Constructed in 1908, Seodaemun Prison was used to house Korean patriots and activists who were tortured and executed here during the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945. The prison could hold up to 500 prisoners, but in fact up to 3500 were held here in squalid conditions at the height of the anti Japanese protests in 1919. The prison was also used by various postwar Korean dictators up until its closure in 1987.
The Seodaemun Prison History Hall opened in November 1998 to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives in the name of Korean independence. As well as the patriot memorial and the main exhibition hall, visitors can take a sombre journey through various prison cells, a watchtower, an execution room, a tunnel through which corpses were carried, plus the basement cell where the female prisoner, Yu Gwansun, was tortured and executed.
Exhibitions featuring recreations of torture scenes and photographs of the prison and the conditions the prisoners faced are on display, along with some video footage. The memorial outside the building lists the names of 90 Koreans known to have died at the prison, although it’s predicted that up to 600 others died here as a result of torture, execution, or squalid conditions.
Seodaemun Prison History Hall is located at Seodaemun Independence Park. It can be reached via Seoul Subway Line 3; alight at Dongnimmun Station and take exit 5 – it’s around a 10 -- minute walk from here. Numerous buses also serve Dongnimmun Station.