It is Day 1 of my first ever solo travel to South Korea. I am spending the first few days just before my conference to do some personal sightseeing. Since I never studied Korea and its history during my high school and undergraduate days, and the only thing I know about Korea is because of the Korean War, which I have been quite interested in of late, I decided to take a trip to the National Museum of Korea.
The first thing that took my breath away when I saw the National Museum was its size, IT-WAS-LARGE! I’ve been to my fair share of museums over the past couple of years but Seoul’s trumps all of those museums. Located just near Ichon station, this massive museum has a huge plaza and man-made lake in front of it. From afar, the trees of the lake, cover its size but as you get closer, the museum’s behemoth size began to overwhelm me. The first thought that crossed my head was, “how could I possibly go through this entire museum in the morning?”.
Pushing that thought away, I decided to enjoy and take in whatever history I possibly could. Paying the KRW 5,000 (US$5) entrance fee, I picked up a brochure and made my way to the closest exhibit. Before I entered any exhibit I was already taken away by the massive domed ceiling, a stone stele, and a pagoda that dot the center of the museum’s corridors. I knew I was going to have a lot of fun. The museum is divided into three floors, the first floor is dedicated to the history of Korea, from its prehistory all the way up to the Joseon dynasty. The second floor is all about Buddhist artwork, and the third floor dedicated to Asian art and sculptures.
In no particular order, I moved from one gallery to the next and all I can say is, their collections were beautiful and very well curated. From one gallery to the next I was amazed by the sheer immensity of the museum’s collection. Artifacts dating from the first century up to the 1800’s were preserved in all its glory. One of the most exciting exhibits in the museum wasn’t from Korea but from Afghanistan titled “Treasures from Afghanistan”. Inside the exhibit were Greek columns, a sundial, and numerous Hellenic sculptures that I had only seen from the coffee table books my mom brought home during her many travels. But it wasn’t just those things that blew me away, it was the age of these artifacts, dating as far back as the 1st century these things really blew me away and made me small and insignificant. As I moved from the first floor to the next, there were even more artifacts that continued to astound me. Paintings and sculptures of Buddha that were almost two-storey high were sights to behold. Then, there were the art pieces from other parts of Asia, like the Japanese samurai armor and sword, or the ancient Hindu idols from India, these were absolutely marvelous.
Undoubtedly, after having spent over two hours inside the museum, my brain was filled with so much information that I couldn’t possibly remember everything. The vastness of the museum made it impossible but the artifacts on display were truly memorable. At the end of the trip, I asked myself “did you remember anything?”. Well, I remembered some parts of it and I learned just a little bit more about ancient and traditional Korean history to help me realize that this country has seen more than its fair share of foreign invasions and that Koreans are extremely proud of their national history and heritage. Is it worth visiting? I would have to say yes, but just focus on the first and third floor, the second floor wasn’t really that much interesting, unless you consider vases and plates your cup of tea.
P.S. In case you get hungry, the museum has its own food court.
National Museum of Korea
137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Open from Tuesday to Sunday
Closest subway station: Ichon (Line 4)