Yangcheon Hyanggyo (양천향교역) Line 9 – Station #906

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Three things stick out when you arrive at Yangcheon Hyanggyo Station.  First of all, there’s the enormous field of construction to the west, which we also mentioned in our visits to Balsan and Sinbanghwa Stations.  Second is the sizeable CJ Gimpo Factory to the east.  Third is the not-unpleasant bourgeois atmosphere surrounding the neighborhood’s clean new apartments and its clean new restaurants and its clean new cafes.  If at first that seems to add up to a somewhat unremarkable area, however, after a bit more digging Yangcheon Hyanggyo turns out to be a surprisingly interesting place and one with an unexpected amount of historical significance.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Some of this pops up rather suddenly.  While walking between some of the neighborhood’s many apartment complexes I stumbled across the Seongju Well and Gingko Tree (성주우물 은행나무).  The tree, surrounded by a low metal railing at the top of some steps, was grand, with a thick trunk, and where its bark was gone it looked more like stone than wood.  The sign next to it said that it was 18 meters tall, 2.2 meters around, and approximately 430 years old.  In front of the tree was a circle of stones marking where the Seongju Well used to be.  According to a plaque on the site, this spot once lay upon a major route from Seoul to Kaeseong and Pyongyang, and a large pier had once served boats on the Han River, just a few hundred meters away.  Presumably travelers and merchants would dock their vessels here and climb up the bank to fetch water at the well, perhaps drinking some of it while resting in the shade of the gingko.  To reach it now, go out Exit 3, and take the second right, just after금왕돈까스.

All other spots of note are conveniently clustered together northwest of the station, close to Exit 2.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

The most significant of these, and the one that gives its name to the station itself, is Yangcheon Hyanggo (양천향교).  To reach it, take an immediate left upon exiting the station, followed by an immediate right onto Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길), and when you arrive at Hongwon Temple continue straight down the little alley that runs to the temple’s left.

Hyanggyos were the government-run Confucian temples and academies of the Joseon period, and of the 234 hyanggyos that once existed in Korea, Yangcheon is the only one still remaining in Seoul.  Built in 1411, it was restored in 1981 and then again in 2008.  Today Seoul Metropolitan City recognizes it as Monument No. 8.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

I recognize it as an enormous pain in the ass.  Of all the places I’ve visited for Seoul Sub→urban, this one was the hardest to actually get in to see, though the reason for that is mostly extraordinarily bad timing.  To wit: I first came here in early January.  When I arrived, it was closed for some minor repairs or construction, which a sign said would be completed by the 10th.  So a few days after the 10th I showed up again.  Still closed for construction.  Then I went back a third time.  I was on that side of town, visiting another station, and after I finished up I decided to swing by the hyanggyo and try my luck.  It was closed.  I was lamenting the slow pace of construction when I took a closer look at the site information near the entrance.  It closed at 4:00.  It was 4:30.  OK, this one was on me.  So I tried again the next weekend. The yellow plastic sawhorses and other construction material outside had been moved, mostly piled in one spot, so I was hopeful.  But it wasn’t open.  This time there were some ajummas in a caretaker building next door and I asked them if I could go in.  They said it was still closed for construction.  I asked when the construction would be finished.  They said they didn’t know but that it should be ‘soon.’  I left, then remembered that there was an information number posted, so I went back and jotted it down.  I wasn’t coming back again without calling ahead.  A few weeks later, my girlfriend called to ask if it was open.  The man she spoke to said it was.  I hustled out the door and made the one-hour subway ride to Gangseo-gu, looking forward to finally having this over with.  The hyanggyo was closed.  It was Monday.  The hyanggyo was closed on Mondays.  I’d written this down and then totally forgotten.  I found this very funny.  A week later another phone call was made.  Would it be open on Friday afternoon?  Yes it would.  Was it open?  Yes, finally, it was.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

It was in these impossible buildings that, once upon a time, classes about traditional Confucian courtesy were held, as well as lectures on Chinese characters, calligraphy, Korean traditional food, and tea ceremonies.  It’s of course no longer an active school, but ritual ceremonies, called bongsim (봉심), are performed twice a month, and in February and August a Confucian worship ceremony, Seokjeondaejae (석전대재) is held.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

The complex is fronted by a spiked red wooden gate, behind which are sets of stairs that lead up a slope to three wooden doors in the stone wall that surrounds the school.   On the slope are nine songdeokbi (송덕비), stone tablets commemorating government officials, arranged in two rows, four in back and five in front.  The doors are burgundy and are painted with the blue, red, and yellow swirl of a samtaegeuk (삼태극) and sit below emerald eaves.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

