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Past & Present: 1
Cheongwadae — A Blue-Hued Power House
By Alan Timblick
President of The Seoul Times
The first President of the Republic, Syngman Rhee, in an avuncular pose seated in the garden of the Blue House with his wife,Francesca Donna Rhee on the occasion of her birthday.

Heads of goverment normally reside and have their offices in places which are well known addresses committed to memory by their citizens. Washington has the White House, London the prosaic Number 10 Downing Street and Paris has the Elysee Palace.

In Korea, the President resides and works in the Blue House. Unlike its US counterpart, the building is not named after the colour of its walls. The main edifice is roofed with some 150,00 curved tiles, crafted in Korean traditional style and glazed with a deep blue colour. Hence, the Blue House.

The official name is Cheongwadae, which can be translated as Blue-roofed-pavilion. It has been the official residence of the President since the establishment of the Republic in 1948.

But its history goes back a lot further and since the Kingdom of Goryeo at least back to the 13th Century it has had an association with the Head of State, having been the site of a Royal Villa when Seoul was called Hanyang and the capital was at Gaeseong.

The Capital moved to Seoul during the Chosun dynasty and the main residence of the King was the Gyeong-buk Palace. So the area now occupied by the Blue House complex was in effect the back garden of the royal palace. There are indications that it was used during that time for hosting civil service examinations and for martial arts training.

During the thirty-five years of Japanese occupation, while the Gyeongbuk Palace grounds were used for the offices of the Governor-General, his official residence was built in the garden at the rear. It was this building which was taken over by the first President of the Republic, Syngman Rhee. . It was his successor, Yoon Bo Sun, who gave the residence its current official name.

Rebuilding work took place during the 1980’s and in 1991 a new office building, official residence and press center were completed. The former Japanese building lasted until 1993 when it was demolished.

There are legends associated with the location which give it an aura of power appropriate for the seat of the Head of State and the tradition of geomancy (Pung Soo) seems to confirm that it is an auspicious place, backed by Bugak and Bukhan Mountains and flanked by Naksan and Inwangsan on either side. It faces south towards Namsan and the Han River and in the days before Seoul became crowded with skyscrapers, would have had a commanding view of the city.

The “Blue House” has become to be popularly taken as a reference to the President and the Staff of the Presidential Offices and, by association. the seat of government.

This is the first of our new series. The next one will be about a foreign Korean patriot, Dr. Homer Hulbert.

Alan Timblick OBE
President, The Seoul Times
Korea's only on-line English language Daily

Alan Timblick serves as President of The Seoul Times. He grew up in England, graduated from Oxford University, and has lived in Seoul for over three decades. A former banker, he also worked for the Korean gpvernment as head of Invest Korea and for Seoul City as head of the Seoul Global Center.






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