Seodaemun Prison History Hall is a museum located in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea. The former prison first opened on October 21, 1908, under the name of Gyeongseong Gamok by the Japanese Government to house Korean liberation activists.
The museum is a living proof of the horrendous history and sufferings that Koreans had to go through during the Japanese colonial period. A number of Koreans who fought for the independence of the country were imprisoned there and tortured to death for their movement. This well-preserved prison represents the painful history of the country and the indomitable spirit of Korean independence activists.
The history hall is very similar to Auschwitz concentration camp built by the Nazi Germans in that a host of innocent people were killed by the ruling government. The only difference between the two is that the horrible act of Nazi is well known around the globe whereas the sufferings of Korea isn't.
The Japanese colonial era (일제강점기, Ilje Kangjeomgi in Korean) began with the end of the short-lived Korean Empire in 1910 and ended at the conclusion of World War 2 (1910 ~ 1945). The era is significant in meaning when describing the history of Korea. The whole country was brutally oppressed ; lots of historic materials were destroyed or stolen, the culture as well as the common people were annihilated and tribulated. Women were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese army, men were drafted to Japan to provide labor in inhumane working environments, many of whom were starved to death while working without food or rest.
The Japanese Government forced Koreans to abandon their original Korean name and change it to Japanese name. Not only that, the Japanese Government got rid of Korean books from schools, completely, and any student who spoke a word in Korean was instantly punished. The whole oppression was to completely annihilate the culture, spirit and history of the country.
Witnessing the people brutally exploited and suppressed, liberation activists started to rise. The fighters rose against the Japanese rule and worked secretly or in disguise at first. However at the height of the oppression, the whole country led by the the activists eventually rose up altogether on the 1st of March, 1919. During the period of the movement, almost 3,500 people were crammed into the prison which had space for only 500 people.
The independent activists drafted to the prison were tortured to name other fellows and if they didn't, they were assigned to a single cell with no toilet, no food, no light. They died from torture, malnutrition, disease and some were just simply beheaded or hanged.
The re-creation of torture rooms and life-like prisoners inside the museum is very realistic and you can experience what the prisoners suffered.
One of the most highly regarded female fighters, Yu Gwansun was also tortured to death in Seodaemun Prison at the age of 17.
On the second floor of the exhibition hall is a memorial place for the activists who died in the prison. The place displays the records of their imprisonment, including pictures, voices and hand writings. Unfortunately, not every victim was left on the record, so it's expected that the number of victims are even bigger than displayed there.
Outside the main exhibition hall are the execution building and the place where the dead bodies were disposed and incinerated. The Japanese Government tried to get away with the blame by disposing the bodies secretly through the exit as shown in the picture above.
The solemnity of these places is chilling, making you feel the horrible pain of the country history and the liberation activists.
If you're keen to find out more about the history of Korea, you must visit Seodaemun Prison History Hall, where the sufferings and the indomitable spirits of the fighters lie within.
Address : 251, Tongil-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
- Summer season (Mar ~ Oct) : 09:30 ~ 18:00
- Winter season (Nov ~ Feb) : 09:30 ~ 17:00
* Closed on every monday, 1st of Jan, Seol and Chuseok.
* Last admission is due 30 minutes before closing.
Admission Fees : Adults 3,000 KRW / Adolescent 1,500 KRW / Children 1,000 KRW
* Free admission for those older than 65
Inquiries : +82-2-360-8590
How to get to the history hall
- Subway Line 3 → Dongnimmun Station Exit 5
- Blue Bus : 471, 701, 702, 703, 704, 720, 752
- Green Bus : 7019, 7021, 7025, 7737
- Red Bus : 9701, 9703, 9709, 9710
* Hop off at Hyunjeo-dong, Independence park or Dongnimmun stop.
* Go on to the official website of the museum for more info.