More Maps

I spent a probably inordinate amount of time poring over ‘600 Years of Maps of Seoul’ – a hefty compilation of colour plates discovered by Victoria in the KNUA library.

I wanted to get a sense of how the city had evolved; I hoped to uncover traces of its iterations as; the royal seat of an ‘hermit kingdom’, an unwilling protectorate, an ideological battleground, a modern metropolis.  The earliest map in the book dates from 1750.

Map from the Capital Wall to Han River (Cha-Tosŏng Chi-Samgang-do), 1750 
overlaid with a satellite image of the city, 2010
Perhaps it was because I had just been to Gyeoungbokgung, but the most arresting markings seemed the timeless cataract of mountains that ring the city; Seoul is literally contained by the landscape.  I was reminded of Kevin Lynch and his assertion in 'The Image of the City' that:
 'A striking landscape is the skeleton upon which many primitive races erect their socially important myths’
The city is contained by the mountains  
The city’s relationship with its geographic limit is accentuated in pre-colonial maps of the city, which retain a pictorial quality even up to 1900 and lack accurate scale or precision.

Map of Seoul, 1900, an illustrated landscape...
Japanese maps obliterate this emphasis early on; by 1910 the landscape is no longer an illustration, the mountains are expressed through meticulous contours.  The map is precise, just as it should be.  
Map of Seoul and Yongsan 1910, a measured landscape
It is a clue about the complexity of the era in question; one that attempted to sever a nation from its traditions but also installed the infrastructure that enabled modernisation.

1 comment:

joshua said...

Fantastic, succinct words, I love how expedient you are with them. . Empty cities, have you been to Belfast?