Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate), located in central Seoul, is an important and historic gate designated the first National Treasure of South Korea. Nearby Namdaemun Market gets its name from this gate.
The name Namdaemun means Gate of Exalted Ceremonies. It was known as Namdaemun during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 20th century, therefore it is known by two names.
Construction began in 1395 and was completed in 1398, during the reign of King Taejo. At this time, it was built using wood and stone. It was rebuilt in 1447 and renovated many times over the years.
Namdaemun was originally one of three main gates in the city of Seoul. Heunginjimun (Dongdaemun) is the other surviving gate. The gate was used to greet important foreign visitors, allow people into and out of the city, and to keep out invaders and dangerous animals such as Siberian Tigers.
In 1907, the surrounding walls were torn down. This was due in part to the expansion and modernization of Seoul and the problems the walls caused for the new traffic.
In 1961, restoration work began after the gate was damaged during the Korean War. On December 20, 1962, it was designated the first National Treasure of Korea.
On February 10, 2008, a fire was started here by Chae Jong-gi. Over 360 firefighters responded to try to save the historic and priceless structure.
Firefighters were careful not to damage the structure even more as they fought the flames. At first, they believed that they had the blaze under control but later that night, the fire got out of control once again and destroyed the structure.
It was first thought that the fire was started by accident, but later revealed that Jong-gi intentionally started the fire. A ladder, paint thinner, and lighters were found at the scene. Jong-gi used the ladder to climb up the wall, sprayed paint thinner on the wooden floor, and lit a fire. He confessed to the crime only 30 minutes after he was arrested.
Jong-gi was upset over a dispute over land and chose Namdaemun because he believed it would be the easiest target. The same man started a fire at Changgyeonggung Palace in 2006.
Restoration work began in 2009 at a cost of 20 billion won ($14 million).
Restoration on the gate was completed on April 30, 2013 after 5 years of work. It was opened to the public on May 4, 2013.