Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hanok Village: Traditional Homes in Seoul

(A street filled with hanok, tourists, and me) 

The single family homes many of us from the States are use to living in are rare in Korea.  There are simply too many people and not enough land.  In and around Seoul, everything is built up – way up.  Apartment living is typical.

It wasn’t always that way.  Traditional Korean wooden hanok buildings use to cover the whole country.  They were torn down during the economic revolution.  Luckily, there’s a small section of Seoul that was spared the wrecking ball.

(An alleyway in Bukchan-dong) 

Walking through the alleys of Bukchan-dong you can imagine what all of Seoul once looked like.  The buildings are beautiful with their wooden craftwork, elaborate doorways, and tiled roofs.  It’s the picture of Asia one fantasizes about.  These are still residences, and the people living here are mainly descendants of powerful noble families and royal clan members.  It just adds to the fantasy….

(Beautiful detail is found in the woodwork)

Looking down on hanok tile rooftops

The web of small lanes in Bukchan-dong also gives way to tiny tearooms, bookshops, and art galleries.  This is actually where you can experience many of Korea’s traditional arts – like embroidery, hanji (paper-art), and folk painting.  Many artists have congregated in this area with showrooms open to the public.  In some studios, demonstrations and classes are available.  This is also the place to go if you want to spend the night in a traditional hanok.  Several hanoks have been transformed into guesthouses.  It’s an idea I’m pursing, because it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend!

The atmosphere is simply charming.  At a leisurely pace, it’s great to walk through the alleys and explore the art galleries.  I was surprised to find that one day wasn’t enough to get into all the nooks and crannies of Bukchan-dong.  The guide book that sparked my interest in the area simply didn’t do it justice.  I only wish there was more than one neighborhood in Seoul still full of lovely hanok.

Getting to Bukchan-dong:  Take subway Line 3 (orange) to Anguk Station.  Walk out Exit #3.  Walk straight up the main road and then take your first left.  On this road you’ll see the “Bukchon Traditional Culture Center.”  Stop there for a look around as well as good maps and information.
(Each home has these small doors in 
addition to the front entrance.)

(The juxtaposition of traditional hanok
in modern Seoul)

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