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Seoul Searching | Seodaemun Prison History Museum.

Today couldn't have been a more perfect time to write about Seodaemun Prison History Museum, and what we saw and experienced during our visit. Because on this day, exactly one hundred years ago, the March 1st Movement (Samiljeol) took place.

One of the earliest public demonstrations of Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation, Samiljeol was initiated by thirty-three core activists who came together at the Taehwa-gwan Restaurant in Seoul and announced the Korean Declaration of Independence.

They then took it to the streets where they were joined by many others, marching and shouting "Manse!" which means "long live Korea". As more and more people joined the procession, the Japanese officials panicked and asked the military forces to intervene. Many of the Korean protesters were arrested, but many more were killed. Apprehended activists were brought to Seodaemun Prison, where they were locked up, tortured, or worse - executed.
The entrance to Seodaemun Prison History Museum.
Ticket prices: 1500 Korean won for adults, 500 Korean won for kids.
Forcibly built during the Japanese occupation, construction of the prison began in 1907 and was completed the year after. The prison was opened on October 21, 1908, under the name of Gyeongsong Gamok. This name eventually went through a few more changes until 1923, when it finally became the name that we know today - Seodaemun Prison.
The Administration Building, used mainly for interrogations.
This now serves as the exhibition hall of Seodaemun Prison History Museum.
Uncovering the horrors of Seodaemun Prison... more secrets revealed after the jump!
Originally covering an area of 1600 square meters, Seodaemun Prison was designed to accommodate 500 arrested activists and freedom fighters. As the anti-Japanese movement became widespread, more and more Koreans were arrested and detained, and by 1919, the number of prisoners has grown to a massive 3000. As such, the prison was expanded by adding more buildings. Out of the original 15 buildings that were built during the Japanese occupation period, 7 of them have been fully restored and were made open to the public in 1992.
The Seodaemun Prison History Hall.
The first building that you'll see upon entering the gates of Seodaemun is the Administration Building. This was built in 1923 and was regarded as the core building of Seodaemun Prison. Here, the notorious intelligence department held office, convened with Japanese officials, and interrogated those that were arrested. Today, this building serves as an Exhibition Hall where you can learn about the history of Seodaemun, and get a glimpse of the torture, pain, and suffering that the Korean patriots went through at the hands of Japanese officials.
A glimpse of the Interrogation Room.
A woman held captive in the Underground Solitary Confinement.
Water Torture. 
Box Torture.
Wall Coffin.
In the Engineering Work Building, where the detainees were forced to do manual labor, you'll learn about the 'Gyeongsong bricks' and why they were literally known as the blood, sweat, and tears of the imprisoned Koreans.
The Engineering Work Building.
Yue watching a short documentary.
Learning about the Gyeongsong bricks.
A few hundred meters away from this building is the Leprosarium, where inmates stricken with leprosy are isolated. Built in 1923, the 'leper building' sits atop a lofty stone platform, overlooking the prison grounds.
The Leper Building.
The view from below.
Right across the 'leper building' is an interesting structure that's shaped like a fan. This is the 'Gyeokbeokjang', where prisoners engaged in outdoor physical activity. A wall separates each prisoner to keep them from communicating with each other, while prison guards would stand on each end to keep a close watch of the inmates.
The Gyeongbeokjang.

Yue though this was a maze, lol.
And then there's the Central Building, where you'll see the actual prison cells that held many inmates over the years. You can walk inside most of the cells, and get a closer look at the biographies, anecdotes, and photographs of the independence fighters who were detained there. 
The Central Building.
The Taegukgi on one side of the building.
Extended corridors formed a panopticon.
Some of the cells even featured the belongings of its previous occupants, such as clothes, spectacles, handwritten letters, pens, and identification tags.
A prison diary.
Some of the prisoners' personal belongings.
The scarred walls, tiny windows, and thick steel doors of each cell are stark reminders of the persecution of the Korean patriots, and the lengths that they went through in their fight for freedom.
One of the corridors in the Central Building.
Yue looking at the displays in the Central Building.
A life-like statue of an angry warden.
One of the most noteworthy independence activists who had been detained at the Seodaemun Prison was Ryu Gwan Sun. Although she was still a teenager and a student at that time, Ryu was a key figure of Samiljeol, going door-to-door to spread the word about the movement and participating actively in the demonstrations. She was eventually arrested and locked up at the Women's Prison of Seodaemun. 
The actual cell where Ryu Gwan Sun was detained.
She died a year after she was detained, succumbing to the injuries she sustained from the torture and beatings inflicted by the Japanese prison officers.
A rose for Ryu Gwan Sun - Korea's Joan of Arc.
Those who were 'spared' from the torture were sent directly to the Execution Hall, where they were hanged to death. Outside the hall is a poplar tree, which was given the name 'the wailing poplar'. Korean activists who were about to be executed would grab this tree and wail with deep resentment for having failed to achieve independence.
The Wailing Poplar.
The Execution Hall.
After the execution, the remains of the condemned would be extricated out of the back door and disposed of through the Corpse Removal Exit that leads outside the prison grounds. The Japanese covered this exit to conceal their atrocities, but was eventually discovered in 1992. Approximately 40 meters of this secret tunnel has been reconstructed, but the fact remains the same - this structure is creepy as hell.
The Corpse Removal Exit.
Now as we celebrate the centennial of the March 1st Movement, may we always be reminded of Korea's fight for freedom and the blazing patriotism of the independence activists. Let us not forget
the men and women who stood up against oppression and fought for democracy, and that the freedom Korea is enjoying today came with a price - the lives of more than 400 people.
The Reverence Monument, built in honor of the patriotic martyrs who died in Seodaemun Prison.
Manse! Manse! Manse!

