Cheonggyecheon Stream made its debut in the fall of 2005 and ever since has been an “oasis in the city” beloved by many Seoul citizens. Stretching10.85km long and with a basin area of 59.83㎢, its name during the Joseon Period was “Gaecheon”(開川) and it once played the role of a sewer that kept the capital city clean. Now it is a stream in the heart of the city, and it has been restored based on the historical and cultural data like Gwangtonggyo Bridge and the wall painting of Jeongjo banchado (Royal Procession of King Jeongjo), and the habitat of many plants and animals like day lilies and herons.
There are 8 hidden sights at Cheonggyecheon Stream you must not miss. Knowing about these gems—hidden here and there across an area of approximately 5.8km—in advance will make your encounter with each of them all the more meaningful. Sight #1 is Cheonggye Plaza, the start of the Cheonggyecheon Stream trail and well known for its snail-shaped sculpture. Various performances as well as flea markets operate here, which attract many people both during the day and night. It is beloved by citizens as a place that offers enjoyment both to the eyes and ears.
The old Cheonggyecheon Stream was called a clear brook, a place where people gathered to do their washing and play in the water. No washing is done there now, but at Cheonggye Plaza there are exhibitions, performances, flea markets and various cultural events that frequently taking place that help cleanse the hearts of its visitors. Of course, children still like to cool off here on hot summer days.
But this was not always a welcome place. In the Joseon Period it was a cumbersome stream that would flood over when there was heavy rainfall in the summer, and swept away houses and people, causing a lot of damage. So from King Taejong’s time a lot of attention was given to make it safe and clean, and in time it became the Cheonggyecheon Stream of today that anyone can enjoy and visit.
There are flowers on the water, on the streets, and everywhere you look. A garden has been created where flowers are uniquely arranged. Vases made from plastic bottles and tires hang on the walls, and tin can vases hang above the water to create a suspended garden. The brightly-colored flowers attract the gaze of passerby and are captured in numerous photographs.
Sight #2 is Gwangtonggyo Bridge. Unlike other, “straight” bridges, it has beautiful patterns sculpted into the stones, but there is also a sad story behind them as well. This used to be the stones of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye’s most beloved wife Queen Seondeok’s tomb, but they were taken by Yi Bang-won, the son of his first wife, out of revenge, to be made into materials for a bridge to be tread on by everyone. But letting bitter history be bygones, the water trickles on and the people on the bridge continue to pass by, indifferent.
Sight #3 is the wall painting of Jeongjo banchado (Royal Procession of King Jeongjo), painted by Kim Hong-do, and is the world’s largest ceramic mural. It stands at a height of 2.4m, and a length of 192m; this mural is the result of a handwork, made of 5,120 ceramic tiles. The painting depicts King Jeongjo and his mother Lady Hyegyeonggung Hong’s ceremonial procession as they return from Hwaseong Fortress, Gyeonggi-do and Hyeollungwon Royal Tomb where the Crown Prince Sado was buried; they had gone there to commemorate the Crown Prince’s sixtieth birthday. As you walk along this long mural—which includes 1,779 people and 779 horses—you may actually hear the music of the instruments and the sound of horses blasting from the speakers along the way, making you feel as if you too are a part of the procession.
Sight #4 is Fashion Plaza, located on Ogansugyo Bridge. Fashion Plaza with its beautifully colored tile murals and a fountain has become a resting place for many people all the time. The fountain and tile murals make up the backdrop for many photos in this popular photo zone. The waterborne stage beneath Ogansugyo Bridge showcases on-the-water fashion shows from April through October on the second Saturday of the month. The name Ogansumun means a “watergate with five doors,” installed to allow the stream running beneath the southern city wall of Dongdaemun to easily flow out of the city. However, it completely disappeared because of construction work that started in the late 1950s to cover up the Cheonggyecheon Stream, then it was restored in its traditional form through the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project started in 2003.
Sight #5 is the site that used to be the washing place of women of old. Cheonggyecheon was called “clear brook” in the past and was a place where people gathered to do their laundry and exchange small talk. Washing your clothes or swimming here is not allowed now, but it still remains a beloved place to meet, and you can often see people in small groups, talking and resting.
Sight #6 is the Wishing Wall, made up of the wishes of the citizens of Seoul. 20,000 square tiles encapsulate the many dreams of numerous people, from preschoolers to elderly people in their eighties, and are imbued with fun and meaning. These gathered wishes make up the bright hopes of Seoul, and make Cheonggyecheon Stream all the more beautiful.
Sight #7 is Jonchigyo Bridge Piers. Cheonggye Overpass was torn down during the 2003 Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project, but these three bridges remain as evidence of what was once there. A fountain has been erected next to them, and on sunny days a rainbow appears as though to comfort the bridge’s ruins, which were left behind in history.
A place of nature, Beodeul Marsh, is Sight #8 and the final sight. Unlike Sights 1 through 7, here awaits the greenery of nature free anything artificial. Beodeul Marsh, an environment created to allow aquatic plants like pussy willows or flag irises to flourish, is Cheonggyecheon Stream’s most nature-friendly location. Moreover, having been designated a bird sanctuary, you can see various birds there like the Great Egret and mallard duck. It truly is the best place to experience nature in the heart of the city.
Between Cheonggyecheon Stream’s Gosanjagyo Bridge and Muhakgyo Bridge are the Cheonggyecheon Museum—where the history of the Cheonggyecheon Stream is on display—and there is the Shantytown Theme Zone. We recommend you stop by these places to learn about the history of Cheonggyecheon Stream as well.
This is a cultural-historical experience center that has reconstructed the shantytown in the Cheonggyecheon Stream area in the 1960~70s, to show the sorrow and difficult lives the people in those days lead. There is a historical gallery that shows the history and cultural living conditions of Cheonggyecheon Stream, corners to experience living conditions, where scenes like general stores, comic book stores, and coal shops have been reconstructed, and a corner where you can try on an old traditional school uniform.
In various methods and themes, the Cheonggyecheon Museum exhibits the way Cheonggyecheon Stream looked in the old days, throughout its restoration process that began in 2003, and its appearance today. Stop by this place, which keeps the history of the stream alive as we walked along, and take a trip through time.