After five years, damaged Seoul gate restored

AFP-JIJI

Five years after it was burned down in an arson attack, South Korea on Monday unveiled its newly restored Sungnyemun gate, a national treasure painstakingly rebuilt at a cost of millions of dollars.

The cultural jewel in central Seoul will reopen Saturday after one of the longest and most costly restoration projects ever undertaken in South Korea.

“Using traditional methods and materials, we’ve done our best to restore it to its original state,” said Kang Kyung Hwan, head of the government’s Heritage Conservation Bureau.

Seoul’s 600-year-old South Gate, also known as Namdaemun, is listed as “National Treasure No. 1″ and is a source of immense cultural pride.

The largely wooden structure — which survived the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War — was reduced to ashes by a disgruntled 69-year-old man with some paint thinner and a cigarette lighter in February 2008.

The five-year, 27-billion-won ($24 million) project involved 35,000 people, including more than 1,000 craftsmen who used traditional tools to restore the gate to its former splendor.

The restoration team said the original stones and materials were used as far as possible, while they left some scorched wooden pillars in their damaged state to alert the public to the danger of fire.

Fortress walls destroyed during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule were returned to their original forms and reconnected to the gate.