Two months ago, we posted a feature about one of the most popular spots in South Korea for foreigners to visit; that was Myeongdong. Today, we have chosen another well-known neighborhood in South Korea to write a feature about. It’s Insadong.
Insadong, located in the Jongno-gu district of Seoul, South Korea, is popularly known to have the best souvenir and antique stores in town. The Insadong-gil or main street of Insadong is connected to several alleys which together, serve as haven to galleries, traditional restaurants, tea houses, and cafes.
According to wikipedia.org, Insadong was originally two towns which names ended in the syllables “In” and “Sa”. These two towns were divided by a stream which ran along Insadong-gil. The place began 500 years ago as a residential area for government officials because of its proximity to different government halls and palaces. The main street served as a place of study for painters during Joseon period.
During the Japanese colonization period in Korea, the aristocrats had to leave their homes and sell their belongings in Insadong. The site then became a trading area for antiques. When the Korean war ended, it became the center of South Korea’s “artistic and cafe life.” It started to become popular as a foreign destination during the 1960s. It was then dubbed as “Mary’s Alley.” It gained more attention from the international community during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Nowadays, Insadong remains to be a place of art. It is still flocked by thousands of tourists who visit South Korea every year because it represents Korea’s colorful history and culture. It is the must-visit place for foreigners who want to experience both traditional and modern faces of South Korea. Some of the traditional houses and buildings in the main street – which once belonged to government officials during Joseon dynasty, bureaucrats and merchants – are now used as restaurants or shops. It contains 40 percent of the nation’s antique shops and art galleries and makes up 90 percent of the country’s traditional stationery shops.
Around Insadong, you can find several attractions that will surely keep you going once you visit the place. “The northern mouth of the main street opens to the royal palaces of Gyeongbokgung to the west and Changdeokgung to the east. An alley to Jogyesa Temple cuts right in the middle of the street, feeding in a steady stream of gray-robed Buddhist monks. The southern end hits Tapgol Park, where Koreans declared their independence from Japan in 1919.” You can also find there the oldest bookstore in Seoul – Tongmungwan – and the oldest tea house – Kyung-in Art Gallery. Another recent attraction in the area is Asia Eros Museum which just opened in 2004. It is said to be the first South Korean museum devoted to sex.
Aside from the almost never-ending lines of crafts stores are also restaurants and food stalls that will surely keep you full while you are having the time of your life roaming around the art district. Several kinds of art events and festivals are also held regularly along the street.
So next time that you will have time to travel, try to choose Seoul as your destination and make sure to visit the district of Insadong.