When you enter the hyanggyo you first step into a courtyard flanked by two minor halls where students once lived, the Seojae (서재) to the west and the Dongjae (동재) to the east, the latter of which had a pair of sky blue rubber slippers set outside its door.  The dirt courtyard was pounded smooth and flat, like a bocce court, and a stone path ran straight down its center to another set of stairs, which led up to Myeongnyundang (명륜당), which was the main class building.  Its paint was a bit cracked in spots and the paper screen in one of the doors was torn, but it had a reassuring solidity, which must come with six centuries’ existence.  Paths ran around its sides to the rear, where two tile and mortar chimneys flanked low tables stacked up on a narrow back porch.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Behind Myeongnyundang and up one more set of stairs, at the rear of the complex was the main hall, Daeseongjeon (대성전), or ‘Great Sanctuary,’ where sacrificial rites to Confucius are performed every spring and fall.  The doors to the Daeseongjeon and its courtyard were locked, but from the ledge in front I could look over the low wall to either side and see half of each at a time.  To the west was a small auxiliary building, the Jeonsacheong (전사청) and a Korean flag swaying almost imperceptibly in the lightest of breezes.  The Daeseongjeon was, like the other buildings, painted predominantly in burgundy and jade, but its beams were accented with brilliant navy, periwinkle, yellow, tangerine, and crimson.  In the strong early spring sun, the roof tiles took on an almost purplish hue which was broken up by stripes of fallen leaves that had collected in the depressed areas between ridges.  Behind the Daeseongjeon was a sloping half-moon lawn lined with trees.  It was remarkably quiet, the only sounds that carried to my ears being birdsong and the rustle of wind as it brushed past the stiff brown tips of long grasses that hadn’t yet sprung back to life.  Alone, I found the hyanggyo putting me in a reflective, contemplative air, and for all the difficulty I’d gone through trying to see it, I found myself already thinking about coming back again, next time with a text book or novel.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

En route to Yangcheon Hyanggo is Hongwon Temple (홍원사), impossible to miss with the large golden stupa that crowns its roof, looking more Burmese than Korean.  Much easier to overlook is what’s next to it, however: a stone marker and plaque set in a small traffic island that signal the location of Yangcheon Hyeonahji (양천현아지).  The plaque features a reproduction of an old area map and an explanation of the historical district, which dates to at least 1310.  The plaque also explains that ‘of all the regional districts in Korea, the Yangcheon prefecture was the only one established within a 500-meter radius.’  Frankly, I don’t know exactly what that means.  The entire prefecture wasn’t more than a kilometer from end to end?  It was the only prefecture established within a half-kilometer of something else?  Of what?  The plaque goes on to say that because of this, the site ‘possesses significant merits for research,’ which makes me lean toward the former explanation, though I can’t be sure.  In any case, the text explains the layout of the old district, describing where various important buildings – the magistrate’s office, the guest house, the Confucian shrine – were located in relation to one another.  The plaque also claims that the area was a favorite with poets and calligraphers, and at the bottom displays a poem written by King Jeongjo in 1797:

The ripples of Han River in fall, like cotton cloth unfurled,

My horse trots lightly over the rainbow bridge.

The fields in four directions covered in clouds of yellow,

I rest my troops in the guesthouse at Yangcheon.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

One other building that the Yangcheon Hyeonahji plaque mentioned was Soakru Pavilion (소악루), which can now be found in Gungsan Neighborhood Park (궁산근린공원), reachable via a small path to the left of Yangcheon Hyanggo’s entrance.  The pavilion was originally named Akyangnu Pavilion (악양루) and, like many historical structures in Seoul, was originally located elsewhere, in this instance at the foot of Mount Gung near a spot called Wash Basin Rock (세숫대 바위).  According to Yangcheon Hyeonahji’s plaque, it was probably attached to Yangcheon’s guest house as an auxiliary facility.  I couldn’t find any information on the original pavilion’s original date of construction, but a sign next to the current structure explained that the pavilion was rebuilt by Lee Yu (이유), the magistrate of Dongbok (동복), on the site of Akyangnu sometime during the reign of King Yongjo (1724-76).  The current pavilion was reconstructed in its new location in 1994.  Offering views not only of the Han River, but also of Nam, Inwang, and Gwanak Mountains, it was rightly popular with the well-to-do, and while the scenery is blighted somewhat nowadays by riverside expressways, apartment buildings, and warehouses, it’s still not a bad spot to work on your calligraphy or just work on your bottle of Cass.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

