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Seogwipo, a historyJeju's south side has seen a world of change
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승인 2012.05.17  11:32:44
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▲ Old Seogwipo and Jeongbang Waterfall. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

After an extensive excavation by a team of experts from Jeju National Museum in November 2010, Saengsoogwe Cave near Cheonjiyeon Waterfall on the south coast of Jeju revealed some Stone Age secrets. In the relatively tiny space of the cave (270 cm wide and 600 cm high), hundreds of Seogwipo’s oldest archeological artifacts were found.

From here, the story of Seogwipo’s history begins.

Another ancient location in the Seogwipo area is Hamo village, not far from Mt. Sanbang in the southwest. Excavated from 2005 to 2006, the artifacts found include pieces of earthenware and shell mounds from the Neolithic Age. These were discovered under 1 meter of volcanic debris from an eruption around 5,200 years ago.

This was long before these locations even had names recorded in Korean history. In the beginning, Seogwipo was a part of Tamna, an ancient kingdom on Jeju. It traded with the countries on the Korean peninsula and with China during the period of the Three Kingdoms (1st century BCE to 7th century CE).

After the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE - 936 CE), Tamna became part of the Koryo (918-1392) in 1105. In 1300, among 14 villages under Tamna hyun (prefecture) were Hongro of the current city of Seogwipo and Yerye of modern Jungmun. The small Seogwipo port was where tributes were sent to Yuan, an ancient kingdom in China dating from 1271-1368.

After the island became part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) in 1402, the land on the north of Mt. Halla was designated as Jeju mok (county) and the south was divided into two prefectures — Jeongui and Daejeong — in 1416. The former included Hongro, and the latter, Yerye, which had been the urban centers of Seogwipo City.

During the Joseon era, nine military forts (jin, in Korean) were built along the coast of the island. The three forts of what is the modern Seogwipo City area were Soosanjin (in what is now Seongsan), Moseuljin (Daejeong), and Seogwijin (Seogwipo). The forts functioned to defend the area from enemies, especially Japan, and were the center of culture and economy. They appear in the old picture book “Tamna Sullyeokdo” describing the scenes of each village of Tamna.

In 1914, the period of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), Jeongui prefecture and Daejeong prefecture were merged into Jeju-gun (an administrative district bigger than a prefecture), and the two centers of Seogwipo became Jeongui-myeon (township) and Daejeong township. The names were yet again changed, this time to U (right) township and Jwa (left) township in 1915. In 1935 the two townships were given the names they still have today: Seogwi and Jungmun.

Like the rest of the country, Seogwipo was greatly affected by Japanese colonial rule. Seogwipo was used as a base that supplied marine products. Near the Seogwipo port, there was a factory complex to process whale. Also, there remains 12 artificial caves along the coast near a small peak Sammaebong, which were made by the Japanese army to be used as a fortress.

No sooner did the colonial period end than Jeju faced another catastrophe. Due to the Jeju April 3 Massacre that lasted from 1948 to 1954, the whole island was in a panic and Seogwipo was no exception. The beautiful Jeongbang Waterfall, the only one on the island to feed directly into the ocean, became a massacre site. Lots of people were shot on the cliff and their bodies dumped into the water below.

Following the massacre was the Korean War, which broke out in 1950. Seogwipo Port soon became crowded with thousands of refugees carried to relative safety by an American LST (Landing Ship Tank.)

After the war, the island was rebuild. As people’s livelihoods stabilized, mandarin orange farming became the most lucrative crop for the islanders. The Satsuma mandarin, which one Catholic missionary by the name of Esmile J. Taque had planted 15 saplings from Japan in a Bokja Monastery in 1911, commanded very high prices for the few farmers in the 1950s with the trees. The mandarin tree was called Daehaknamu, meaning “the source of money for college tuition.” The government supported mandarin farming from the early 1960s rapidly increasing the amount of farms. Now, because of this maneuver, Jeju mandarins are the staple winter fruit throughout the nation.

In the meantime, Seogwipo's status as an administrative district improved. In 1946, the island became Jeju-do (province) and reorganized into Bukjeju-gun to the north of Mt. Halla and Namjeju-gun to the south, which Seogwi-myeon and Jungmun-myeon belonged to. After Jeju-eup (town) became Jeju-si (city) in 1955, Seogwi-myeon became Seogwi-eup in 1956 and was combined with Jungmun-myeon, which created Seogwipo-si and became independent from Namjeju-gun in 1981.

In addition, a plan to reorganize the administrative district to combine Jeju-si and Bukjeju-gun, and Seogwipo-si and Namjeju-gun passed through the local referendum in 2005. As a result, Seogwipo City was expanded to cover Namjeju-gun in 2006 and the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province was established.

Modern Seogwipo City has seen remarkable change. The 3.570 km2 of the Jungmun Tourism Complex is considered a premier Jeju tourist landmark. The Jeju World Cup Stadium welcomed thousands of visitors in 2002 during the South Korean/Japan World Cup. People from all over the world congregate at the International Convention Center Jeju in Jungmun for conventions. The Jeju Olle trails along the Seogwipo coast are most popular among hikers. Seogwipo City, which was once a small and desolate village, is still growing overcoming the harsh memory of the past.

References: “Encyclopedia of Korean Culture” published by The Academy of Korean Studies, “Seogwipo Culture” published by Seogwipo Culture Center, “My Mother’s Warm Breast, Seogwipo Sea” by Kang Young Sam
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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