All around Seoul and the rest of Korea, there are markers and placards around historical sites saying "XXX place, Korean National Treasure # __" before the explanation.
Of them all, the top, the big numero uno, was Sungnyemun, also known as Namdaemun Gate. It was one of the gates to the old city, and it was originally built in 1396-8 or so.
Here's a picture.
Sungryemun, Korea's National Treasure #1
See more pictures here. Seriously, follow the link: it's a good photo essay on a really beautiful structure.
This morning, I got into school and everyone was buzzing. During my first class, I got two text messages: Namdaemun is Destroyed!
At first, I had no idea what that might mean.
(sorry. I did an image search of "Namdaemun Gate Destroyed" on google and that picture showed up.)
The truth was much less fanciful, and much more tragic.
They suspect it was arson: someone was seen climbing up inside the building, and a spark spotted shortly after.
I went down to see what it looked like.
Close enough to see some details of the ruin now.
The crosswalks around the intersection were all shoulder to shoulder. Many were taking pictures, but many were just standing, aghast.
Hundreds of people were just standing there, silently. Like a wake.
Every Korean I've talked to about this is shocked and dismayed -- nobody knows what to say. I don't even know what to compare it to.
For Americans, imagine Mount Rushmore or the Lincoln Memorial being destroyed by an earthquake. For Canadians. . . I have to reach; most of our defining symbols are natural features. Imagine if the Hockey Hall of Fame burnt down, and Bobby Orr died trying to save Wayne Gretzky, and Sidney Crosby's knee got shattered by a piece of flying debris as the building collapsed, maybe. Or if a geothermic event wiped out Niagara Falls as we know it, and left it as the Niagara steep rapids instead. Or if the CN Tower were 600 years old when it burnt own.
People milling about in shock, dumbstruck, with haunted eyes.
They say it'll take two years to rebuild, and hopefully they'll protect it, and other important Korean heritage buildings, against fire more carefully: this is not the first time a Korean heritage site has been threatened by fire.
P.S.: This post got linked by GI Korea on his popular Korea blog ROK Drop. Props for your coverage, and thanks for the kudos!