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  • Cheonggyecheon Brings Out New Seoul

Cheonggyecheon Brings Out New Seoul

As the hot and humid weather persists, people flock to Cheonggyecheon Stream to escape from the heat or to take a brief rest during their busy daily routine. Some soak their feet in the water while others listen to the musical pieces performed along the stream; there are various ways of enjoying the summer in this heart of the city. Cheonggyecheon Stream has undoubtedly become a shelter for Seoul citizens who hustle and bustle in the forest of skyscrapers, and you may wonder how it has flowed up until now.

Seoul and Cheonggyecheon Stream Have Changed Together

Originating from Bugaksan and Inwangsan mountains, Cheonggyecheon Stream flows across Jongno-gu and Jung-gu districts. With the establishment of the Joseon Dynasty, which moved the capital from Gaeseong to Hanyang, now called Seoul, a town and a market called the Sijeon, a government licensed shop, began to be formed around the stream that naturally became the center of city life. As the city lived through the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, refugees took shelter in the area, turning the neighborhood into a shanty town.
  The population grew on, worsening traffic and aggravating sanitary issues. The Seoul Metropolitan Government began to cover the stream in 1958, burying the sewage-polluted water and building a paved street and elevated highway above. Around the covered stream opened Dongdaemun Market, Pyounghwa Fashion Town, and a cluster of sewing factories. Cheonggyecheon Stream emerged as a symbol of modernization and high-speed economic growth with the construction of the Sewoon Shopping Center, the first Korean building that combined residences and stores, which specifically dealt in electronics.

A Space for Leisure in the Heart of the City

The area slowly lagged behind Seoul’s overall development, and questions arose over the safety and contamination of the covered stream and its vicinity in the 2000s. Amid calls for re-opening of the stream, the work to remove the cover started in 2003. As the volume of the stream water was rather limited except during the summer rainy spell, it was made into a sort of artificial river. In September 2005, the work was completed, re-creating the 5.4 kilometers from the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper building to Shindapcheolgyo Bridge in Seongdong-gu into a green trail of grass and trees. The area is studded with a variety of attractions such as man-made falls and fountains, the largest-ever ceramic fresco portraying Joseon King Jeongjo’s promenade to Hwaseong in Gyeonggi-do, and a re-enacted shanty town that presents a glimpse into the hard lives of people in the area in the 1960s and 1970s. The neighborhood which once was the site of struggling life has become a space for rest, leisure, and culture that infuses lively energy into the complex capital with Cheonggye and Hanbit plazas, where colorful events and performances are held often.

Bridges Telling Old Tales

When talking about the many must-see points along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, the 22 bridges of varied forms cannot be omitted. They include Mojeongyo, the bridge built during the reign of King Taejong, the third king of Joseon, and whose name was derived from the nearby fruit stores called mojeon; Gwangtonggyo Bridge, built of stones from the tomb of Queen Sindeok, wife of Joseon’s first king, Taejo; Supyogyo Bridge, famous for the first encounter of Joseon’s 19th king, Sukjong, and his queen consort, Lady Jang (also known as Jang Hui-bin); and the Jeon Tae-il Bridge that cherishes the memory of the 22-year-old worker and activist who burned himself to death in 1970 in his struggle to improve the labor conditions at the factories in the area. There also are other bridges from the Joseon period and diverse buildings and structures showing the pre-modern and modern history of Seoul.

The re-born Cheonggyecheon Stream has settled as an essential element of citizens’ everyday lives, flowing through the heart of Seoul as in the old days, offering cool shade and pleasure with frescos, fountains, performances, and exhibitions. The time-honored stream that witnessed the 600-old years of ups and downs from Joseon to present-day Korea will continue to be an invaluable part of Seoul scenery in many years to come, while functioning as a cultural venue and a welcome respite from the hubbub of urban life.

Written by Park Mijeong