Jeju National Museum does a great job covering the history and culture of Jeju, from the paleolithic right through to the Joseon period… all in a concise and logical way.
The collection and its presentation, and even the building’s architecture, combine to tell Jeju’s story.
There are six permanent exhibition halls connected in chronological order. But unlike the usual stuffy rooms we find in some older museums, the halls are open to the museum’s central rotunda. This has a stunning ceiling-mounted stained glass mural depicting Jeju and its foundation myth.
Architecturally, the building is noteworthy because it was designed in the spirit of the topography and nature of Jeju. From the curved lines of the island to the kinds of granite and scoria bricks used in its construction.
When asked about the size of the collection, Song Ho-yeon, a museum official in their curatorial office, explained that they have a much larger collection than the 800 items on display. In their basement archive they have over 17,000 artifacts, she said.
Jeju National Museum may be diminutive, but on the plus side it’s on a more human scale. It takes about 40 minutes to go through the entire six exhibition halls.
They begin with prehistoric Jeju, running through the Tamna, Goryeo and Joseon periods. This covers prehistoric culture, the foundation and development of Tamna, the central governance of Jeju during Goryeo, as well as the political, social and cultural changes of Joseon.
Tamna was the ancient name of the island kingdom that became Jeju. But more to the point, at that time in history — from around the Three Kingdoms to the Unified Silla (basically the 3rd to the early 10th century) — the development of local culture, art, maritime trade, and social order, made great strides.
In fact, much of what we today identify as Jeju culture evolved during that time.
Highlights of the exhibits include abalone arrowheads and pottery from the Tamna. Then for the Goryeo, there are examples of trading with the mainland, for items like Chinese celadon, gold jewelry and bronze Buddhist artifacts. This really gives visitors a sense of how Jeju fit into the history and trading routes in Northeast Asia.
In addition, the quality of the dioramas and maps which dominate the museum space are remarkable. They do an excellent job of helping visitors visualize the lives of Jeju people all those centuries ago.
For example, there is a huge 4-meter-long model of Jeju Fortress, based on a painting from 1702, which is on display right at the entrance to the museum.
Another diorama for the prehistory exhibit depicts very clearly how a stone basalt shelter was used by neolithic inhabitants at Bukchon-ri, east of Jeju City.
Unlike some museums here, much of the collection does not have explanations in other languages. And of the five permanent guides on staff, only one speaks English.
The museum does have an auditorium, a seminar room where the education programs are held, a library, and a separate museum building with activities just for kids.
And lastly, it is located in Sarabong Park, which has plenty of space, trees and walking trails for the whole family to enjoy.
The museum is on the 1131 Road east of Jeju City. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays from March through October it will close at 9 p.m. Admission is free, but please note it’s closed on Mondays. For more information, the museum’s English Web site is jeju.museum.go.kr/en.
This a reworked article, written by the author, which first appeared on KCTV English News. — Ed.