Located in the heart of Insa-dong is Bosingak Belfry. This historic bell pavilion, or bell tower, stands out in a sea of modern skyscrapers in the Jongno District. The Jongno District gets its name from Jongno, a major road which runs west to east through the heart of central Seoul. In English, Jongno means “Bell Street.”
The original bell pavilion dates back to 1396 during the reign of Taejo, the first king of the Joseon dynasty. During this period, the king ordered the construction of a fortress wall (Hanyangdoseong). The purpose of the wall was to protect Hanyang (present day Seoul) from invasions. When completed, the fortress wall had eight gates. This included Sukjeongmun Gate, Heunginjimun Gate (Dongdaemun Gate), and Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate). These gates allowed citizens in and out of the city while keeping invaders out.
Each morning at 4:00AM, the bell hanging inside the pavilion was rung 33 times. Known as paru, the gates along the city wall opened at this time and people could pass through. The 33 rings represented the 33 cheon (heaven) in Buddhism. At the end of the day, at 10:00PM, the bell was rung 28 times. Known as injeong, at this time, the gates along the city wall closed. The 28 rings represented the location of the stars in the heavens. The bell was also rung during times of emergency such as fires or invasions.
The pavilion has gone by different names over the years. This includes Jongnu, Jonggoru, Jonggak, and Ingyeongjeon. Also, over the centuries, the pavilion has suffered the consequences of fires and wars. But each time, it was rebuilt. The gate was rebuilt once again in 1895 under the rule of King Gojong and given the name, Bosingak. The pavilion as seen today dates back to 1979.
The original bronze bell which hung in the pavilion melted during a fire in 1455. In 1468, a new bell was recast and placed inside the pavilion, where it hung for centuries. Today, the bell is on display at the National Museum of Korea. The bell hanging in the pavilion today dates back to 1985.
Each year on December 31st, a New Year’s Eve event takes place at the pavilion. The event, which attracts thousands of people, features musical performances, celebrities, and a bell-ringing ceremony. The ringing of the bell at midnight symbolizes hope and happiness for the new year.
Everyday, except Mondays, visitors to Bosingak Belfry can take part in a bell tolling ceremony. This ceremony, which takes place between 11:00AM and 12:20PM, allows visitors to experience the ringing of the bell. During the ceremony, with the help of the royal guards, visitors are allowed to ring the bell 12 times, signaling noon. The ceremony is free and open to all visitors. Reservations are required and can be made by visiting http://royalguard.or.kr/en/.