Saturday 19 April 2014

Seoul's Rediscovered Stream: Cheonggyecheon

When I arrived in Seoul, South Korea early on Wednesday, it was a densely foggy day. As the airport express train headed toward Seoul Station, big buildings loomed out of the haze, and the impression I received was of a vast modern city with the smog to prove it.

However, a few hours later I was walking alongside a remarkable natural feature in the commercial centre of the city: the Cheonggyecheon stream.

Flowing through the downtown area, for centuries this stream was a central - if sometimes squalid - feature of central Seoul.

Then, from the 1950s to the 1970s, it was covered by concrete in order to make space for an elevated highway. A sign of modernity, maybe, but hardly an improvement to the aesthetics of the area.

That banishment of the Cheonggyecheon has now been reversed. In 2005 it was reopened as a beautiful sunken nature reserve running through the city. Surrounded by office buildings, it's a huge adornment to the centre of town.

Here are a few shots from the section I entered:

There was artwork by the water too. Further along, I found a lengthy set of tiles depicting a royal procession by King Jeongjo and his retinue in 1795, accompanied by music playing from hidden speakers:

And you can see a video clip I shot of the scene here:

Further on, the stream passed under several bridges, the last one here a 15th century stone bridge, restored to the light of day:

Finally, the stream ended at a pool which contained a wishing well. People throw coins into its mouth, which are then collected to assist charities for the underprivileged.

It somehow seems a fitting thing to do, when walking along a once-buried stream that proves there's always hope of a brighter future.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organisation.

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