Winter Vacation: Seoul Day 5, World Cup Stadium, Nanjindo and the Leeum for Kapoor

It was my last day in Seoul before heading out to Suwon for 2 days. I’d made the decision to explore the area to the west that incorporated Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo. Seoul World Cup Stadium was constructed to serve as one of the centrepiece venues for the 2002 World Cup.

IMG_4388The Stadium’s exceptional attribute is its roof that is fashioned like a traditional Korean kite, and which covers 90% of all seats. It’s positioned on the north bank of the Han River and an element of a complex, which include parks and amusement rides. The stadium itself houses a large cinema and a discount shopping centre (TESCO).

The World Cup Park Seoul consists of five parks; Neoul Park, Haneul Park, Nanji Hangang Park, Nanjicheon Park and Pyeonghwa Park. My main destination was Skypark or Haneul Park, which sits to the west of the main stadium.

This area used to be an island in the Han River called Nanjido; it was affectionately known as the “Island of Death”. During the rapid urbanisation and development sprawl of Seoul in the 1970′s the island was used as a landfill site that extended for 2.4 kilometers and reached a height of 98 meters. The site closed in 1993 but initially no measures were taken to treat the waste. As a result the groundwater, soil and air became heavily polluted. Leachate and methane gas persistently seeped out. In 1994 Seoul Metropolitan Government enclosed the waste under a 1-meter layer of top-soil; the aim to diminish the odours. The plan was to avert supplementary environmental damage and to engineer a park that the citizens could enjoy. It took over 3 years to stabilise the landfill site.

For the past 12 years, the methane gas generated from the Nanjido landfill has been recycled as fuel for Seoul World Cup Stadium and an apartment complex nearby. The recycled gas is also being used to supply the adjacent Digital Media City.

DSC_0026Before passing over to Haneul park I wandered south of the stadium through Pyeonghwa Park (Peace Park) whose lake was frozen over.  Nothing coincidental about that when the temperature read -18 degrees! The tips of the fingers of my gloves were solid, I now understood the perils of explorers frost bite, I think I had early onset frostbite :-). The park was supposed to represent peace and harmony between humans and nature, I wasn’t feeling in harmony or at peace with nature, I was bloody freezing. One guy was kitted out for roller-blading which I had previously seen as a young persons sport, as he pirouetted I could think of easier ways to keep warm like a spa! I couldn’t even find the respite of a hot drink as all hostelries appeared closed. I decided to double-back towards Haneul passing an eco-centre (closed) and some pretty nice pieces of sculpture.  Seoul has surely to be the world capital of public art and 25% of it is exceptional. At some point I’ll summarise my favourite pieces in another blog.

DSC_0034_2Haneul that means sky in Korean is the high-point of the complex. after crossing a wide blue pedestrian footbridge which spans a highway, to get to the top I pushed “dodgy knee” up 290 numbered steps. I also had to contend with an irritating handrail that has protruding screws strategically positioned to rip holes in your hands! At the top of the park there are awesome views of Seoul. The panorama includes the nearby World Cup Stadium, the Hangang River, the 63 building, Bukhansan Mountain to the north and Namsan Mountain to the east. Many different types of flora have been planted to try to create a successful ecosystem. Once plants became established in the early 00’s 30,000 butterflies were released across the park. There are five wind power generators whose electricity is used to power the streetlights around the World Cup Park. An ecological nightmare has become a green campaigners dream.

As expected the café was closed so with sustenance I was fully exposed to probably the windiest but also a surreally beautiful part of Seoul. Various paths crisscrossed the park which is appended with beautiful tall grasses that swayed in the breeze, I came across a Japanese style rock garden and two sculptures/gazebos/shelters. IMG_4405 - Version 2The first was awesome, made of polished stainless steel and punctuated with holes that allowed the sunlight to flood through and paint beautiful shadows. The second was like an amphitheatre and less aesthetically pleasing but would be a cool place to take a picnic lunch in the spring, summer or autumn.

My whole being was craving warmth by this time, my cheeks glowing, my lips chapped and nostrils dribbling, it was time to descend and head to Itaewon for some cultural warmth.

The Leeum Gallery (also line 6) was hosting Mr Anish Kapoor. The Leeum is one of the most beautiful art galleries I have ever had the pleasure to visit, another Seoul “must see” and top 10 attraction. There are three separate building which focus on different aspects of art. The Permanent exhibition is of Korean Traditional Art (Celedon pottery and buddhist relics), it’s hosed in a Mario Botta designed building. The Modern Art Gallery has superb exhibits including Kapoor, Bacon and Giacometti and Mr H’s Pill Artwork; it was designed by Jean Nouvel. The final gallery houses temporary exhibits (Kapoor) and extends it’s show on the external terrace. It was designed by Rem Koolhas.

IMG_4367What of Kapoor’s retrospective? Well it covers his whole career and is exceptional. Americans will know him best for Chicago’s Millenium Park “Cloud Gate” (2006). This is his first major East Asian exhibition and includes many iconic works including 2012’s cavernous and intimidating “Cor Ten Steel”, the awesome “Yellow” (1999) and the monumental “My Red Homeland” (2003). Outside the terrace has 2012’s ‘Vertigo” which last year sat atop the South downs in the UK and 2009’s “Tall Tree and the Eye”. It’s a truly memorable exhibition that continues through to February 12, 2013. Hurry!

After the Siberian encounter that morning the exhibition warmed me up ready for an afternoon nap and later Pho at “Good Morning Hanoi”.

Metro station World Cup Stadium is located right next to the stadium. The station is on line 6, which runs south of the centre of Seoul, but can be reached with a transfer via line 4 (from Seoul Station) or line 2 (from City Hall).

Leeum Art Gallery is located at 747-18, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (TEL) 02-2014-6901.  From Hangangjin Station (Subway Line 6) Exit 1, walk straight for 100m towards Itaewon. Make a right turn at the first alley, walk up the hill for about 5 minutes.