Namdaemun, officially known as the Sungnyemun (literally Gate of Exalted Ceremonies), is one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, South Korea, which surrounded the city in the Joseon Dynasty. The gate is located in Jung-gu between Seoul Station and Seoul City Plaza, with the historic 24-hour Namdaemun Market next to the gate.
The South Korean government, as written in hanja on the wooden structure, officially calls the landmark, Sungnyemun, (English: Gate of Exalted Ceremonies) even though it has been more commonly known as Namdaemun (English: Great Southern Gate) since the Joseon Dynasty. The disparity is due to the colonial period when the Japanese advocated the name Namdaemun.
Before the 2008 fire, Namdaemun was the oldest wooden structure in Seoul. The city gate, made of wood and stone with a two-tiered, pagoda-shaped tiled roof, was completed in 1398 and originally used to greet foreign emissaries, control access to the capital city, and keep out Siberian Tigers, which have long been gone from the area. Construction began in 1395 during the fourth year of the reign of King Taejo of Joseon and was finished in 1398. The structure was rebuilt in 1447 and was renovated several times since. It was originally one of three main gates, the others being the East Gate (Dongdaemun) and the now-demolished West Gate in the Seodaemun-gu district, named after the old gate.
At approximately 8:50 p.m. on 10 February 2008, a fire broke out and severely damaged the wooden structure at the top of the Namdaemun gate. The fire roared out of control again after midnight and finally destroyed the structure, despite the efforts of more than 360 firefighters. Many witnesses reported seeing a suspicious man shortly before the fire, and two disposable lighters were found where the fire was believed to have started. A 69-year-old man identified as Chae Jong-gi was arrested on suspicion of arson and then later confessed to the crime.
The Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea said that it would undertake a three-year project that would cost an estimated ₩20 billion (approximately $14 million) to rebuild and restore the historic gate. President Lee Myung-bak proposed starting a private donation campaign to finance the restoration of the structure.
By January 2010, 70% of the pavilion gate, the first floor and 80 percent of the fortress wall has been completed. Work on the roof began in April after the completion of the wooden second floor, with 22,000 roof tiles produced in a traditional kiln in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province. The wall and basic frame were scheduled to be finished in April and May respectively. The pillars and rafters are to be elaborately decorated, with the ornamental patterns and colors based on those used in the large-scale repair in 1963, which was closest to the early-Chosun original.