Seoul: A City Transformed like None Other
With its electrified skyline and mass transit systems, it’s hard to imagine what Seoul looked like even just a hundred years ago. The Seoul Museum of History invites visitors to walk through the past six hundred years of Seoul’s history, showcasing images and artifacts that reveal the transformation of Korea’s capital.
The museum chronicles as far back as the Joseon dynasty, but my parents and I jumped ahead to the 20th century, starting with the special exhibit “Seoul in Rossetti’s Eyes”. This exhibit presents some of the earliest photographs taken in Seoul from 1902 to 1903 through the lens of Carlo Rossetti, an Italian diplomat to Korea.
These black-and-white photographs shed light on the daily lives of Seoul dwellers in the early 1900s, at a time when women wore traditional hanbok on a daily basis and most cooking was done in earthenware. Rossetti’s photos also expose the malnourishment and poverty that afflicted the city, but would now look so out of place.
We then exited into the main entrance hall, where we found a dual-panorama comparing the Seoul skyline from a photograph taken during the Japanese occupation and a photo taken in 2009. Visitors were busy trying to identify Seoul landmarks—some of which have disappeared from or are now covered by today’s cityscape.
There was also another special exhibit “Seoul in Turbulence” that showed the destruction of Seoul during the Korean War (1950-1953).
The mood of the museum became more upbeat with its exhibit on the 1960s to 2000s that highlights the advent of apartment living, the public bus system and the emergence of pop culture. Below is a picture of a Seoul telephone book and from the 1970s. My parents smiled and laughed as they reminisced about mobile-less days.
At the end of the tour, I arrived at an impressive panoramic model of Seoul. It is scaled to fit an entire hall, but the level of detail is so great that you can find a miniature of your apartment building!