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5 big reasons to visit the Seoul National Museum, now

Emperors of Istanbul Exhibit
Emperors of Istanbul Exhibit
Michael Rosenfield

1. The special exhibition, The Civilizations of Turkey: Emperors in Istanbul, is a site to behold

Pensive Budha
Michael Rosenfield

The "Emperors of Istanbul" exhibit celebrates 55 years of diplomatic relations between S. Korea and Turkey. The exhibit was created to ring in a new era of cooperation and friendship between the two countries. It is a first of its kind revealing Turkey’s rich historical past and runs until September 2. It's a walk through time and Turkish history. The exhibition begins with Ancient Civilizations, and moves on to the rise of the Hittites, and ends with the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

Ancient Civilizations and Hittites

Hittites were people of the Bronze Age (1750-1180 BC) who created large powerful kingdoms in Hattusa and Nesa (now central Turkey). At the height of the Hittite reign, the empire expanded as far south as Canaan, and to the east and west -Mitanni and Arzawa, respectively. Hittite history is mentioned in the Hebrew bible describing them as having lived among the Israelites and even serving in King David’s army. Significant artifacts from this period include the Endowment Document (Hittite 1586-1556), Jug with Trefoil Mouth (800 BCE thought to be the tomb of Phrygian King Midas), and a Stag Statuette (3000 BCE).

The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years and ended in 1922. The museum holds a well preserved artifact from the time of the reign of Mehmed II (1432-1481). It is a beautiful golden leafed Koran that once belonged to Sultan Bayezid II. Sultan Mehmed’s II father, Mehmed the Conqueror, captured Constantinople from the Roman Empire. Then in 1453, Mehmed II made Constantinople the new capital of the Ottoman Empire and named it Istanbul. Other displays include a turban (17th century) made of gold, diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds; a Koran Chest; and a stand for Coffee Cup (19th Century).

2. The Sinan Shipwreck artifacts reveal trade secrets along the Silk Road
In the summer of 1323, the Sinanseon sunk off the coast of Sinan, Jeollanamdo, South Korea. The ship served as a transportation link along the Silk Road servicing China, Korea and Japan. It was loaded with ceramics en route to Hakata and Tokyo, but sank a month after its departure near Korea. Then in 1975, a fisherman snagged pottery from the wreck into his nets. The artifacts were soon identified initiating the full-scale excavation of the site. The museum has dedicated two large rooms to the artifacts recovered from the shipwreck. They were remarkably well preserved and not only are they interesting but very revealing as well. What's interesting is -many personal artifacts from passengers and employees were also recovered. They offer compelling clues to what life must have been like 650 years ago.

3. The artwork and mammoth architecture of the museum itself is inspiring
The museum itself is a monument of outstanding design and Korean architectural prowess. Its structure rests in harmony with nature and the surrounding environment. It is energy efficient, "green" and is true to Korean architecture. The building sits in the middle lush park grounds where picnicking is encouraged. A lake with waterfalls and fountains, forever reflects the museum's image. The building was built to last and takes up an area of 50, 000 m sq. with interior floor space that approaches 140,000 m. sq. It is composed of steel, concrete and granite, and looks like it could survive a nuclear strike. The walls, floors and grand stairways are lined with golden tan marble. The mammoth monolithic structure works well with its surroundings.

4. The museum has an amazing collection of Paleolithic artifacts, marking our earliest beginnings
Paleolithic artifacts (paleoliths) mark our earliest beginnings as human beings. They stand in stubborn defiance of the ravages of time. They seem to cry out -we were here and this is proof. The Paleolithic period began 2.6 million years ago and continued to 10,000 years ago, and spanned the two geological epochs of Pliocene and Pleistocene. The earliest humans are classified by scientists as Homo-habilis and Australopithecus. Society consisted of small groups of hunter-gatherers. The first evidence of human life on the Korean peninsula dates back to 700, 000 years ago. At that time, Hominids created stone tools, commanded fire, invented rafts and created language. It is amazing to see and stand next to objects handled and created by ancestors who were a part the dawn of our existence. There's a strange feeling that comes over me as I stand next to an artifact created by a person who was a part of humanity's birth. Here I am, there it is, we're separated by an ocean of time, yet it quietly rests, here and now. How could one not have a deep sense of wonderment, awe, and appreciation for these lost possessions?

5. There is a continuous record of Korean history from the Paleolithic Period to the present. The record takes visitors on what seems to be a trip through time. Visitors first walk through the exhibits in the following order: Neolithic Period, Bronze Age/Gojoseon Period, Buyeo Kingdom/Samhan Period, Guguryeo Kingdom, Baekje Kingdom, Gaya Confederacy, Sila Kingdom, Unified Silla Period…etc). Each of these periods left unique stories, artifacts, gifts and treasure. They sit quietly in glass cases, echoes in time, for us to treasure and remember them by.

For more information please visit Seoul National Museum


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