It was my last full day in Seoul, I had about 12 hours or so to go around the city one last time and take in the sights. So far I had gone to 5 museums: National Museum, War Memorial, National Palace Museum, Seodaemun Prison Hall Museum, and the Demilitarized Zone. I wasn’t ready to call it a day, one last check in Google gave me a dozen options, but I decided to go with my passion, history.
Making my way to Gwanghamun Station, this two-storey structure was nestled deep within the streets of Seoul and not easily found on Google. In fact, Google places the museum right in the center of Seoul Station. It was only because of my interest in visiting Kyobo Bookstore that I found out about the museum’s true location. Going back, the museum is two floors of history and unlike the National Museum, Seoul Museum zooms in on just Seoul itself and nothing else.
Covering the establishment of Seoul and reaching all the way up to the 21st century, the Seoul Museum of History takes visitors down historical memory lane. Covering over centuries of history, the museum was quite detailed in the early years but lacking in some parts as well. The most extensive part of the museum was the city’s early origins. An entire exhibit was dedicated to the this part of Seoul’s history, again it was artifacts galore, the same scrolls, paintings, and what have you were once again on display. Unlike the past museums I’ve been to, Seoul was more detailed, covering every aspect of a citizens life. Here I learned about their social classes, the lives of said classes, and their way of life. It was in this museum, that I learned more about the lives of early Koreans than in the other museums I’ve been to.
After visiting the exhibit on the early history, everything started moving very quickly. Unlike the first exhibit, the others felt like marathon of one event after the other: the opening of Korea to the world, the annexation of Japan, the Korean War, and the development of Seoul after the war to the present. The transition from one period to another was brisk and not as detailed as the first exhibit. I had this feeling that a lot of events were glossed over, understandable given the long history of the city, but the lack of detail and information made the exhibits a bit boring.
Despite these shortcomings, Seoul Museum of History, also had a lot interesting things. Besides the scrolls I’ve been mentioning over and over again, there were life sized dioramas and models of different places for visitors to enjoy. The interesting models were those of old buildings and sights of Seoul during the 1970s to the 80s. The gritty neighborhood in contrast to the emerging cosmopolitan city, was sort of like seeing Hong Kong, all flash and whizz in the surface but when you go down to the streets, there’s a lot more happening and a whole otherworldy culture to explore.
The end of the museum meant seeing Seoul laid out in front of you. Since I never got around visiting Namsan Tower, I settled for the museum’s huge floor model of the city. Splayed out in front of the world, I got to see the vastness of the city, and the districts that make up South Korea’s capital city. Visiting this last museum, concludes my solo journey in exploring Seoul’s and South Korea’s historical past. It was a fun and educational experience that made me appreciate this country even more.
Seoul Museum of History
55 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu
Open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 6pm
Nearest train station: Gwanghamun, exit 7