On my first evening in Seoul back in June, I found myself here, in front of a 'haetae' (mythical fire-eating guardian lion/dragon/dog) beneath Gwanghwamun, the recently restored gate to Gyeongbok Palace. This double-roofed upswept structure dominates the historic main artery of the city.
The story of the haetae and the gate it guards sums up the turbulent, but resilient history of the Korean Capital:
1390's: The gate is built when Seoul becomes the capital of a new dynasty.
1590's: The guardhouse above the stone arches is burned during the Japanese invasions. It lays in ruins until...
1867: It's rebuilt as part of the restoration of Gyeongbok Palace; the construction almost bankrupts the 'Hermit kingdom' which finally ends up becoming a protectorate and then an outright colony of Japan in 1910. Seoul is renamed 'Keijo.'
1926: The gate is dismantled and 're-mantled' nearby during the Japanese Occupation, to make way for construction of the Colonial Government General Building.
1950: Communist troops retreat for the first time during the Korean War, the gate is destroyed again...
1990's: the Government General Building is demolished to make way for the restoration of Gyeongbok Palace; Gwanghwamun gate will finally be restored to its original condition and location.
2010: The newly restored gate is unveiled; it has come home, after over eight decades of being 'displaced'...
Once again, the stone 'haetae' can stand guard, as it over six centuries ago when it was first placed here.
This time, may it last for a good while...
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