Namdaemun Gate burns down.

It's so sad, but Namdaemun's gate burned down. This was sent by my friend Jen:

Jen: Did you hear about Namdaemun Gate? How awful! :(

I concur.

Korea's Historic Namdaemun Gate Toppled By Fire
Vivian Wai-yin Kwok,


Tourists and South Koreans commiserated when Namdaemun, a 610-year-old landmark in Seoul, toppled, succumbing to an overnight fire early Monday.

Seoul’s downtown was covered with heavy smog and a deep sense of gloom on Monday after the roof of Namdaemun, South Korea’s foremost national heritage site, collapsed and the building’s burning wooden pillars tumbled onto the surrounding grassland.

"This was a symbolic place where everyone wants to visit when they come to Seoul," Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president, said, expressing his sadness when he visited the historic gate. "People's hearts will ache," mourned the newly elected president when officials briefed him on the damage to Namdaemun, the Yonhap news agency reported Monday.

The landmark, officially called Sungnyemun, or "gate of exalted ceremonies," was the southern gate of an ancient city wall built in 1395, during the Joseon Dynasty, and had been the oldest wooden structure in Seoul before the blast. The construction survived the Japanese occupation and was designated as the utmost national treasure in 1962.

Some 360 firefighters were sent to bring the blaze, which broke out at 8:50 Sunday night local time, under control. Lee Sang-joon, an official with the National Emergency Management Agency, said no one was injured.

The police are investigating if equipment used for illumination of the gate had caused an electrical fire or sparks, said Kim Young-soo, head of the Namdaemun Police Station. But the fire originated on the second floor, while the lighting equipment was located on the first floor.

Firefighters found two disposable lighters on the second floor, indicting it may have been a case of arson, Yonhap said, citing fire official Oh Yong-kyu.

Residents and shop owners around Namdaemun, however, criticized the firefighters for arriving too late to save the historic landmark. Koreans burst into tears when they saw the wooden gate finally break down five hours after the blaze started. Shop owners making a living at the crowded Namdaemun traditional market worried the damage to the structure would depress the number of visitors as well as their businesses.

South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration estimated it would take at least three years to restore the gate fully and would cost some $21 million. Yet, local architects suspected the damage was too extensive for restoration, fearing the authority might have to rebuild the whole monument.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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