Seoul's Famous Insadong Neighborhood
by Brian Foden
Consisting of one main street and numerous narrow alleys, Insadong offers tourists and locals alike a wide variety of arts and crafts plus a look into Korea's past.
Seoul's distinctive district known as Insadong (the Korean word dong means neighborhood) has a long history dating back more than 500 years. At one time, it was actually two separate areas with names that ended in In and Sa, and they were separated by a stream. In its early days, Insadong was the home to government officials. After the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea from 1392 until Japan forcibly annexed Korea in 1910, the district became known for its antique shops. Many items for sale in the shops came from Korean aristocrats and other wealthy members of society who were forced by the Japanese to move out of the area and sell their possessions. These antique shops were soon replaced by galleries offering art for exhibition and sale.
The area gained in popularity with the public over the years, especially after the end of the Korean War in 1953. By the 1960s, the place was popular with foreign visitors who nicknamed it Mary's Alley, although it's not clear why or if Mary was an actual person. It was designated as a traditional cultural district in 1988, the same year that the Seoul Olympic Games took place. The Olympics, which brought an influx of visitors, also helped the reputation of Insadong to grow internationally. The City of Seoul redesigned the district as a cultural corridor in 1999 and 2000, replacing some of the ugly asphalt and cement with traditional Korean black tiles. In addition, the types of businesses that can be set up in Insadong are controlled. This is not to say that there are no modern buildings there. In fact, the neighborhood is a mix of traditional and modern influences. It even has a Starbucks, though the sign on the iconic coffee shop features traditional Korean lettering.
首尔这个独树一格的社区称作仁寺洞（『洞』在韩文中是邻里的意思），这个地方拥有悠久的历史，可以追溯至五百多年前。这里其实曾一度是两个独立的区域，原先的名字分别以『仁』与『寺』结尾，它们被一条溪流分隔开来。仁寺洞在早期是政府官员宅邸所在地。朝鲜王朝从 1392 年开始统治韩国，直到 1910 年日本强行并吞韩国为止，在朝鲜王朝结束之后，这个区域开始以古董店而闻名。商店里贩售的许多商品都是来自韩国贵族以及社会上其他富有人家，他们受到日本人胁迫而搬离这个地方并卖掉自身财产。这些古董店很快就被提供展览与贩售艺术品的画廊给取代了。
多年来，这个地区越来越受到大众的欢迎，特别是在 1953 年的韩战结束之后。到了 1960 年代，该区深受国外游客的青睐，他们将这个地方暱称为『玛丽小巷』，虽然不清楚原因也不知道是否真的有玛丽这个人。它于 1988 年被指定为传统文化区，首尔奥运亦于同年举行。奥运带来了大批的观光客，也促使仁寺洞的名声在国际间迅速成长。在 1999 年和 2000 年之间，首尔城将这个区域重新规划为文化回廊，以传统韩国黑色瓷砖取代部份丑陋的沥青与水泥。此外，这些能够在仁寺洞开设的企业类型也受到管制。这并不是说当地没有现代建筑。事实上，这个邻里是传统与现代影响混合下的产物。它甚至还有星巴克，虽然这家知名的咖啡店上面招牌主打的是传统韩国文字。