Paju: Imjingak, Korean War’s Place of Grief and Agony
The place of grief and agony of the Korean War and the tension between the two states. That’s how Imjingak (임진각) is described, now a popular tourist spot visited by estimated five million Koreans and foreigners yearly. It was developed in 1972 through the North-South Joint Statement in the hopes that it would pave way for the reuniting of families and friends divided by war, and ultimately for the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas.
Imjingak is located 50 kilometers from Central Seoul and travel takes 2 hours on a private vehicle. While the Korean weather is still transitioning to spring when we reached here, the air is still very cold. Coupled with the eerie atmosphere, it gives a chilling feel at the site.
The site has many monuments and relics memorializing the brutal Korean War of the 1950s. Several military hardwares such as planes and tanks of both sides were also displayed, as well as photos of the people who experienced suffering in the conflict. The site is located near the Imjin River, and seven kilometers from the Military Demarcation Line. And because it’s very near the border with North Korea, you will sometimes hear the mortar fires and gunshots coming from a military exercise (locals here said it’s a show of force from the other side).
Several noticeable structures, unmistakably bomb shelters, were built throughout the park in case of a surprise invasion from the North. This is just one of the few historical places within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that doesn’t require any stringent security inspection. Admission is free, but you have to shell out some cash if you want a guided tour or to visit other places nearby. The site is also very near the highway going to Panmunjom Joint Security Area.
Here are some of the monuments, memorials and facilities around Imjingak:
BRIDGE OF FREEDOM
The wooden access bridge, also called the “Bridge of Freedom”, was built in 1953 in an effort to free 12,773 prisoners of war. It was expressly built across the Imjin River, to temporarily replace the nearby railway bridge that was destroyed. When the prisoners reached the Gyeonui Line (train line) they traveled by foot until they reached the south end of the Bridge of Freedom. For the soldiers of the UN command, this is a literal bridge of freedom.
Today, the wooden bridge was dismantled, and only a small section remained, moved to its current location, beneath the Korean-style lake garden. A new permanent railroad bridge connecting North and South Korea was built in place of the makeshift bridge, and the current wooden bridge was connected to its southern end.
Now there is a heavily fortified tall fence at the end of the access bridge, which beyond it is the actual Demilitarized Zone. Beyond this fence civilians are strictly forbidden. Several ribbons can be found tied to the fence, containing messages for their relatives separated by war.
STEAM LOCOMOTIVE IN JANGDAN STATION (Gyeongui Line)
This steam locomotive is a memorial and symbol of one of the most brutal tourchapter in Korean history. Since it was left at the DMZ it was destroyed by bombs, and the brutal damage can clearly be seen. It is standing on the remnant of the railway that was once connected to the old railroad bridge, whose only remains are the series of pillars that were standing directly behind.
BELL OF PEACE
This bell is a symbol for world peace and reunification of two countries in the new millennium. For the celebration of the 21st century the bell weighs 21 tons and the stairway leading to it has 21 steps.
The North Koreans now living in the South are visiting the Mangbaedan to honor their ancestors during the New Year, or whenever they missed their families left behind at the North, and because it is the nearest spot to their former home.
This building was built as a result of the North-South Joint Statement. It has several amenities, souvenir shops and observation decks with coin-operated binoculars to see the places that are off-limits to civilians.
THE PLACE OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The Chapter of the New Millennium is a structure built in the desire of the eventual unification of North and South Korea as well as word peace. The lower part symbolizes the past, while the upper part symbolizes the present and the future.
PYEONGHWA NURI PARK
This park has large grass lawn and several art structures symbolizing peace can be seen. There is also a stage used for cultural and arts performances. One of the most visited attractions is the Pinwheel Hill, a hill where hundreds of colorful pinwheels were placed. Because of its hilly topography, there is often strong winds which makes it favorable to fly kites (which can also be purchased there). This is one of the most frequent settings for TV commercials and koreanovelas.