Hidden underground bunker in Seoul publicly revealed for first time

Posted on : 2015-10-02 13:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Previously unknown bunker was built, complete with leopard-print sofa, at a time of inter-Korean tensions
 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

This is a space that had been forgotten. Until it was discovered during the construction of a bus station in 2005, an underground bunker in the Yeouido neighborhood of Seoul remained unknown to the world. Seoul Metropolitan Government checked its archives, but discovered no record of the bunker.

It’s been ten years since the city closed the bunker down, unable to find a purpose for the space. On Oct. 1, however, after correcting some structural problems and removing asbestos, the city opened the bunker to the media for the first time.

A staircase set along one side of the bus station leads to the bunker, five meters underground. Measuring over ten meters wide and 50 meters long, the massive space that spans 529 square meters evoked exclamations of awe from those who entered.

A room measuring 66 square meters lay at the end of a massive hall. It contained a leopard-print sofa, a private bathroom and a shower room.

The ceiling, floor and walls were all made of concrete over 50 centimeters thick. When Seoul city workers drilled through the concrete to investigate, they discovered it was thick and contained no gaps whatsoever. Set 2.2 meters underneath the surface, the outer concrete walls were designed to protect against bombardments.

The underground bunker in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood that was recently opened to the public (by Kim Seong-gwang
The underground bunker in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood that was recently opened to the public (by Kim Seong-gwang

When and why was such a bunker built? City analysts found no trace of the bunker in aerial photographs taken in November 1976 but discovered the bunker’s entrance in photos from November 1977. Based on this analysis, city experts estimate that the bunker was constructed between late 1976 and early 1977. Inter-Korean tensions were high back then, nearly on the verge of war, as North Korean soldiers killed two American officers in the Panmunjom Joint Security Area in Aug. 1976.

The bunker’s location is underneath where the inspection platform was for ROK Armed Forces Day, an event at the time to celebrate the South Korean military. This suggests that President Park Chung-hee and government agents had the bunker built as a shelter in the case of an outbreak of war. The room covering 66 square meters is presumed to be President Park’s office.

The underground will be open to the public from October 10 to November 1 in 40 separate sessions, available on a first come, first served basis by reservation only. Afterward, various experts will be consulted over how the bunker will be utilized, and an official announcement concerning the bunker’s fate is expected to be made on October 1, 2016.

“After compiling various public opinions, we will convert this Cold War artifact into a cultural facility and return it to the people,” said Kim Jun-gi, Chief of the Urban Safety Headquarters of Seoul.

By Eum Seong-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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