Promotion Team” of the Cultural Heritage Administration allows full public access after 54 years, encouraging people to stroll, rest, or discover the history. The historical trail loop running from Gwanghwamun to Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bugaksan Mountain will bring back to life the much-anticipated loop. The hiking entrances are located at Chilgung and Chunchugwan, following the previous hiking trails. People commented, “It’s a new and exciting experience to come to the Blue House in person, which I’ve only seen on TV”, and “It was a great time to take a walk with family, my parents enjoyed wonderful scenery”.
Beginning from the opening event in May 2022, the Blue House held monthly performances with various themes. In May, a theme “Sharing Hope” showed tightrope walking performance. At the same time, a theme “Drawing History” showed a ritual of appointing a warrior “Naegeumwi” on front lawn of Yeongbingwan. The front lawn of the Main Official Building held a celebratory parade under the theme of “Opening Culture”, showing lion dance and mask dance, “Pungmul” (traditional instrument). In June, the family program which named “Smile Tok, Hope Tok” pleased children through bubbles, and performed stunt parades with circus of clowns. In July and August, Kukkiwon’s (National Taekwondo Institute) Taekwondo performance was held in the large lawn of main building. It conveys a unique spirit through strong techniques and movements of Taekwondo. In September, traditional art performances such as “Pungmul-Nori, Ganggangsullae” by the Korea Cultural Foundation Art Troupe filled the green Nokjiwon. Pungmul-Nori begin with a dignified flag from afar, the movement of parade fascinates and overwhelms audience. The small front yard of Yeongbingwan held a concert of harmonization of Korean and Western musical instruments. In October, Korean traditional instruments such as “Gayageum”, “Haegeum”, and “Janggu’s” fusion Gugak (National Song) are played. With those programs, visitors can experience traditional history and culture, and are able to feel the returning of Cheong Wa Dae, fulfillment of promises.
The opening of the Cheong Wa Dae, the first reform of the “better working government”, has come as an open space for the public to enjoy. It has no longer been recognized as “Nine Wall Palace”, indicating it is difficult to access, but it has been transformed into a place of coexistence where everyone embraces and mingles together. Hope the pain and glory of the Republic of Korea coexist in the “Past”, communicate with the public and harmonize culture in the “Present”, and establish as a place where the government and people step out together toward the “Future”. This winter, why don’t you visit “Cheong Wa Dae”, where you can capture the history and tradition of Korea?
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