Inside the National Museum of Korea

by - 11 June

Museum is a place we can all visit to appreciate, learn and travel through history. It is where we get a lot of information and have a glimpse of the people's lives, the kind of society they have and the important historical events that happened in the olden times through the artifacts on display. They are, of course, astonishing pieces that have survived time so people of the modern age can also explore and have a wider knowledge of the past. I have already visited many museums which always cultivate my sense of amazement as it guides me to cultural heritage and history but one stood out from the rest.

One of the exciting activities I definitely enjoyed when I got to visit Korea few years ago that gave me a remarkable experience to travel back in time and see a portion of Korea's rich history was our visit at the National Museum of Korea. Situated in the capital city of Seoul, the history and art museum represents Korea as a whole wherein it harmoniously blends traditional and contemporary styles through the exhibitions of artifacts and art pieces from notable periods. The three-floor museum was the first modern museum I've been to where it is said to be the world's sixth largest museum in terms of floor space that attracts millions of visitors annually. It houses over 300,000 pieces of treasured artifacts and relics from different periods in which some are on display in six permanent exhibitions which include the galleries of the Pre-history and Ancient History, Medieval and Early Modern History, Donation Gallery, Calligraphy and Painting Gallery, Asian Art Gallery, and the Sculpture and Crafts Gallery.

Crowd of students fill the exhibition hall entrance of the National Museum of Korea.

The national museum is divided into two exhibition buildings where its left structure symbolically represents the past and the right part represents the future. Just in front of the modern museum, especially on the ground floor, the structure is landscaped with inviting gardens and parks where it's fenced with plants and trees that often add beauty to the place during the beautiful seasons of spring and autumn. As the museum is divided into floors, it's quite huge so you need to spend a day to tour all the galleries and enjoy other amenities nearby the museum’s park.

It was autumn when we paid a visit to the National Museum of Korea so basically the surroundings were full of colors set in a pretty cold season. You will immediately notice the grandeur yet minimalist architecture of the museum when entering the great hall which serves as a reception and information desk for visitors. From there, you can rent out audio visual devices that provide artifact commentaries and serve as your digital guide that you can use to interactively tour all the galleries which is in major languages such as English, Chinese and Japanese. It was my first time to use a digital guide in a museum so the tour came in handy for me as it really is easy to use. If you are not into tech though, you don’t need to worry as besides the audio visual devices there are as well guided tours for everyone including tours in sign language.

Framed soil relics illustrating the early Korean pottery’s advancement in the olden times.

The first floor of the museum is divided into three gallery exhibitions namely the Pre-history and Ancient History, Medieval and Early Modern History, and the Thematic Exhibition. From the great hall entrance, we will begin our journey through time and explore the early periods of Korea's great heritage and history. Basically, the first part of the museum features the origin of the Korean culture from the Paleolithic Period to Bronze Age where it is followed by the ancient realm of Buyeo to Goguryeo Kingdom until the Three Kingdoms of Baekje, Gaya and Silla to the period of Unified Silla and the Kingdom of Balhae.

Exhibition display of an ancient warrior of the Confederacy of Gaya.

Enclosed in a glass case are the metal movable type that was once used by the royal court and the government offices during the Joseon period which is considered the largest collection of such kind in the world.

The relics and artifacts that are on display in numerous exhibition rooms in this floor were excavated from various sites across Korea where it ranges from dig out remains of human clay figurines, pottery developments, stone axes, bronze-made mirrors, gold crowns and royal ornaments, several patterned bricks and roof tiles, metal helmets and armours, the old armaments such as spearheads, swords and arrowheads to a grand replica of the mural paintings found in a royal tomb. The set of galleries showcase the early settlers’ progress in their lifetimes until the early civilization. Besides the ancient artifacts of the early periods and the special exhibition, important cultural artifacts of about 1,900 pieces from the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasty are also displayed here which I can say was my favorite part of the museum. In these galleries you can find historical heritage of the Korean dynasties and restored artifacts such as Buddhist-inspired art pieces and the bronze images of the Great Buddha, the impressive ten-story high pagoda sculptured with intricate designs that were originally erected at the Gyeongcheon Temple from Goryeo which is also Korea’s national treasure, including the replica of the vast map of the Joseon-built palaces. One that captivated me most and considered the highlight of the gallery is the largest collection of movable type in the world which is created during the grand era of the Joseon dynasty. More than 820,000 pieces of movable type have survived until this day and half of which is made of metal. They were once used by the Joseon royal court and government offices from the 17th to early 20th centuries and considered unique of its kind in the world.

