National Museum of Korea

I have to admit that apart from the popular 1970’s TV series MASH and K-pop, I knew very little about South Korea despite living in East Asia for seven years. This trip was an attempt to correct that and this museum fulfilled my interests while providing a respect for the beauty of Korean green celadon. I returned realizing there is so much more to the Korean Peninsula and its cultures past and present then what we see in the news.

The National Museum of Korea collection was originally established by Emperor Sunjong in 1909. This collection of 20,000 pieces was moved to Busan during the Korean War. At the end of the war the collection was relocated several times before the present building was constructed on the golf course of a former US Army base. The modern museum opened in 2005 to seismic standards and a wonderful natural light system.

The museum is divided into three floors starting chronologically with the prehistory on the first floor. From petroglyphs and the bronze age, the museum leads through various objects in gold, silver and clay to the competing “Three Kingdoms” of the first to third centuries of the Christian Era. The second-floor features art through calligraphy and paintings. The Third floor follows the development of the striking green celadon and other ceramics of the Goryeo and Joseon periods as well as Buddhist art. Not to be missed is the ten-story fourteenth century pagoda in the atrium, that was smuggled to Japan in 1907, but returned to Korea in 1918. A reminder that cultural restitution is nothing new. Please note that the museum considers the pre-Second World War history as the story of the Korean Peninsula. The story of a divided Korea is not here.

Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda

There is a lovely garden with walkways and ponds around the Museum. A visit to the National Museum of Korea can take from one to three hours, depending on your interests.

Inside the National Museum of Korea

Signage in Seoul is not always straight forward. But the museum does appear on all sorts of tourist information and most locals can identify a picture of it. Which is good if you decide to walk to it without the use of your google maps, which can be problematic especially given the vertical living spaces of East Asian cities. The museum has a very good shop, and there are lockers for those on a stopover in Seoul. The nearest underground/metro station is Ichon Station on Line 4. To get to the museum take exit #2.

Museum Information:

Location: 137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, 04383, Republic of Korea.

Telephone: 02-2077-9000.

Admission: Free (for permanent exhibition).

Opening Hours: Mon/Tue/Thu/Fri/Sat 10:00-18:00 (last admission 17:30). Wed & Sat 10:00-21:00 (last admission 20:30).

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Clifford Pereira FRGS

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies (Ulster University). After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). Cliff was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). Cliff was Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (2016-2023). He completed a MA(Res) on the History of Africa and the African Diaspora (University of Chichester) with distinction in 2021. He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC Vancouver, Canada and continues to research and consult for a number of UK heritage institutions. He describes himself as a historical geographer and has been a speaker on various subjects in China, Malaysia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Italy, the UK and on the cruise liners Silversea and Swan Hellenic. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.