Constructed at the heart of the city of Seoul, on the site of the former royal administrative buildings, known as Yukjo-geori or the Street of the Six Ministries and decorated with the huge statues of Admiral Yi Sun-sin of Joseon dynasty and King Sejong, widely known as Sejong the Great, the fourth ruler of the Joseon dynasty of Korea, the Gwanghwamun Square is a representative plaza in the city, opened on 1 August 2009.
The 1820 feet (555 m) long and 112 feet (34 m) wide square was constructed as a part of the City's plans for executing environmentally friendly renovation projects, such as the making the Cheonggyecheon, a modern public recreation space in downtown Seoul and the Seoul Plaza, a central plaza, in front of Seoul City Hall, by downsizing 16 lanes of the traffic to 10 lanes in the middle of Sejong-ro, connecting Jongno-gu Gwanghwamun to Sejong-ro intersection and Cheongye Square and transforming it into a public space where people can relax and socialize.
The massive project of a new pedestrian-friendly open downtown urban space, along with the projects for the Sungnyemun, one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, surrounding the city in the Joseon dynasty and the Seoul Plaza, was finalized in December 2006.
However, despite being scheduled to commence the construction of the plaza in February 2008, the commencement was delayed due to the opposition of the National Police Agency, who were concerned that the plaza could be abused as a venue for mass protests. Finally, the construction commenced on 23 April 2008, after the Government decreed it a demonstration-free zone.
But before the construction of the Gwanghwamun Square, it was necessary to dig up the Street of the Six Ministries of the Joseon Dynasty, established in 1395, along with the Gyeongbok Palace. During the Joseon Period, the road was used as a space that primarily exhibited the dignity of the authority.
The digging up of the street began in 2008 and finished a year later, but a large cross-section of the excavated layers was carefully preserved for subsequent scientific studies. The excavated strati-graphic layers were classified into four periods, which include the layers piled up from the river floods, the period of the establishment of the Joseon Dynasty, before and after the Japanese occupation during the 16th to 18th century and the period of re-establishment of the Gyeongbok Palace during the 19th to 20th century. At the same time, the excavated artefacts, such as porcelain, roof tiles, earthenware and others, were dated according to their respective periods. The excavation indisputably resulted in the rediscovery of the ancient road and provided evidence of the full scale of the street structure, architectural building skills and methods used during each period.
The Gwanghwamun Square, also known as the Gwanghwamun Plaza, was built around the colossal statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin of the Joseon dynasty, standing in the middle of Sejongno Street since 1968. The initial plan also included shifting the huge statue of King Sejong from Deoksugung, also known as the Deoksu Palace, a walled compound of palaces, inhabited by the members of the Royal Family during the Joseon monarchy. However, after a series of surveys of citizens and experts, it was ultimately decided to commission a new statue of Sejong the Great in a sitting position and for selection of the design of the statute, a competition was held between a shortlist of artists recommended by the Korean Fine Arts Association and the Universities. Eventually, the Gwanghwamun Square was opened to the public, after the 20-ton new bronze statue of King Sejong the Great; the fourth and most respected king of the Joseon dynasty, was installed opposite the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin. Besides the two massive statues, the Plaza also features a water fountain, located next to the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin to commemorate his victory in the 23 battles he fought with 12 warships, against the Japanese invaders in 1592 and 1598.
At its opening, the plaza was covered with a 531 feet (162 m) long and 57.4 feet (17.5 m) wide flower carpet, adorned with 224,537 flowers representing the number of days from when Seoul was declared the capital on 28 October 1394, to the opening of the plaza on 1 August 2009. Today, the plaza, complete with two underground exhibition halls, one each for the historical figure standing in the plaza above, has become a meeting place for the locals, as well as a place of interest for the visitors. The look of the square changes with the change of the seasons. During the sultry days of summer, children dabble in the water spewing from the fountains in front of the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, while in winter, the plaza turns into a skating rink, with a giant ski jump ramp installed to host a range of events for winter sports.