About a mile from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, in the basement of a skyscraper, is one of the most remarkable museums I’ve ever visited: the Gongpyeong Historic Sites Museum. Gyeongbokgung and the National Museum get the attention, but if you want to see something really amazing, come here.
A few years ago, when work was starting on a new skyscraper, construction crews unearthed building foundations and materials from a 17th-century neighborhood. Archaeologists were able to use this to reconstruct a picture of daily life in this area, and incredibly, the building developers built a museum over the dig.
They built a glass floor over some of the dig, installed catwalks over some other sections, and cleared a path through the site elsewhere; so you have the experience of first walking over the site, then descending into it.
This being Korea, there are also giant screens everywhere, and a VR reconstruction of a building that you can explore (it’s not bad at all).
I’ve seen this kind of museum once before, over a Viking site in Turku, Finland, and each time I’m impressed by the idea of locating a museum right over a dig.
It’s rarely the case that the layout and architecture of a museum is just as interesting as the materials within it (and often museum designers strive to keep the space in the background of the visitor’s attention), but in this case, there’s no way not to admire the design. But for me at least, that didn’t detract from the historical material.
And the museum is HUGE. When you first go into it you don’t get a sense of just how big it’s going to be, but it’s just massive.
Finally, it was surprisingly quiet there, and there were no huge crowds. Which was a nice change from, well, everywhere else in Seoul!