Friday, August 13, 2010

Two Korean Villages Become UNESCO Sites

Andong City’s Hahoe Village and Gyeongju City’s Yangdong Village, which are the two most representative historic villages in Korea, were registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list at the 34th Session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) held in Brasilia, Brazil on August 1. With this designation, Korea now holds a total of 10 UNESCO World Heritage items. 

It is extremely rare for historic villages to be in intact state due to modernization and development and such, and the assessment of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is accordingly extremely rigorous. 

The Hahoe and Yangdong Village, too, had to go through a series of reviews, holdups, and postponements before they were granted the approval. ICOMOS recognized the two villages’ historic and cultural significance as early as last May and the legitimate ground in having them registered as one coupled-up item. However, due to the fact that there wasn’t a comprehensive administrative office that manages both of the villages together, ICOMOS sustained their approval.  

To this, Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration with Gyeongsangbuk-do, Andong City and Gyeongju City, organized “The Council on Preservation of Historic Villages” that was going to collaboratively manage and preserve the two villages. And after submitting to 21 member countries of WHC thorough information and promotional materials on the Hahoe and Yangdong Village as well as dispatching a government delegation to the 34th Session of WHC, were they able to put the two villages on the list of UNECO World Cultural Heritage. 

1995: Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple / Jongmyo Shrine / Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks 
1997: Changdeokgung Palace Complex / Hwaseong Fortress 
2000: Gyeongju Historic Areas / Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
2007: Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
2009: Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
2010: Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong

Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, Hahoe and Yangdong Village’s layout and location – sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto a river and open agricultural fields – reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). 

The Hahoe Village contains Yangjindang Manor (Treasure No. 306), Pikchondaek House (Important Folklore Material No. 84), Chunghyodang Manor (Treasure No. 414), and Namchondaek House (Important Folklore Material No. 90) among others. It has also preserved the shamanist rite of Byeolsin-gut, Hahoe Mask Dance, and Jeulbul Nori.

The Yangdong Village contains Mucheomdang (Treasure No. 411), Hyangdan (Treasure No. 412), Gwangajeong (Treasure No. 442) as well as Tonggamsokpyeon, a book printed on movable metal type (National Treasure No. 283). 

The two villages are the first of their kind in Korea to receive the honor in that they are places that are actually being inhabited by people. They are “living heritage.” Residents have well preserved not only traditional housings but the intangible culture of the two villages as well, which further increases the value of Hahoe and Yangdong. 

Having relics registered on the UNESCO list is pointless if they don’t continue to be properly looked after. The two villages, Hahoe and Yangdong, now having become world-acknowledged historic assets, will likely trigger a surge of tourists both domestic and international. And accordingly, we will need to further reinforce maintenance system and strengthen tourism infrastructure so that those precious vestiges of the past can still be there for the next generation to appreciate as well. 

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