Winter Vacation: Seoul Day 4, Olympic Park, Mongchon Baekje Fortress and The Seoul Photography Museum

Day 4 began with a trip to South East Seoul and a visit to the Olympic Park. Arriving at line 8 Mongchon Tosong Station the glorious exit affords a sense of anticipation.  I can imagine how visitors felt when arriving to view events at the 1988 Olympics. At the top of the steps you’re greeted with what the IOC calls “the legacy” which is the “Peace Gate” in Peace Square leading to an expansive public park. Lonely planet says this is #29 of 442 things to do in Seoul, WTF do Lonely Planet know? For me it’s definitely in the top 10. Why? It has culture (2 museums and a major indoor and outdoor gallery), the Baekje Mongchon Fortress walk, beautiful landscaping and the Seoul Museum of Photography across the road.


This verdant oasis nested in the now famous but distinctly uninteresting, Gangnam area of Seoul is for me “a must see” for it’s a free full-day excursion.

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The World Peace Gate stands 24m high, it features a mural by artist Baik Kum-Nam, and an eternal flame on which the Seoul Peace Declaration is inscribed. Alongside the gate is an Olympic museum, an education centre, cafe’s and during winter, an ice rink. A bit of time-lapse for you above!


Stopping to watch the calamitous ice-skating and the over-exhuberant parents gesticulating at their kids was worth a “Hancocks Half-hour”. It seems to me that constantly falling over and going round in circles is an overrated past-time. I seems like fact to me that ice skating attracts folk that like to show off and be the centre of attention :-). Beyond the ice rink I passed the frozen lake and to the right viewed the stainless steel spheres of an untitled sculpture. Further along is the SOMA Museum, closed on a Tuesday? The museum is a fine example of modern architecture and is surrounded by an International Sculpture park.

Art never expresses anything but itself. -Oscar Wilde

Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface. Donald Judd, in Arts Yearbook 8 (1965)

Sculpture is an art of hollows and projections. Auguste Rodin

The sensitive observer of sculpture must learn to feel the shape simply as shape, not as description or reminiscence. He must, for example, perceive an egg as a simple solid shape, quite apart from its significance as food, or from the literary idea that it will become a bird. -Henry Moore 1937

For me simplistically a sculpture needs to be aesthetically pleasing, shocking or technically accomplished, even a combination of the three. I have favourites Rodin, Hepworth Michelangelo, Kapoor, Plensa, Mackie, Hawkins, Gormley. The best enhance the landscape in which they rest, the worst anhilate it. This international sculpture park has but a few of these! Art is personal so see for yourselves.

IMG_4257I veered across the frosty lawn, passing an eyesore or two and stopping to admire the better exhibits, and arrived at the Baekje Museum.   This is one of Seoul’s newest museum featuring the history and culture of the ancient Baekje Kingdom (18 BC-668 AD). Seoul was the capital of the Baekje Dynasty for about 500 years until 475 AD, when it moved its capital to Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, 162 kilometers south of Seoul. The Mongchontoseong Fortress was excavated during the construction of Olympic Park and the excavations and the findings were the catalyst to the formation of the museum. The fortress walls can be followed on one of the 5 walking trails within Olympic park. The museum itself is housed in a striking modern building and is well worth a potter around.

There are 5 different walking “Lanes” in the Olympic Park – the Lakeside Lane, Fortress Lane, Memory Lane, Lovers’ Lane and Youth Lane.

DSC_0850The Fortress Lane is my favourite as it affords excellent views of the whole park, it’s around 3km long and has “Thunderbird 2” covering a Baekje excavation pit. The Memory Lane which forms two circles around Mongchon Fortress is the best course for quiet contemplation and strolling in spring and autumn. The Youth Lane  is often integrated into marathons or other running events. It allows an unobstructed view of the outer ring of the Olympic Park. As I traversed the trail it was obvious that this was a popular hike for the older local inhabitants, even in the midst of this exceptionally cold Korean winter. DSC_0881The undulating path gives the ultimate panoramic view of the park, it venues and attractions. I looked inside the earthen excavations of Thunderbird 2, chatted to a couple of friendly locals and saw a man trying to form a relationship with a rabbit! The whole stroll takes around an hour an is for me a Seoul highlight which I’ll revisit when temperatures rise!

I left the park at South gate 4. crossing the road to the Seoul Museum of Photography. The museum is situated on the 19th floor of the Hanmi Tower and has been open since 2002. I saw the work of Mario Giacomelli, “The Black is waiting for the White”. Mario Giacomelli was an Italian photographer and was self-taught. At 13, he left high school, began working as a typesetter and spent his weekends painting before later switching to photographer producing black and white silver gelatine prints. After the horrors of World War II, he wandered the streets and fields of post-war Italy, inspired by the gritty Neo-Realist films of
Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. He is best known for his photographs of Italian seminaries and residents of a nursing home where his mother worked. He documents a poetic transcription of everyday life in Southern Italy. Bold, stylised compositions with stark contrast are his trade-mark. DSC_0930The exhibition space is exceptional and there are (from the cafe) fantastic views across the Olympic Park. Note at this juncture that the Olympic stadium is situated a couple of Metro stops away.

DSC_0957I left here, took lunch, sadly Burger King, and headed towards Banpo Bridge via Express Bus Terminal. At the south end of the bridge are the controversial “floating islands” described by Seoul Weekly as “architectural eye-candy”. They form part of the so-called “Han River Renaissance Project”, on this day only one island was accessible and the signs of life nil. I am still trying to ascertain if they are another shelved project or will they regain life in spring.  Adjacent to this architectural splendour is a concert venue which gained a mention as part of a video series accessible on Vimeo. The guys at Semipermanent posted this video of Seoul’s Indie music scene. From here I crossed the Han River under the “Rainbow Fountain” Banpo bridge before accessing the subway at Choongang Seobinggo on the Jungang line and returning home for my afternoon nap!

Olympic Park opens daily 5:30am-10:30pm; museum Tues-Sun 10am-5:30pm.  Subway line 8 to Mongchon Tosong Station (exit 1) or line 5 to Olympic Park Station