Sungnyemun, South Korea's top national treasure was burnt down on Feb, 10th in Korean time.
All people in Korea are shocked to hear this tragic news. It happened right after New Year day and right before Inauguration Day of new korean president, Myung-bak, Lee. So such coincidence is being regarded as a sign of calamity.
Fire Destroys Sungnyemun, South Korea's Top Treasure (Update1)
By Heejin Koo
Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Fire destroyed Seoul's 600-year-old Sungnyemun Gate after a five-hour battle by 120 firefighters failed to save South Korea's top national treasure.
The capital's oldest wooden structure, also known as Namdaemun, or South Gate, caught fire at 8:46 p.m. yesterday and was burnt to its foundations by 2 a.m., police officials said. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.
``We're having difficulty in trying to ascertain what exactly happened,'' Kim Young Soo, chief of Namdaemun police station, told reporters today at a televised briefing. ``We have obtained three eye-witness accounts of how the fire started, but they conflict with one another.''
Namdaemun, which South Korea declared its ``National Treasure No. 1'' in 1962, was completed in the early Chosun Dynasty during the reign of its first King Taejo in 1398 and was one of Seoul's eight main gates. It was renovated in 1447 and has undergone repairs, the latest in 1961.
One witness, a taxi driver, said he saw a man in his 50s carrying a shopping bag climb the side of the gate's stone foundations a few minutes before the fire, Kim said. Police are trying to identify the man and are seeking more witnesses.
Investigators have viewed footage from security cameras around the area, Kim said, adding it didn't immediately reveal the cause of the blaze.
Seoul's architectural heritage was decimated by the Japanese occupation from 1910-1945 and the 1950-1953 Korean War, as most of its structures were built of wood and prone to fire.
In May 2006, a drunken man set fire to the 18th Century Hwaseong Fortress, located in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, outside Seoul. The fortress, which was destroyed, was designated a World Cultural Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1997.
The rebuilding of Namdaemun will take at least three years and cost about 20 billion won ($21.2 million), Yonhap News reported, citing Kim Sang Koo, a Cultural Heritage Administration official in charge of the architectural heritage division.
President-elect Lee Myung Bak, who takes office Feb. 25, visited the site today and held talks with officials on the investigation and the reconstruction of the gate.
To contact the reporter on this story: Heejin Koo in Seoul at email@example.com
Last Updated: February 10, 2008 23:08 EST
photo from ohmynews.com