|What the palace probably looked like after it was built in 1712. Sign board at the site in 2014. Robert Neff Collection|
By Robert Neff
In September 1884, Ensign George C. Foulk, a naval officer attached to the American Legation in Seoul, traveled to the Bukhan Mountain Fortress. He was somewhat impressed with the fortification (although he seems to have been more impressed with himself, being the first foreigner to visit the site) and described it in some detail in a report to the State Department and in a letter to his parents. With his camera, he also captured some of the earliest images of the fortification ― unfortunately, few of these images remain.
It is a shame, however, that there are no images of "an old palace, small, crumbling with age, yet gay in well-preserved colors and carvings" that he spied nestled in a nook of the fortification. This old palace was Bukhan Haenggung ― the emergency palace.
|The palace in the early 1910s. Robert Neff Collection|
Built in 1712 during King Sujong's reign, it was designed as a command post and a place of refuge for the royal family should Seoul be taken by the enemy. Fortunately, it was never used. In fact, members of the royal family seldom visited it. King Sujong visited shortly after it was built and his second son ― King Yeongjo ― visited twice in 1760 and 1772.
Another early visitor to the palace was Horace Allen, a missionary, who ― along with a small group of Western residents of Seoul ― picnicked in the fortress area in the late 1880s. Allen noted that the palace "was somewhat out of order but could easily be repaired ― and life in it would certainly be pleasant with the fine scenery all about."?
In fact, the fortress area would eventually become the summer retreat for the Western residents of Seoul. In the early 1910s, the Anglican Church in Seoul "obtained a lease of the old derelict and half ruined 'Palace' up among the peaks of the Pouk Han hills, about ten miles to the north of Seoul, as a house of rest and refuge from the heat." Bishop Trollope wrote, "In lieu of rent we undertook to put and keep it in repair, and a most useful place we have found it summer by summer."
|Hyunuk Park explaining the excavation of the site. November 2014. Robert Neff Collection|
But that all ended in July 1915 when heavy rain caused a huge mudslide that wiped away the palace along with a small village nearby. More than 30 people perished in the disaster and the palace was no more ― just about everything was buried under debris. As time passed, it was forgotten and lay undisturbed for nearly a century.
In October 2012, the first excavation of the palace began. I had the good fortune to visit the site in 2014 and have included some of my photographs. My feelings are mixed as to what should become of the site. Should it be rebuilt or should it be allowed to remain in ruins ― a visage of Joseon's past.
My appreciation to Hyunuk Park, Senior Researcher, Cultural Heritage Team of Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation, for his invaluable assistance.
|Asked "What was the most important find at the site?" Park provided this image ― a piece of a lamp. He claims it is a long story but promises to tell me the next time we meet. Courtesy of Hyunuk Park|
|Excavation on the steep slope where the palace once stood. November 2014. Robert Neff Collection|
|Excavated walls being supported by large sticks. November 2014. Robert Neff Collection|
|Evidence of the mudslide's strength. November 2014. Robert Neff Collection|
|Roof tiles and other debris collected at the site. November 2014. Robert Neff Collection|