For a country that values its heritage and national pride, the existence of a National Museum is extremely important. The National Museum of Korea is the most important museum towards the safekeeping of Korean history and art. Other than a repository of national treasures, the museum is also a cultural organization that best represents South Korea. The National Museum commits to conduct various research studies and activities in history, art and archaeology. It initiates and implements a variety of exhibitions and educational programs.
The idea of establishing a museum of national scale was first thought of by Emperor Sunjong in 1908. Back then, the museum was called the Imperial Household Museum. In 1945, South Korea declared its independence and in that same year the National Museum of Korea was established. Its collections mainly consisted of the collections from the old Imperial Household Museum and the Japanese Government General Museum that was put up during the Japanese Occupation. When the Korean War broke out from 1950 to 1953, the museum’s treasures were hid and kept safe in Busan, and were only returned after the war. The museum was then housed at both the Gyeongbok-gung and Deoksu-gung Palaces. In 1972, the museum moved to a new building within the Gyeonbok-gung grounds, and then again in 1986 moved to the old Japanese General Government Building. Placing the National Museum in a structure that was built by and for the Japanese raised controversies for so many years until 1995 when the Japanese building was finally demolished. The museum made another move in December 1996 to the newly renovated Social Education Hall. It stayed there temporarily for almost nine years while waiting for the construction of its permanent home. Finally on October 28, 2006, Korea’s National Museum officially reopened in its new building in Yongsan Family Park at 135 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul.
The museum has three floors. The first floor contains the Historical Gallery and Archeological Gallery, which has a total of nine exhibition rooms. They hold about 4,500 archeological finds that date back from the Paleolithic Age to the Unified Silla era. The relics, which include royal ornaments, tools and hand axes were unearthed from all over Korea.
The second floor houses the Donation Gallery and the Fine Arts Gallery I, which is divided into the Painting Room, Buddhist Paintings Room, Calligraphy Room and Wooden and Lacquer Crafts Room. Together they showcase a total of 890 rare traditional and religious art pieces. Meanwhile, the Donation Gallery displays 800 important art pieces that were all donated by private collectors.
Finally, on the third floor are 630 items (Korean Buddhist sculptures and craftworks) displayed inside the Fine Arts Gallery II, and 970 Asian art pieces inside the Asian Arts Gallery, which is divided into the Indian and Southeast Asian Art Room, Central Asian Art Room, Chinese Art Room, Sinan Undersea Relics Room, and Japanese Art Room.
Some of the most precious art pieces inside the National Museum of Korea are the 5th-century Silla Gold Crown (National Treasure of Korean #91), the 7th-century Pensive Bodhisattva (National Treasure of Korea No.83), Ceradon Openwork Incense Burner (National Treasure of Korea No. 95) and the Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple (National Treasure of Korea No. 86).