S. Korea’s former presidential office Blue House turns into concert venue, tourist hot spot

South Korea's former presidential office Blue House

For seven decades, South Koreans could only see the iconic blue tiled roof of their president’s office from afar. Cheong Wa Dae, also named the Blue House because of its distinctive roof, was a heavily-guarded place shrouded from view by lush trees.

But last month, it was vacated and “returned to the people” as newly-inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol promised. The sprawling 250,000 m2 compound is now getting a new lease of life as a concert venue and tourist hot spot.

A new “Visit Korean Heritage” campaign lists the Blue House as one of 10 must-visit sites for tourists and has planned promotional activities such as a concert in August and a digital media art show in October.

Open to the public from May 10, the Blue House has drawn more than 770,000 visitors in a month, all curious for a glimpse into the life of their former leaders.

Key attractions include the main office building, the official residence inside a hanok (Korean traditional house), the state guest house, and a garden boasting 120 species of trees, many of them planted by former presidents.

Situated at the foot of Mount Bugak, the Blue House site was once the private rear garden of Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) kings who lived in the main palace Gyeongbokgung.

The Japanese colonial era saw the construction of a blue-roofed official residence for its highest-ranking official in 1939, after which it was occupied by generations of South Korean presidents post-independence, from 1948.

The current main office building was completed in 1991, designed to look like palaces of the Joseon dynasty. About 150,000 blue tiles were created specially for the roof.

No decision has been made yet regarding the future of the compound. The Cultural Heritage Administration, which is now managing the compound, has said it will draw up a plan to “make the Blue House a symbolic historical and cultural space of the country where history and the future can coexist”.

Officials said it could be turned into a park or museum, while scholars put forth ideas such as turning it into a library, a venue for cultural festivals, and a K-pop concert hall aimed at drawing foreign visitors.

Choi Jong-deok, former director of the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, called for a thorough study of the Blue House compound to help determine the best ways to conserve and utilize the space.

“The Blue House must be reborn as a place where you can meet the history and culture from Joseon to Korea,” he said. “We must find the right balance between conservation and use.”

The Blue House is closed on Tuesdays. On other days, visitors can just queue outside the main entrance Shinmumun for free entry on a first come, first served basis. Up to 49,000 people are allowed to enter on any day.



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