|Asan City Seolhwa-san
|Authentic Joseon-era Yangban [Aristocratic] Agricultural Village
with charming scenic architecture in the northern Chungcheong-namdo region
-- my visit in November 2019 --
Oe-am-ri Aristocratic Agricultural Village, on a November morning of 2019, my first visit somehow. It
seems quite authentic, even free from ugly electric wires as you can see. This is one of Korea's six
best-preserved traditional villages, and has been proposed on Korea's Tentative List for UNESCO
World Cultural Heritage Site status since 2011.... It is comparable to Andong Hahoe and Gyeongju Yangdong
Villages, already designated. It rests in peaceful outskirts of busy Asan City, near the border with ancient the Baekje
Kingdom's capital Gongju. It has been a key Clan Village of the Yean Yi family for over 500 years, serving
as one of their centers for education and writing all during the Joseon Dynasty, and has produced many
distinguished Neo-Confucian seonbi scholars including Yi Gan (pen name Oe-am), who led a series
of philosophical debates in late Joseon. Block-printed books and writings reflecting the thought and
perspectives of Master Yi have been passed down through many generations, and the traditional
Bulcheonwi Jesa (offerings to ancestors venerated in perpetuity) rituals for Master Yi and particular
ceremonial foods for these offerings have been handed-down as well, still being practiced along with
some traditional folk games have also been handed down for generations (intangible cultural heritage items).
|The Buddhist pagoda here in the side-garden of Geonjae Old House, most upper parts probably
from late Shilla ~ early Goryeo, 9th~10th centuries, is just in this private Neo-Confucian garden
for decorative purpose; probably remade from pieces found at a nearby abandoned temple-site.
Oe-am-ri's layout according to Pungsu-jiri principles make it such a charming little place, attracting many
visitors for its photogenic scenery and Daoist "good energy" and traditional architecture. Distinctive Mt.
Seolhwa-san [Snow-Flower Mountain] stands guard in the northeast, and its ridges encircle the village
protectively from behind. Also, the village faces the low Mt. Meonjeok-san to its southeast front, and the
larger Mt. Bongsusan to its southwest. To the west the village is bordered by a broad field, and a stream
named Geundae-golnae-cheon flows in-between. The houses are distributed along the main road in a
unique irregular design, which is divided into many byroads leading inwards. The village seems to have
been created sporadically corresponding to natural topographic conditions, but there are some underlying
principles to it: the village was settled in an oval shape along the straight low-ridgeline that connects the
guardian Seolhwa-san in the northeast and Bongsu-san in the southwest. The ground of the village is
progressively higher toward the east and to fit this geographical condition, most houses were built facing
southwest, with a few houses facing south.
What makes this village most distinctive is an artificial waterway that draws clean water from the upper
valley stream flowing from springs on Seolhwa-san, creating an eco-friendly environment and ecological
landscape. The water has been used for daily life, gardens and firefighting, and tiny streams with little
waterfalls and ponds were created by channeling the water to decorate the gardens of the main houses.
The character hwa 華 in the name of Seolhwa-san is a homonym for the character meaning "fire" 火, and
the waterway was a symbolic means of balancing out the fire-danger influence, making it a distinctive
feature of this village not found in other places in Korea. To prevent the 'spirit of fire' from Seolhwa-san
from disturbing the village, these artificial watercourses were constructed through the village from the
natural stream. The distinctive gardens of Oeam Village, which utilize these artificial watercourses, are
a representative example of local culture in the Joseon period as well as an outstanding example of
using water for residences for both intangible and tangible purposes.