Learning About Freedom Fighters in Independence Park
Seodaemun Independence Park was built on the grounds of what used to be a prison for freedom fighters and activists during the Japanese occupation. Much of the prison was relocated to Uiwang, Gyeonggi-do in 1987 but seven of the buildings were left behind to become a museum and an educational site for future generations.
The area surrounding the prison museum is now well maintained and lush with green areas, walking paths and statues commemorating the path to independence.The area became a park in 1988 and the monuments and statues were relocated and erected here in 1992. One of the biggest things to stand out in the park is Dongnimmun Gate which was built in 1897. The gate was built by the Independence Club after the Gabo Reform which aimed for internal and systematic reform of the Joseon government, according to the signage in the area.
The reforms ultimately failed due to foreign powers taking over, but the gate still stood. The granite gate that stands 14.28 meters high and 11.48 meters wide was designed by Korean architect Sim Uiseok who modeled it after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The gate is now historic site number 32. Just in front of the gate are the remnants of Yeongeunmun Gate which are historic site number 33. The remnants once sat at the front gate of Mohwagwan in this area during the 7th year of King Taejong’s reign. The gate was later dismantled by the Independence Club.
If you walk toward the prison from Dongnimmun Gate you’ll come to a statue of Suhr Jae-Phil an activist for independence who published Korea’s first private newspaper “The Independence” in 1896. He had a large role in the Civil rights movement in Korea during the 1880s and 1890s and ultimately when they failed he took refuge in the US and became the first Korean to gain American citizenship. He is also credited with organizing the Independence Association with Yun Chi-ho and Lee Sang-Jae and together they pulled down Yeongeunmun Gate which was a symbol of Korea’s foreign policy with China as this was where envoys from China were met and welcomed. They seeked to change the gate into a symbol of Korea’s independence by building Dongnimmun’s Independence Gate. After WWII, he returned to Korea to act as the chief adviser to the US Army Military Government of South Korea at the time. He had a tremendous impact in the fight to independence in Korea.
The park is often filled with students from the nearby schools riding their bikes and eating snacks and older folks enjoying a snack on the seats and benches that are strategically placed. It’s a great place to spend a few hours not only enjoying the weather, but also learning about some of Korea’s history and historical figures.
Directions: Dongnimmun Station exit 4 or 5
Admission: Free, however the Prison Museum has a fee of W3,000
Amenities: Bathrooms, concessions and fountains