Tapgol Park in Seoul, South Korea is one of the most historically and culturally significant places in the entire country. Formerly known as Pagoda Park, this site of the March 1st Movement for Korean independence contains two of the top three National Treasures of South Korea and is one of the most highly sought after attractions in the city both for domestic and international tourists. It is located on Jongno-gil Street in downtown Seoul and is serviced by the Jongno 3-ga Station using trains 1, 3, and 5. If you are currently planning a trip to Seoul and would like to gain a much better understanding of the recent history of South Korea, this is a great place to start.
Tapgol Park in Seoul takes its name from the Wongaksa Temple (National Treasure #2 located on the grounds). This impressive construct is a ten-story stone pagoda that is obviously one of the main attractions at the park. The word Tap in Tapgol literally translates to Pagoda. National Treasure #3, the Wongaksa Monument, is also located in Tapgol Park. It was built in 1471 to commemorate the founding of the Wongaksa Temple in 1465. The granite, turtle-shaped base of the Wongaksa Monument supports the sixteen-foot marble monument that features two intertwined dragons extending toward the heavens carrying a Buddhist gem. Pagoda Park is filled with treasures such as these that give visitors an inside glimpse of the cultural, architectural, and social traditions, dating back over 500 years.
Tapgol Park is synonymous with the March 1st Movement in South Korea. This early display of nonviolent resistance to Japanese occupation took place on March 1, 1919 and served as a catalyst for much more protest and reform in the coming years. At the time the Korean people were living under the repressive rule of the occupying Japanese who had leveraged their power to keep the Korean people in a position of subordination. It was not easy to get work in government affairs, women were treated unfairly, the Japanese military police were completely out of hand, and there was a general atmosphere of discontent bubbling to the surface.
The events surrounding the March 1st Movement began when 33 Korean nationalists met at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul. They were originally planning to meet in Pagoda Park, but feared that such an assemblage would inspire riot. Even though they put into place the back up plan and met at the restaurant, later in the day a student read the Korean Declaration of Independence that the nationals had penned and signed aloud to a crowd in the park. A large procession of protesters followed the reading of the inspiring text and some 7,000 Korean people across the country were massacred that day by the occupying forces. It is a black day in Korean history, but also a day that speaks to the determination and ultimate liberation of the Korean people.
It not only served as a catalyzing event for later protests and advances for the cause of freedom, but also laid the groundwork for other countries (like India) to passively resist as a form of protest. Tapgol Park is a significant site and visiting is one of the most memorable things to do in the city; there are plenty of nearby Seoul hotels as well, making it easy to reach.
Image: augapfel (Flickr)