Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hahoe Village now a UNESCO World Heritage site

Back from Gyeongsangbuk-do, the first thing I saw this morning on the newspaper was the picture of the very place I stayed in : Hahoe Village in Andong city has just been added to the prestigious World Heritage List*, along with Yangdong Village in Gyeongju city**.

Hahoe Maeul definitely deserves the honour for its exceptional site and cultural value, both well preserved.

The comparison with Naganeupseong, another Korean "folk village" I love***, tells a lot about Korean culture :

- Naganeupseong (낙안읍성) is a folk village located in Jeollanam-do, a region blessed for agriculture but always dominated politically by Southeastern Korea. Mostly inhabited by farmers working in the fields around the village and sometimes within it, the village is protected by fortified walls and castle gates (thus the "eupseong" name), and all houses are thatch-roofed and have the brown-orangish color of clay earth. It's a lovely site and a great place to stay overnight if you want to experience the traditional country life.

- Hahoe Maeul is more a "noble" (yangban) than a "folk" village. Its protections are natural : it almost looks like the bulging half of a yin-yang symbol wrapped with Hwacheon stream, with cliffs and mountains at a close distance. Founded by Yu Seong-ryong (Ryu Seong-ryong, 1542–1607), a prestigious Prime Minister and Confucian scholar, Hahoe belongs to its clan : the Pungsan Ryu, or the Yu / 유 family from Pungsan-myeon, this part of Andong city, the heart of Korea's politically dominant region, and an area lined with estates (jongtaek / 종택) still now owned by descendants of clan founders****. Hahoe Folk Village boasts many rich tiled-roof hanoks with white-painted walls, some with two-storey buildings, and in the very elegant local architecture. There are also fields and farms, but even the thatched-roof homes are bigger and less humble than in Nagan. The atmosphere is different, but people are also very kind for such a touristic area. In Hahoe, you can experience either the "noble" or the "commoner" stay for a relatively moderate price, except for the most exclusive residences. More upscale but previously derelict sites are under renovation, and the UNESCO label could change the price tags next year... but I hope people won't change too much.

Also of significance : Hahoe is the place Queen Elisabeth II chose to visit back in 1999. She wouldn't pick the charming Naganeupseong but Andong, the symbol of Korean nobility. What the Queen could meditate is the fact that in Korea, you don't inherit nobility titles : they are awarded to people who deserved them for what they have done and the way they behaved, and I guess that's all nobility should be about.

Which leads us to Confucius, because Gyeongsangbuk-do also happens to be the center of Korean neo-Confucianism, and the region is full of "seowon" or Confucian Schools from the Joseon era.

Unsurprisingly, Byeongsan Seowon (병산서원) is included in the UNESCO list as part of the Hanoe cluster : founded after Yu Seong-ryong, the academy is located on the same side of the river, but on the other side of a small hill now covered with a forest. Likewise, the Yangdong cluster includes two seowon : Oksan Seowon (옥산서원) and Donggang Seowon (동강서원).

Sponsored by the state, the best Gyeongbuk seowon produced country's elite and during the Joseon dynasty, politics and Confucianism fed each other in the region, relegating Buddhism to the background. Yet, temple lovers have many places to visit or to stay in, like Bongjeongsa.

The mix of Confucianism with politics is symbolized by Yi Hwang (1501-1570) : a key figure in both fields and an advisor to Korean kings, he served the country in troubled times and never accepted a political position higher than the local level his mother advised him never to surpass if he wanted to keep both feet on the ground. After Yi's death, his Confucian academy became Dosan Seowon, Gyeongbuk's most famous seowon, in what is now the Dosan-myeon part of Andong city. With its dozen buildings, the complex has elegant proportions and faces a small pavillion on the top of a round hill rising from a vast valley. A perfect place to learn and to read, even if no books are to be seen on the wooden shelves of the old publishing building.

In case you never set foot outside of Seoul, Yi's face and school appear on KRW 1,000 bank notes and his pen name, Toegye, might ring a bell : Toegyero (the road parallel to Jongro, Cheonggyecheon, and Uljiro) is named after him.

On an even more trivial note : on the way to Dosan Seowon, I had a great time at the yearly gut festival of Waryong-myeon. Nothing to do with food (that's "gut" as in 굿, the shamanic ritual, not the entrails), but the local administration offered the meal to anyone attending... and I'm afraid the local broadcasters caught me among the joyful crowd of old farmers, wolfing down delicious naengmyeon, bossam, and pumpkin after watching masked comedians playing a farce in Gyeongbuk dialect.

Even if Gyeongbuk is less famous than Jeolla for food, I put on an additional kilo every day. Local delicacies, and of course, once more, Andong Jjimdalk, were to blame. I could have stayed much longer : if not Confucian wisdom, I surely would have reached Buddha's shape in no time.

I also liked breakfast at Jirye Art Village, a nice spot if you're looking for a hanok stay in a very remote area. The other day, summer flowers and butterflies made the trip even more enjoyable on the winding way to the village - even if, to paraphrase Tom Waits, I did notice that the road needed a haircut, kudzu sometimes pointing its greedy fingers towards the opposite side. The village owner, a poet, grew up in buildings that, as cultural assets, were later moved up from the valley when the Imha dam was erected. I stayed in the cute house with a view on the lake.

There are so many places to visit in Gyeongsangbuk-do, one of Korea's most popular touristic destinations. Check the region's official website ( for updates. I, lazy me, just jotted down some of the places mentioned here on Seoul Village map :
=> Dosan Seowon (도산서원) : 680 Togye-ri, Dosan-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
=> Hahoe Folk Village (하회마을) : Hahoe-ri, Pungcheon-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
=> Yangdong Village (양동마을) : Yangdong-ri, Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk- do
=> Jirye Artists' Colony (지례예술촌 - : 769 Bakgok-ri, Imdong-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
=> Bongjongsa (봉정사, temple) : 901, Taejang-ri, Seohu-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Seoul Village 2010

* see on UNESCO's website : "
World Heritage Committee inscribes seven cultural sites on World Heritage List" and the page "Historic Villages of Korea : Hahoe and Yangdong".
** I passed by several yangban villages in Gyeongbuk (like Sanun Village in Uiseong-gun), but didn't visit that one, much closer to Pohang.
*** see "
Return to Naganeupseong"
**** it's not rare to hear two people sharing the same surname compare their origins when they first meet, to know which clan they belong to, for example I'm a Uiseong Kim, how about you ? Always this habit of checking if you're part of a common circle (ie university, church...).

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