The Straits Times
Published on Nov 09, 2012

S. Korea's top cultural treasure rises from the ashes


SEOUL (AFP) - Five years ago, as he watched TV images of South Korea's foremost historical treasure being engulfed in flames lit by a lone arsonist, Mr Hong Chang Won remembers having to turn his head away.

"It was too heartbreaking to see such beautiful architecture being destroyed like that," said Mr Hong, a registered master craftsman who specialises in traditional Korean ornamental painting.

Seoul's 600-year-old Namdaemun (South Gate), listed as "National Treasure Number One" and a source of immense cultural pride, was almost burned to the ground on Feb 10, 2008.

The largely wooden structure that had managed to survive the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War was reduced to ashes by a disgruntled 69-year-old man with some paint thinner and a cigarette lighter.