Cheonggyecheon Museum

Cheonggyecheon Museum, Seoul, Korea

Located on the eastern part of the Cheonggyecheon Stream, not frequently visited by tourists, is the little known but interesting Cheonggyecheon Museum. This museum was opened on September 26, 2005 to preserve the history of stream and commemorate the restoration of the waterway that was once the location of an elevated highway.

Cheonggyecheon is a major stream that has flowed through this land long before Seoul became the capital city of the Joseon Dynasty. During this period, the stream was refurbished multiples times by the order of the king and used as a drainage system. Many bridges were also built during this period.

During the Japanese colonization of Korea, the stream was unsuccessfully covered up. After the Korean War (1950-1953), many poor people made their homes on the banks of the stream.

The area became an eyesore for the city. The government evicted the people who lived here, covered up the stream in concrete, and built an elevated highway. For thirty years, the history and memory of the stream that once flowed here was gone.

Permanent exhibits inside the Cheonggyecheon Museum
Permanent exhibits inside the museum

In July 2003, work began to remove the highway and restore the stream as it was many years ago. Restoration work was completed a couple years later in September 2005 at a cost of 386 billion won (281 million USD).

Model showing the elevated highway that is now the Cheonggyecheon Stream
Model showing the elevated highway that is now the Cheonggyecheon Stream
Last remaining pieces of the elevated highway
Last remaining pieces of the elevated highway

The modern exterior facade of the building features a long, flowing glass structure that resembles water flowing down the stream.

The entrance to the museum is on the fourth floor while the exit is on the first floor. As visitors walk through the museum, they will descend down ramps to lower floors as they pass through many permanent exhibits that describe the history and cultural importance of the stream past, present, and future. There is also often special exhibits, an auditorium used for cultural performances, and an education room for children.

Model of the city of Seoul and the stream running through it
Model of the city of Seoul and the Cheonggyecheon Stream running through it

At the entrance of the museum, a miniature model of the city shows the geography of the stream and the surrounding areas of the city.

From here, models show what life was like for those living on the banks of the stream after the Joseon Dynasty and after the Korean War. During these periods, the stream became an eyesore as many poverty stricken people made their homes here. The models also show how construction works covered up the stream in many areas and turned the stream into an elevated highway.

The next few exhibits show how the area was covered up with concrete and the highway that was built upon it. Photographs of the elevated highway and the city can be seen which at a time was a proud symbol of the industrialization of Seoul after the Korean War. This highway ran through the heart of Seoul for 8.4 kilometers (5.2 miles). Over time, the highway began to age and fall apart to a point where safety was a concern.

The last exhibits on this floor describe the nature of the area including information about plants and animals that reside here, how the restoration project was carried out by the government, and what the future holds for the stream, the city, and the surrounding areas.

Model of Ogansumun (Five Bay Water Gate)
Model of Ogansumun (Five Bay Water Gate)

As visitors walk down ramps to the next floor they will encounter more exhibits. The first exhibits explain the history and importance of the stream during the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty when the city was known as Hanyang. Visitors can view old maps and other documents related to the history of the stream from the 17th to 19th century including when the city was known as Hanyang, during the Joseon dynasty period, and also during the Japanese colonial period.

Visitors can watch a five minute video that will give them a bird’s eye, or as they call a butterfly, view of the entire stream.

The last exhibit proudly shows the ecological changes that have occurred since Cheonggyecheon Stream has been restored to its former natural state. It shows how animals and plants that were thought lost have returned and now call this area home once again. You can also learn how the city of Seoul is trying to become an environmentally friendly city and what their plans are for the future as they strive to reach this goal.

Reproduction of village from after the Korean War
Reproduction of village from after the Korean War

Across the road, detached from the museum, is an area known as the Experience Zone. This zone or exhibit features a life size reproduction of a village with homes and shops that would have been found on the banks of the Cheonggyecheon Stream in the years after the Korean War. Visitors here can also find small stores that feature multiple artifacts that date back to this time period.