Termed as the flagship museum of Korean history and art, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul is the most representative and extensive museum in the Republic of Korea, which preserves, studies, researches, displays and globally promotes the significant and essential cultural heritage of Korea. The museum, equipped with six galleries, contains an immense collection of more than 310,000 historically valuables and highly aesthetic relics ranging from the Paleolithic Age to the early 20th century, among which more than 12,000 masterpieces are always on display in its permanent exhibition hall. In addition, it houses many Silk Roads related artefacts from Central Asia, East Asia and Korea, dating back to the Silla Kingdom and excavated from the Gyeongju region, even some traces of western culture found in burial mound figures. The National Museum of Korea in Seoul also boasts to contain a vast collection of national treasures of Korea, which include, among others, The Pensive Bodhisattva, wearing a flat crown known as the Three Mountain Crown or Lotus Crown and adorned with a simple necklace; a Ten Storey Pagoda from the Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site; a Celadon openwork Burner or incense Burner, belonging to the Goryeo Korean Kingdom and a Gold Crown from the 5th century Silla Kingdom.
Although The National Museum of Korea was established in 1945, the first museum of Korea, The Imperial Household Museum was established by Emperor Sunjong in 1909. Later, the collection of the Imperial Household Museum and the collection of the Japanese Government General Museum, administered during the Japanese rule of Korea, became the nucleus of the collection of the National Museum, established after the regained independence of the country in 1945. During the Korean War between North and South Korea from 1950 to 1953, some 20,000 items were safely moved to Busan to avoid possible damage or destruction.
After the end of the war, those items were stored at the Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty and Deoksugung Palace or Deoksu Palace, a walled compound of palaces in Seoul. However, the museum was shifted to a new building on the grounds of the Gyeongbok Palace in 1972, to be moved again in 1986 to the former Japanese General Government Building in Seoul till the demolition of the building in 1995. Followed by the demolition of the building, the museum was opened to the public in December 1996 in temporary accommodations in the renovated Social Education Hall, before it was officially reopened in its grand new building in Yongsan Family Park on 28 October 2005.
Covering a huge area of 3,180,000 sq feet (295,551 m2)) and displaying its relics and artefacts throughout six permanent exhibition galleries, The National Museum of Korea in Seoul is the biggest museum in Asia and the sixth largest in the world in terms of floor space.
For the safety of its collection, the main building of the museum was built to withstand a magnitude 6.0 Richter scale earthquake. In addition, the building was made from fire-resistant materials and the display cases were equipped with shock-absorbent platforms. An imported natural lighting system was also installed in the building to utilize sunlight instead of artificial lights, along with a specially designed air-conditioning system. The museum, divided into three floors, has six permanent exhibition galleries, known as Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery, Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery, Donation Gallery, Calligraphy and Painting Gallery, Asian Art Gallery and Sculpture and Crafts Gallery.
The Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery, located on the first floor of the museum building, contains approximately 4,500 artefacts from the Paleolithic to the Unified Silla era, excavated from different sites across the country. The nine exhibition rooms of the gallery are named the Palaeolithic Room, Neolithic Room, the Bronze Age and Gojoseon Room, the Proto Three Kingdoms Room, the Goguryeo Room, the Baekje Room, the Gaya Room and the Silla Room.
The relics displayed in those rooms indicate the long and continuous journey of the early settlers on the Peninsula towards the ultimate development of their unique culture. The first floor of the museum building also houses the Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery, consisting of eight rooms, showcasing the cultural and historical heritage throughout the Unified Silla, Balhae, Goryeo and Joseon periods.
The second floor of the museum houses the Donation Gallery and the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery. While the Donation Gallery, consisting of eleven rooms, displays 800 pieces of art donated from the private collections, the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery includes four rooms and contains 890 pieces of art that showcase the traditional and religious arts of Korea in line and colour.
The Sculpture and Crafts Gallery, located on the third floor of the National Museum, has three rooms, containing 630 pieces, representing Korean Buddhist sculpture and craftwork, which includes the famous gilt-bronze statute, known as Pensive Buddha and the Goryeo Celadon wares. The third floor also houses the Asian Arts Gallery, complete with five rooms, dedicated to the Indian & Southeast Asian Art Room, the Central Asian Art Room, the Chinese Art Room, the Sinan Undersea Relics Room and the Japanese Art Room. The gallery contains 970 pieces of art, exploring the similarities and divergences of Asian art and the confluence of Asian and Western art through the Silk Road.
Recently, The National Museum of Korea has opened three Immersive Digital Galleries, adding digital images, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to enable the visitors to appreciate the cultural heritage of the country in a unique and unprecedented way.
The attractive complex of the National Museum of Korea contains parks and gardens of indigenous plants, artificial waterfalls and pools, a collection of pagodas, stupas, lanterns and several other items, which include the Great Bell of Bosingak. Apart from the special exhibition halls, education facilities, a children's museum and huge outdoor exhibition areas, the complex also includes restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops to the delight of the visitors.