This year will see the completion of two historic restoration projects in Seoul. The Sungnyemun or South Gate, National Treasure No. 1, is to be rebuilt by the end of the year after an arsonist burnt it to the ground, and Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace, will finally have a new signboard.
Some 70 percent of the restoration of the pavilion gate has been completed. The first floor has been put up, while 80 percent of the fortress wall to left and right of the gate has also been restored.
Once the wooden second floor of the gate is complete in April, works on the roof will begin. Currently, the roof tiles are being made in the traditional way at a kiln in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province, to produce a total of over 22,000 by March.
The basic frame of the gate is scheduled to be finished in May and the wall in April Then the pillars and rafters will be elaborately decorated before the gate opens to the public in September.
A committee of advisers decided that the ornamental patterns and colors will be selected based on those used in a large-scale repair of the gate in 1963, which came close to the early-Chosun original.
◆ Gwanghwamun Signboard
To make the new Gwanghwamun signboard, 13 wooden boards were cut in September last year and have since undergone a natural drying process at a timber yard in Gangwon Province. The signboard is the second replacement in recent years as the first one cracked less than three months after it was put up when the restoration of the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace was completed in August 2010. Now there is fresh controversy over what characters should be used on the signboard -- Korean or Chinese.
The long-lost 1395 original was in Chinese, and no part of the gate is as it was since it was destroyed and moved several times.
In a survey of 5,000 people by the Cultural Heritage Administration, 58.7 percent said the inscription should be in Hangeul while 41.3 percent opted for Chinese characters, with most younger people opting for Korean script.
But a majority of experts consulted by the CHA thought the sign should be carved in Chinese characters, as the original had been, the CHA said. Now there will be yet another round of hearings.
The CHA plans to propose various styles and put them to a popular vote, a senior official said, with the final decision to be made by the Cultural Heritage Committee.