Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital

Photo by Roman Bruehwiler.

Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital is part of the Tentative list of Republic of Korea in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital consists of nine components linked to the Korean War (1950–1953), the first proxy war of the Cold War era. They include the provisional seat of the government of South Korea, neighbourhoods used for refugees and sites linked to the work of the United Nations.

Map of Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Kyle Magnuson

California - United States of America - 16-Oct-23 -

Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital (T) by Kyle Magnuson

For those who have visited Busan, you can be forgiven for not prioritizing its wartime history! The fact is, Busan is a lively city and its main attractions (Taejongdae, Jagalchi Fish Market, Seaside temples, Gamcheon Culture Village, and beaches) are more alluring for the casual visitor than the Seokdang Museum of Dong-A University. The later museum was formerly known as the Busan Provisional Government Headquarters during the Korean War. Today, it’s an excellent museum that covers ancient to modern Korean History. While a visit to the museum is genuinely rewarding and the building is caringly preserved, it does not add significantly to one's understanding of the 1,023 days when Busan was the temporary capital.  

The Provisional Capital Memorial Hall (Formerly the President's Residence) includes moving exhibits about the conditions refugees experienced upon arrival to Busan. Much of the “house” museum maintains rooms in their 1950’s decor when President Rhee occupied the residence. I found the visitor experience here solemn and emotive. Exhibits highlight the time and events of Busan's darkest days. Some visitors were visibly moved by the exhibits. Considering modern day life in Busan and that of the half-a-million plus refugees in the 1950's, the difference in those 70 years is stark. I have not forgotten the photographs displayed on-site.

The journey of this serial nomination has been arduous, the nomination was “conditionally” approved in 2017 by the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea. Busan’s primary OUV will be as a “Cold War” heritage site and its refugee past. There have been considerable efforts in the last 7 years to include this nomination on Korea’s Tentative List, while also avoiding certain pitfalls. I think Korea is keen on avoiding this nomination languishing on their tentative list for a decade or more, 2028 is the projected year of inscription (if all goes well). That date (2028) would be the 75th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement (de facto end of the “hot” war). One of the most challenging tasks for the authorities in Busan was the selection of components, identifying potential OUV (criterion), and beginning the comparative analysis work. We can be sure the study on recent conflicts will be consulted by the cultural heritage team developing the dossier. The original list of candidate sites have been adjusted over time, ultimately narrowed from 14 components early in the process. Pier 1 of Busan Port went through a years-long process in favor of historical preservation rather than planned redevelopment, though the final management plan remains under discussion.  Certain components (including the Presidential Residence) needed to be designated at the national level, which also took time.   

When I visited Busan (most recently) in 2016, there were some hints at a nomination in early development, but certainly nothing was finalized. Having only visited 2 of the 9 components in a satisfactory manner at that time, I cannot speak to the entire scope of the nomination. I arrived at the Busan Modern History museum 10 minutes too late, so my “3rd component” became superficial as I only have a picture of the modest exterior. Gamcheon Village, which does have connections to refugees, has been ignored in favor of the nearby Ami-dong Tombstone Culture Village. The dilemma with these remnant “Refugee Villages” for the Cultural Heritage Administration was “What can be designated and protected?” Community support is also critical. Gamcheon Village is quite large and you’d be hard-pressed to create a realistic boundary and buffer zone, let alone getting full business and community support. Moreover, the numerous buildings that are no longer homes have become art galleries and coffee shops. Alternatively, the boundary for Ami-dong is actually quite small and centered on the buildings that were constructed directly on top of the tombstones of the old Japanese Cemetery. 

Regarding the comparative analysis, the “Funerary Sites and Memorials of World War I” will be analyzed in-depth because of the inclusion of the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan. With the inscription of the WWI Memorials this improves Busan’s chances. This is exactly what some within our forum (myself included) feared regarding "recent conflict" sites or memorials being inscribed, insofar as setting a precedent for a large number of potential sites of regional/national importance seeking world heritage status. While I am ambivalent about Busan's OUV, I will be paying close attention as the nomination dossier is developed and completed. Busan was not a battlefield during the Korean War, as the "Pusan Perimeter" held. Moreover, the UN Cemetery currently includes burials of eleven countries, in fact more than 90% of the remaining burials are from the UK, Turkey, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Is there a scenario that China and the DPRK accepts this nomination without protest? Surely, even casual visitors will formulate the reason why there were so many refugees in Busan? I am certainly interested to read what ICOMOS concludes about the UN Cemetery and Busan as a temporary capital that became a safe haven for refugees. I welcome Korea's first modern heritage nomination and I'm encouraged that more are on the way.

Video highlighting the components:

Busan, provisional capital for 1,023 days

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.

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Full Name
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital
Republic of Korea
Nominated for
Structure - Memorials and Monuments
2023 Added to Tentative List

The site has 9 locations

Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Temporary Presidential Residence (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Temporary Government Complex (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Korea Meteorological Administration (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Ami-dong Tombstone Village (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Uam-dong Cattle Shed Village (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Pier 1 of Busan Port (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: U.S. Embassy/U.S. Information Service (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: United Nations Memorial Cemetery (T)
Sites of the Busan Wartime Capital: Camp Hialeah (T)
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