The park also contains the Ancient Fortress Site in Yangcheon (양천고성지), Historic Site No. 372.  Across the Han was the fortress of Haengjusanseong and together the two formed a pair well situated to guard the mouth of the river along with Odusanseong Fortress in Paju.  The fortress here was built of earth and stone and surrounded an area on the mountain’s (OK, hill, really.  It’s only 74 meters high.) peak with a circumference of 200 meters.  Numerous pottery shards and roof tiles dating to the Unified Silla period have been found here.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Now, of course, the area is simply a place for the Yangcheon public to relax or get some exercise.  Magpies flit through the trees, walking paths curl around the hill, and several platforms and picnic tables provide resting spots.  One guy, dressed in everyday hanbok, was eschewing these in favor of his own mat, which he had spread out in a small clearing and was laying on spread-eagle, soaking up the winter sun.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Just outside the park’s main entrance is Gyeomjae Jeongseon Memorial Museum (겸재정선기념관), an elegant glass building dedicated to Jeong Seon (1676–1759), one of Korea’s most famous painters.  Jeong Seon, whose pen name, Gyeomjae, means ‘humble study,’ was born into a noble, though not wealthy, literati family in Cheong-un-dong (청운동), between Bugak Mountain and Inwang Mountain, the center of Korean literary culture in the late 17th century.  He went on to hold government posts, including that of prefect (hyeollyeong) (현령) right here in the Yangcheon district, but he’s far more famous for his artistic work and for departing from traditional Chinese styles and developing ‘true-view landscape painting’ (진경산수화).

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

The artworks on display in the museum are all reproductions, most of the originals being part of the National Museum’s collection, but that doesn’t prevent one from admiring their graceful, austere beauty, their color palette often limited to a striking, near monochromatic range of carbon blues and grays.  There are also interesting touches like a fascinating interactive feature that displays Jeong Seon’s paintings of different spots in Seoul, showing where in the city they are set, and comparing them to photos of the present day location.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Jeong Seon is most renowned for his landscapes, and many of these are of locations within Seoul, including both the gingko tree next to Seongju Well and scenery viewed from Gungsan.  His favorite subject, though, were the Geumgang Mountains (금강산), which he painted some one hundred times.  His most well-known work related to the Gangwon landscape being Geumgang Perspective (금강전도), designated National Treasure 217 and part of the Leeum Museum collection.

Yangcheon Hyanggyo by Meagan Mastriani

Jeong Seon’s most famous work, however is known by everyone in South Korea, whether they know they know it or not.  Before you hand over your 1,000 won to go into the museum, flip it over.  On the back is Jeong Seon’s painting ‘Living Quietly, Settled Near Where the Brook Flows’ (계상정거도).  Now take a good look at the small house tucked between pine trees on a bend in the water near Andong.  See the figure seated inside?  That’s Toegye Yi Hwang (퇴계 이황), the famed Confucian scholar whose sagacious visage graces the note’s front.

 

Seongju Well and Gingko Tree (성주우물 은행나무)

Exit 3

Take the second right, just after 금왕돈까스

 

Yangcheon Hyanggo (양천향교)

Exit 2

Left out of exit, Right on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길), Straight on alley to the left of Hongwon Temple (홍원사)

http://www.hyanggyo.net

Phone: 02) 2658-9988

Open 10:00 – 16:00, Closed Mondays

 

Hongwon Temple (홍원사)

Exit 2

Left out of exit, Right on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길)

 

Yangcheon Hyeonahji (양천현아지)

Exit 2

Left out of exit, Right on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길)

 

Gungsan Neighborhood Park (궁산근린공원), Soakru Pavilion (소악루), and Ancient Fortress Site in Yangcheon (양천고성지)

Exit 2

Left out of exit, Right on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길), Veer left at stay on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil at Hongwon Temple

 

Gyeomjae Jeongseon Memorial Museum (겸재정선기념관)

Exit 2

Left out of exit, Right on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil (양천로49길), Veer left at stay on Yangcheon-ro-49-gil at Hongwon Temple

Hours | Tuesday – Friday 10:00 – 18:00, Saturday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00; Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year’s, and Chuseok

Admission | Adults: 19-64 1,000 won, Kids: 7-18 500 won, Under 7 and over 64: Free, Free

gjjs.or.kr

Phone: 02) 2659-2206~7

About these ads

2 thoughts on “Yangcheon Hyanggyo (양천향교역) Line 9 – Station #906

  1. Pingback: Weekly SEOUL: Ultra Korea 2013 | SEOUL Magazine

  2. Pingback: Weekly SEOUL: Hi Seoul Bike Parade | SEOUL Magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s