The Korea Herald


Attempt to set fire to UNESCO-listed palace prompts calls for action

By Choi Si-young

Published : April 10, 2024 - 19:36

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Changdeokgung grounds (CHA) Changdeokgung grounds (CHA)

The disclosure by police of an ongoing investigation of a man charged with attempting to set fire to a UNESCO-listed palace in Seoul has put fresh pressure on officials to roll out measures to protect heritage sites.

According to police on Wednesday, the man, whose identity is being withheld, allegedly last month tried to set fire to a door at Changdeokgung’s Daejo Hall -- the queen’s quarters at Changdeokgung, one of the five Joseon-era (1392-1910) palaces. Changdeokgung is the only Joseon palace listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The suspect, who had entered the palace grounds a little past 6 p.m., after the palace had closed, was caught red-handed by a palace staffer who alerted police. Police declined to reveal details, citing protocol.

The incident raised calls for tougher oversight such as running checks on the belongings of palace visitors. Officials from the Cultural Heritage Administration, the agency in charge of palaces, essentially brushed aside such calls, citing a lack of manpower necessary for the task.

“If we can’t check each visitor, let’s at least install a real-time monitoring system,” said Park Chi-sun, president of Jung-Jae Conservation Center, which restores cultural heritage.

“Officials should also think about coming down hard on rule breakers as a warning,” Park added.

More security personnel and surveillance cameras are already part of what the CHA has said it would do to better protect historic sites from vandalism. The agency rolled out the plan in January, a month after the main Joseon-era palace, Gyeongbokgung, was vandalized with graffiti.

An official in Seoul with knowledge of the CHA’s position on heritage protection said the government is not likely to roll out fresh measures in light of the latest incident. The official added, “We will probably have to see how the January measures pan out first.”