Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Salgotyi Bridge

Researchers from Hanyang University will dig under the pier and along the piles of Salgotyi Bridge (Salgotyi Dari / 살곶이 다리), hoping to find artifacts from the early Joseon dynasty at the very feet of their own university.

Officially called Cheongok Bridge (Cheongokgyo / 천곡교) today, this most particular structure on the Jungnangcheon links the Northern and Southern halves of Seongdong-gu.

I say "most particular" for three reasons : this bridge is unnecessarily long, drawing a diagonal instead of the shortest cut, it's a rather odd feature in a strange place, and it's a very very old fellow.
Why this odd angle ? Maybe Salgotyi is just pointing towards Bukhansan for good karma. Maybe the diagonal reduces the risks of destruction when the stream grows stronger. After all, it was built after an important junction : here, Cheonggyecheon joins Jungnangcheon, which continues Westwards along Seongsu (now home to Seoul Forest) until it reaches the Han river.

Why the strange atmosphere ? This waterway-crossroad is doubled with and almost hidden by a highway-crossroad, and tripled with a railway-crossroad - most people drive by without noticing it, trying not to miss their exits or connections.
- the Southern "riverside" is completely covered by Dongbu Expressway : eight lanes of heavy traffic along the Jungnangcheon
- to the North, Cheonggyecheon's mouth exposes a few rotten teeth (concrete blocks probably meant to break the current where both streams merge)
- until recently the stream was covered with concrete until the end, but another elevated highway was built, covering this mouth with two gigantic arms : Naebu Expressway reaching for Dongbu Expressway, one two-lane-bridge for each direction.
- the "cheek" East of Cheonggyecheon's mouth (Yongdap-dong) is a vast industrial nightmare : a subway car depot, a water treatment plant
- the Western cheek used to be basically a wasteland : the University's backyard under Sageun-dong-gil
- like a Fu Manchu mustache on this disgracious face, Subway line splits over two bridges : Seongdong Bridge for the junction between Hanyang University Station and Ttukseom Station, Jangan Railway Bridge the Songsu Station - Yongdap Station link

... and like a fragile caterpillar at the feet of giant concrete bridges with their impressive piles, a very narrow and flat bridge stretches its small legs (only one meter above the water). From a distance and given the environment, it looks like a derelict concrete structure, waiting to be removed, but Salgotyi Dari was built with stones in 1483 (14th year of King Seongjong rule). During the XXth century, floods damaged the structure and concrete add-ons, but original piles remain.

This monument is already protected, but excavations could cast a new light in this previously forsaken area. Because believe it or not, if you put aside the two expressways, the situation has dramatically improved in the area :

. First, Cheonggyecheon restoration changed the mouth of the stream, now covered with vegetation particularly on its Eastern cheek... where the water treatment plant will be replaced by a big public park.
. The "teeth" breaking the current under the elevated highway host flocks of ducks and cranes which apparently find plenty of food to fish.
. The wasteland on the Western cheek became Salgotyi Park, a small sports complex for local residents.
. New bicycles lanes are full of bikers who can ride along Cheonggyecheon up to Yongdu-dong (Dongdaemun-gu), and all along Jungnangcheon from Dobong-gu / Nowon-gu to the Hangang bike network.
. Just a few hectometers west of Salgotyi Bridge, riverside grows much wider and greener, and the lane passes at the feet of Eungbong-dong hill, with its pagoda on the top and its beautiful colors in the spring or autumn.
. ...

Of course, the overwhelming feeling remains : the place looks more like a dump than a cultural / environmental hotspot. Because Seoul did the same mistake in the early 2000s as it did thirty years before : covering the city with more highways instead of finding more sustainable ways of commuting people.

More lanes are being added up North on the same Jungnangcheon and that's a shame as Seoul must prepare to reduce the number of cars intra-muros. That's a moral and environmental obligation, but also a demographical inevitability.

Maybe there's a pattern in oblique ways to join mainstream.

Seoul Village 2009

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