(LEAD) Gwanghwamun’s ‘woldae’ unveiled after being restored to original state

The ceremonial stage located in front of Gyeongbok Palace’s Gwanghwamun gate in Seoul opened to the public Sunday after being restored to its original state for the first time in about a century.

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) held a ceremony at Gwanghwamun Square near the historical site to mark the completion of the yearlong project to restore the “woldae.”

A woldae is a large square platform built from stone in front of major structures of ancient palaces, such as Geunjeong Hall of Gyeongbok Palace and Injeong Hall of Changdeok Palace. It was presumably used by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) for royal rituals and ceremonies.

“It’s quite a different Gwanghwamun from what we have seen for a long time, but this appearance is the complete appearance of Gwanghwamun,” Choi Eung-Chon, chief of the CHA, said in remarks during the ceremony.

“We hope the symbolism and meaning of Gwanghwamun’s restoration, as well as the efforts made thus far, will be conveyed well to the people,” he said.

People who came to watch the unveiling took photos with their phones and expressed their delight. The CHA said an estimated 10,000 people were present at the event. Culture Minister Yoo In-chon and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon were among the officials in attendance.

The woldae located in front of Gwanghwamun, the main gate to Gyeongbok Palace, is believed to have been a place where the king and the people met and communicated during important national events.

It is approximately 49 meters long, 30 meters wide and 0.7 meter high, with a separate 7-meter-wide path for the king, known as an “eodo,” placed at the center.

Although it remains unknown exactly when the Gwanghwamun’s woldae was constructed, scholars believe it was first constructed during the reign of King Sejong (1418-1450).

After being destroyed when Gyeongbok Palace was burned down during the Japanese invasions of Korea in the 16th century, it is thought to have been reconstructed in 1867, as part of King Gojong’s project to rebuild the entire palace.

Scholars say the woldae was destroyed by the Japanese colonizers when they constructed tram rails in front of Gwanghwamun in preparation for a Joseon expo in 1923. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

Also unveiled during the ceremony was the gate’s new signboard, with golden letters reading “Gwanghwamun” in Chinese letters on a black background.

The CHA regards the restoration of the woldae, a century after its destruction, as of great importance.

“The woldae and Gwanghwamun are a complete set,” said Hong Seung-jae, chief of the royal palaces and tombs subcommittee under the Cultural Heritage Committee, during a recent forum in Seoul. The committee is an advisory body under the CHA.

“Through the restoration of the woldae, we can connect Gwanghwamun and Yukjo Street, which have been disconnected for a long time, and restore the central axis of Hanyang Fortress and connect historical sites,” he added.

Yukjo Street is the broad street in front of Gwanghwamun, where the central government offices of the Joseon Dynasty were clustered.

Source: Yonhap News Agency