National Museum of Korea and the Yongsan Family Park

by Cpl. Bo Park

Whether you wish to learn more about the history and culture of Korea, or you are just in search of a well-maintained park to go to for a picnic, Yongsan has it all.

The National Museum of Korea and Yongsan Family Park sit right next to each other, in the heart of Yongsan.

The national museum, with its very modern architecture, houses some of the most treasured ancient items of priceless worth. There are six galleries in total: Fine Arts I, II, Asian Arts, Historical, Archaeological, and the Donation gallery. All permanent collections are categorized and displayed accordingly. The permanent collections include the national treasure of celadon wares, historic documents, like maps, the first Hangul(the Korean alphabet) inscription, Buddhist sculptures and artifacts from important prehistoric sites.

There are some pieces that look stunning, such as the Silla Crown, Buncheong lotus ware, a black lacquered Buddha head, Bangasayusang, and the contemplative Buddha statue, which is the most popular exhibit (and most highly insured) in the museum. These are very historical pieces, which will shed some light on how Korean history and culture has evolved since the Stone Age.

The conservation and acquiring process for some of these nationally treasured items was not easy. During many wars under Japanese rule, the items were either taken or at risk of being damaged or destroyed. The museum opened after gathering all the exhibits from several different places, including Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jungangchung, the Japanese General Government building.

If you are not the historic type, like me, then covering the whole museum can be a bit too much to take in all at once, so I suggest you pick an area that appeals most to you.

Besides these historically rich collections, the architecture of the building is something worth the visit. It is the largest museum in Asia, and the sixth largest in the world in terms of floor space. Personally, I like going to the art galleries and museums, not only because of the contents, but also for the big, airy spaces. It feels really cool just standing under such a massive structure. This newly built museum has plenty of natural light coming into the building, which creates a very low-key and warm feel to the space.

The external design of the building was inspired by the idea of a traditional Korean fortress. The building is very well integrated with the surrounding pond and gardens. The garden itself is an outdoor exhibition area, which has pagodas, stone lanterns and Buddhist shrines all along the trails. If you follow these trails until you see a little gate, that's where the museum ground borders the Yongsan Family Park. The border is not as prominently marked. Both parks keep the same serene feeling of the museum.

The Yongsan Family Park used to be a golfcourse for Yongsan Garrison, before the ground was returned to the Korean government, which turned it into a public park. The park is now very well utilized by the local neighborhood for exercise or picnic on nice days.

Both the museum and the park are very close to Yongsan Garrison, so if you are going down to Yongsan for some PX shopping, be sure to add the museum into your weekend itinerary while you are there.

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