Seodaemun Prison is located near Dongnimmun (Independence Gate). It was forcibly built during the Japanese occupation (1910-45). It has stood for almost 80 years as a living historical reminder of the ordeals, grief, and tumultuous events of modern Korean history. When Japanese occupied Korea by force, they started to build the prison in 1907. It was completed on October 21, 1908, and opened under the name of Gyeongseong Gamok (a traditional name for a prison). As Korean sovereignty was being infringed by Japan, an Independence Movement was launched by numerous patriotic fighters.
Upset by this movement, the Japanese started to construct another prison at Gongdeok-dong, Mapo-gu, to arrest and imprison national patriots. They renamed the first prison Seodaemun Gamok in September 1912. The name of the prison was again changed to Seodaemun Hyeoungmuso (Seodaemun Prison) on May 5, 1923. Until the Liberation of Korea on August 15, 1945, it served as a clandestine Mecca of the anti-Japanese Independence Movement for many patriotic fighters, where they were imprisoned and tortured. Many were executed or died from their brutal treatment .
The name was again changed several times later. When Seoul Guchiso (a detention camp) was moved to Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, on November 15,1987, the area where the prison was located was turned into Seodaemun Independence Park. It was dedicated on August 15, 1992, on the occasion of commemorating the 47th Independence Day, after a renovation project started in 1988. The park preserves 7 prison buildings in consideration of their historical significance and value. The prison buildings (numbers 10, 11, and 12) and the Execution Building were collectively designated as National Historical Site #324 on February 20, 1988. Additionaly, prison buildings 9 and 13, the Central Building, Leper's Building, Security Building, and the prison's walls and watchtowers have been preserved.
In 1995, Seodaemun-gu began a project to make the National Historical Sites of Seodaemun Independence Park a sanctuary by renovating it and opened the Seodaemun Prison History Hall. The project aimed to honor and pay tribute to the spirit of Korea's patriotic ancestors who bravely devoted their lives to resisting the Japanese, despite imprisonment, harsh torture, and threat of death. The site is used as a living history education site to remind future generations of their noble spirit of independence.
There you'll find seven jail cells, a historical exhibition hall, an execution room, watchtowers and a basement jail cell where Yu Gwan-sun an historic figure during the independence movement died. The 1st floor is “A Place of Reverence,” where you can learn about Seodaemun Prison via the graphic systems. A large screen shows the background of its founding and the transition periods in its history. The Material Room has displays and information on Korea's history. The museum also holds special exhibits. The 2nd floor is “A Place of History,” where you can view the “National Resistance Room,” “Prison History Room” and the “In Prison Life Room.” This floor shows examples of how the people fought through this dark chapter in history continuing to hold on to their hope and resolve for freedom. “A Place of Experience” is the most horrifying and dreadful place in the prison. In the “Temporary Detention Room” and “Torture Room” you will see recreated torture scenes that are frighteningly realistic.