Dodong Seowon Confucian Academy - UNESCO World Heritage

published by Devon Furbush

This location was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list along with 8 other Confucian academies 2019.

The rearrangement and demolition policy enforced by Prince Regent Daewon-gun in 1871 forced more than 600 privately-owned Confucian academies to be reduced to a pile of stones. Among the remaining 47, the top 5 were Sosu Seowon in Yeongju, Byeongsan Seowon and Dosan Seowon in Andong, Oksan Seowon in Gyeongju, and Dodong Seowon. The origins of this symbolic Confucian academy started from the year 1568 at the base of Biseul Mountain. At that time, it went by Ssanggye Seowon, and its purpose was to pay tribute to the righteousness of a scholar named Kim Goeng-pil while teaching his virtues to young pupils. With traditional designs, Dodong Seowon is a classic portrayal of Korean Confucian architecture. Even the walls are considered national treasures. Let’s go take a look around.

400-year old Ginko Tree

Whether you come by foot, car, or bus, you will first notice the massive ginkgo tree on the front lawn. When this academy was rebuilt here after the original location was destroyed in the 1592 Imjin Japanese Invasion, King Seonjo blessed it with the new name ‘Dodong Seowon.’ Kim Goeng-pil’s grandson Jeong-gu (who helped with the construction of the buildings) planted this tree to serve as a guardian protecting the academy and the shrine of Goeng-pil. As you can see, it has grown so large that it needs several support beams to keep it from tumbling over.

Suwollru Pavilion

This main gate moonlighted as a resting area for students and scholars. From the top level, they say that the view of the Nakdong River helped them relax and take their minds off of studying.

Hwanjumun gate

This is the entrance where students had to go through every day. Before the young pupils passed through here, they had to tilt their heads down and enter calmly and respectfully, leaving their old behaviors at the doorstep.

This is the main area of study made up of 4 parts.

Jungjeongdang lecture hall

This is the central area where studying took place. Can you imagine dozens of little scholars perfectly lined up, taking lessons here? I’m always amazed at how wooden Korean structures can withstand the test of time and weather. I heard that the main gate was built later on after the academy was completed. There used to be a great view of the Nakdong River from the inside, but now that view is only seen from the pavilion.

The 4 dragon heads built at the front wall are there to spiritually protect the academy in the event of a flash flood.

Dong-jae (east dormitories) and Seo-jae (west dormitories)

The students’ living quarters stand at each side of the lecture hall facing each other.

Kim Goeng-pil's sacred shrine

Around the backside of the lecture hall, there is a set of steps that lead to the main shrine dedicated to Kim Goeng-pil which is closed off to the public. As a legend in Confucian studies, he was one of five wise men of the Joseon Dynasty and this shrine is where sacrificial communions are held for him. If you can’t tell, this is the highest area in the academy. The shrine was built in the 1800s, but the stone foundation goes back all the way to when the academy was first built.

Dodong Seowon is seated in a far corner of Daegu in the Dalseong-gun district. It’s mainly accessible by buses that don’t run too often, but the city tour bus makes it a breeze to get here. The only thing keeping Dalseong-gun from spreading out further is the Nakdong River. Once you cross it you’ll enter other small towns like Seongju, Goryeong, and Hapcheon. 

Address: Dalseong-gun, Guji-myeon, Gujiseo-ro 726


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