By Shim Hyun-chul
Ganghwa Island ― Ganghwa Island, the nation’s fourth largest island situated at the mouth of the Han River, used to be a heavily contested area between rival kingdoms. It was where Goryeo battled against a Mongolian invasion and where the Joseon Kingdom encountered Western imperial powers.
Its rich and tumultuous history has left behind numerous cultural properties. And because the island sits between North and South Korea, its beautiful nature wears the story of Korean division with its barbed wire fences.
One of the 10 top cultural properties the island boasts of is the Yeonmi Pavillion.
Small in stature, about 40 square meters, it sits elegantly with its 10 pillars surrounded by stone walls and a towering zelkova serrata tree. The name Yeonmi, meaning swallow’s tail, comes from the shape of its nearby terrain carved like a bird’s tail as the waters from the Imjin and Han Rivers meet.
Designated as Tangible Cultural Property No. 24, it’s not clear when the pavilion was built, but it underwent reconstruction in the 18th and 19th centuries.
There are historical records that King Gojong of Goryeo in 1244 mandated students to study at the pavilion. Its where King Injo of the Joseon Kingdom fled from the capital in 1627 and was forced to forge an unfair treaty with China’s Ching Dynasty.
From the pavilion, one can catch glimpses of Gaepung County in North Korea, and to the east, espy Gimpo in the South. It wasn’t until 2008 that the island ― a long-time barren military area ― fully opened to the public. The barbed wire fence that delineates South and North Korea stands as a sorrowful reminder why the area had to be designated a military zone.