A letter in Hangeul written during the Joseon dynasty which is exhibited at the Calligraphy and Painting section of the museum.

Scroll paintings depicting life, people and society during the old days of Korea.

Besides the cultural heritage that is showcased in various periods and dynasties, there's no reason to not appreciate at the other galleries. The museum’s second floor is divided into two exhibit galleries specifically the Donated Gallery and Calligraphy & Painting Gallery. Compared to the first collection which centers on the prowess of Korea’s old eras, it contains thousands of valuable works donated by private collectors from around the globe which are exhibited in ten gallery rooms. Artifacts such as beautifully designed white porcelain jars in various sizes and shapes including a number of antique Buddha sculptures are just few to be amazed at. In addition to, old precious seals, inscriptions by known calligraphers during the Joseon period, various Korean traditional paintings in scroll and folding types, and other art pieces related to Buddhism are also found here. I can say that one of the highlights of the collection is the Stele for the National Preceptor Nanggongdaesa originally erected at Taejasa which consists of exquisitely inscribed scripts made by Unified Silla's well-known calligrapher Kim Saeng, one of the four great masters of calligraphy in Korean history. Furthermore, there are also display collections of personal letters written in the Hangeul alphabet by well-known personalities of the Joseon dynasty, realistic paintings depicting life and society of the olden days just as the Album of Genre Painting by the 18th century painter Danwon, wood and lacquer-made crafts in which some were inlaid with mother-of-pearl, as well as the process of making and replicating old painting portraits for restoration purposes. Whether you are into the arts or not, you will definitely appreciate Korea's old society, its people and their heritage through these masterpieces. There really is a lot to learn in these galleries so getting lost figuratively is just a good idea as all of the artifacts on display are interestingly rich in history. In the collection of Calligraphy & Painting, artifacts and displays are usually rotated with different art sets to preserve them from damaging so there's something to look forward to every time you visit the museum besides the permanent exhibitions.  
The iron seated Buddha made during the Unified Silla is housed in the Ancient History Gallery of the National Museum of Korea.

On the third floor is where a collection of Asian Art and the galleries of Sculpture and Crafts from other countries are located. It features 1500 artworks and cultural treasures gather round from Asia to showcase the similarities of cultures and uniqueness of the Asian cultural heritage. From white porcelain made vases and celadon wares like the 12th century old Celadon Incense Burner with Openwork Design which is as well a national treasure of Korea, to various metal art crafts and other important relics that recovered from a shipwreck, each of the time-worn artifacts indeed has its own place in the history of the country it represents. Besides, the gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation and Amitabha Buddha which are Korea's national treasures are exhibited here which showcase the astounding craftworks and expertise of Korean artisans in their times.

Korean students having their educational tour along with their guide at the National Museum of Korea.

As a place of knowledge, it also offers diverse cultural and educational programs for everyone most especially for families, children and students. In fact, on the day we visited the museum there were crowd of students touring round the galleries for their educational activity so it’s particularly a perfect place for learning. Moreover, there are also outdoor exhibitions to anticipate about such as the pagodas and stone monuments including the national treasure Bosingak Bell made during the Joseon period.

Visiting the museum is like traveling back through time where you can be a part of history through the artifacts that are on exhibit display. You will definitely enjoy every piece of history inside the National Museum of Korea. I miss out on some of the galleries particularly on the last two galleries as we have limited time to tour the museum and to tell it’s really huge so there's another reason to visit again. In my experience, it was the first museum that I visited outside my country which impressed me a lot as it also has modern facilities like digital information booths, library, video rooms, theatre, lounge, public phones, café, restaurant, museum shop and even rental service for strollers and wheel chairs for the convenience of visitors.

The National Museum of Korea is open all week long including holidays in which admission fee is free for the public. It is easily accessible through the Seoul subway so don’t forget to include it in your travel bucketlist when in the capital city. For more information and advance online reservation of tickets, you can visit the museum's official website at

How to get there?
By subway, take Line 4 or the Jungang Line (Munsan-Yongmun) to Ichon Station. Get to Exit 2 and walk around 150m toward Yongsan Family Park.
Address: 137, Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 용산구 서빙고로 137 (용산동6가)

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