To get to Seodaemun Prison History Hall, take exit 5 of Dongnimmun Station (Line 3)

251, Tongil-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul 

27 replies:

Michael said...

Interesting and cute post. Thanks for sharing! Looked so much fun really.

Taryn said...

Wow! What an interesting place. I had forgotten how revealing visiting prisons are. It reminds me of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin and Robben Island in South Africa.

LoLo said...

What an interesting place. You captured the history perfectly and the photos are great! Thanks for sharing your trip and the information

Lyosha Varezhkina said...

sounds like an interesting place to explore and find more about. I like unusual museums, always makes me eel excited

Anonymous said...

Wow, that place looks like it would bring about some intense feelings. It appears to make things look so real.

Lexagator said...

I can't imagine the history in that building sounds very interesting.

Camping for Women said...

While these places are always interesting to visit and we do learn a lot, it is terrible to think of the suffering that took place. In this case, it should remind us of the value of the freedom we enjoy today and the need to never forget what some people went through.

sudipa said...

Interesting post.Thanks for sharing

whatsupdearie said...

I Feel that I need to go and explore the world. There are amazing things around us

Megan Kerry said...

It must have had such an intense energy here! What a great share. I didn’t know about the March 1st Movement until now. What a piece of history!

Sarah Stockley said...

What an interesting place to visit. I want to go to a little museum in London soon, it is an old operating theatre.

Scrapbook Adventures said...

Now this is a trip out that sounds right up my street! I love visiting museums and prison museums are always so interesting as they are so far from the reality of my life (thank goodness!). Sounds like you had a fun and informative trip!

aisasami said...

What a wonderful place! I learned a little bit more about Korean history thanks to this history.

Monidipa said...

I have never been there but I would love to be there. Such an interesting place.

Pon Ganesh said...

Nice travelogue and pictures. Sounds like an interesting place. Thanks for sharing!

Janice said...

This is so interesting. As a Filipino, I'm so used to just learning about the Japanese occupation in our own country not realizing that there are other nations that suffered as well. Good read!

Janine Ella said...

I love visiting places with rich history like this. When I go to South Korea, I will surely add this on my list!

brit said...

I don't know if I could ever visit a place like this. So sad and I think I would pickup alot of depressing emotions.

SincerelyMissJ said...

I have to agree with many of the commentators, indeed such an interesting place. I am sure you guys learned alot from your experience there.

Neha said...

Sounds like such an amazing place to visit! And all your clicks are so pretty. This one is a fantastic read!

Alexandra Cook said...

Looks like a very historical place to visit while in South Korea. I'll definitely want to go here one day with my family.

Folabest said...

This looks like an historical place to visit. Nice info

Danielle said...

Sounds like there is a lot of history surrounding this place. I love visiting places like this.

Kathleen Cregg said...

What an interesting place! It must have been creepy to see some of the torture chambers! Thanks for sharing!

May Palacpac said...

oooh, i came across the subject of Japanese occupation in Korea, but it was a very minor wisp of info. It didn't occur to me that it was a cruel and inhumane period.

Mommy Peach said...

The history of Seodaemun Prison is an interesting read. It's nice to know the history of a place and imagine what it was like in the past -- good or bad.

Madhurima Maiti said...

I loved the post title "Seoul Searching" :D Enjoyed reading the post. Seoul is such an amazing place and I need to add it in my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.