The Korea Herald


Han bridges tell stories of past, present


Published : March 30, 2010 - 16:14

    • Link copied

One feels proud to be a Seoulite when crossing the vast and commanding Han River by car or train, and seeing the water glistening in the sun, and the beautiful lights along each bridge at night.
The Han River, which cut through the metropolitan city from east to west, not only represents the industrial might of the country but is also a great tourist attraction.
There are more than 20 bridges across the Han, which reflect the history of the country, with each of them having their own story to tell.
Some of the bridges are more famously known, such as Seongsu Bridge, which was reconstructed after its tragic collapse in 1994. Others, like Gangdong Bridge in the eastern corner of Seoul, are less well known.
Two recently constructed bridges at the east and west point of the river represent the increasing amount of traffic and the constant economic growth of the city.
Appreciating the value and significance of Han River, the Seoul Metropolitan Government began in 2006 its so-called "Han River Renaissance" project to recreate and improve the space around the waterfront of the Han River.

In January this year, the Seoul government added more aims to the project, including measures to change the river`s skyline, which is largely filled with grey residential buildings.
According to the plan, apartment buildings taller than 50 stories will be possible in such areas as Yeouido, Apgujeong, Jamsil and Seongsu.
The space surrounding the river will also be revamped into public areas, such as parks and cultural spaces.
More projects are likely to be added, as Seoul City, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province have recently reaffirmed their determination to work together in creating the "Gyeongin Canal" linking Han River to the West Sea.

History of Han River bridges

The development of Han River bridges has been closely intertwined with the growth of Korea`s culture and economy for the past 600 years, after the capital city was moved from Gaegyeong (currently Gaeseong of North Korea) to Hanseong (Seoul) in 1394 by Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty.
It is said that king had to travel up and down the Han River, which was narrower at the time, every year -- either to pay tribute to his ancestors or on leisure outings.
The first kind of a bridge is said to have been a form of floating pier, created by putting large planks over some 70 large boats, to allow the royal procession to cross over.
This bridge was located where Hangang Bridge stands. It was also a source of great public complaint, as many people were mobilized to bind the boats, taking at least a month each time they did this.
As livelihoods along the river grew, traffic demand across the river also expanded.

With improved engineering and construction skills, the work to build the first bridge -- what is now Hangang Railroad Bridge -- began in 1897, linking Yongsan and Noryangjin. The construction was completed in 1900.
The bridges of Han River were also tested through the time, such as the demolition of the Hangang Bridge during the Korean War (1950-1953) to hold back the North Korean troops from progressing further south.
Twenty bridges straddle the river in Seoul, and two new ones have been completed as of last year. There are six additional bridges in Gyeonggi Province.
Here are the histories of some of them.

Hangang Railroad Bridge

The first bridge to be installed across the river was the Hangang Railroad Bridge in July 5, 1900.
The bridge underwent four years of construction, led by American James R. Morse, who gained the rights to build it from the government and the Gyeongin railway authorities in March 1896.
It was the country`s first modern engineering and construction work, and created a lot of jobs in the Yongsan area.
In 1905, as more trains crossed the Han River following the establishment of Gyeongbu railway line, which links Seoul and Busan, demands for a second railway bridge rose.
Thus, the second railroad bridge was constructed (now known as Hangang Railroad Bridge B) in Sept. 1912 next to the first one. Bridges C and D more were built in 1944 and 1994. A now carries rail lines between Yongsan and Bupyeong, B is used by cargo trains, C for lines going south of Seoul, and D by trains to Incheon. Bridges A, B, and C were all reconstructed after being blown up during the Korean War (1950-1953) to prevent the North Korean army from crossing to the South.

Hangang Bridge
Seventeen years after the construction of the first railroad bridge, a separate bridge for people and carriages to use was established.
Hangang Bridge, which opened on Oct. 7, 1917, remains a pivotal channel linking the downtown area of Seoul into Noryangjin in the southern part of the river.
The bridge went through expansion works in 1936 to cope with the increased traffic. The bridge was also destroyed during the Korean War and restored in 1958. An identical bridge was laid in Feb. 1982 right next to the first one.


Gwangjingyo links Gwangnaru, one of the key gateways of the city, to the southern part of Seoul.
Gwangnaru has been the gateway to Seoul from Wonju and the East Coast, and it had a dock for ferries. In the 1920s, motorboats would often transport cargo vehicles and buses across the river from Gwangnaru. But it was not convenient as the area was vulnerable to flooding. By the 1930s, people began to think about laying a bridge in the area, and Gwangjingyo was constructed by 1936.
This bridge was also destroyed upon the outbreak of the Korean War but was reconstructed by U.S. troops in 1952.
The bridge was complete reconstructed and reopened in Nov. 2003.

Yanghwa Bridge

Full-fledged construction of bridges along the Han River began in the 1960s when the nation`s economic development began to take speed. The third bridge to cross the river was Yanghwa Bridge built in Jan. 1965.
The bridge that links Hapjeong-dong of the North and Dangsan-dong of the South in the western part of the city serves as an efficient conduit to get to Gimpo Airport. At the time of the construction, the bridge was used mainly for military purposes to ship equipment to Munsan, near the demilitarized zone. The bridge was expanded to eight lanes in 1982.

Hannam Bridge

The bridge that is probably one of the most frequently used ones is located in the center of the city. It is also closely related to the vast developments of areas such as Gangnam, Yeouido and Gangdong. Hannam Bridge was completed in Dec. 1969, in time for the opening of the Gyeongbu expressway connecting Seoul to Busan. Learning from the past experience of failing to help evacuees during the Korean War by destroying the bridges, Hannam was initially built for evacuation purposes. As traffic surged, the bridge was widened twice in 1996 and 2001. Now it comprises 12 lanes and is the widest bridge across the river.

Mapo Bridge

The bridge, originally named Seoul Bridge, contributed to making Yeouido the center of the nation`s politics and finance. It opened in May 1970. After 30 years, as the bridge became too old and narrow to cope with the traffic and heavier vehicles, the bridge received major reconstruction and reopened in Dec. 2005.

Seongsu Bridge

Seongsu Bridge harbors one of the most tragic and embarrassing moment of Korea`s history. The bridge that was built in 1980 to link Wangsimni of the North to Apgujeong of the South was one of the most frequently used bridges for traffic that was otherwise congested on Yeongdong and Hannam bridges.
But on Oct. 21 in 1994, the bridge collapsed due to poor construction, killing 32 people in vehicles on the 48-meter-long section that crumbled.
After the collapse, experts advised that the parts that remained could be fixed and reconnected safely, but a decision was made to completely rebuild the structure due to negative public sentiment. Hyundai Engineering and Construction took over the reconstruction and the bridge was reopened under the same name on July 3 1997.

Weonhyo Bridge

This bridge was the first to be funded by public-private partnership. Dongah Construction invested 22.5 billion won and Seoul City 2 billion won. Upon the completion of the construction in Oct. 1981, the bridge came under the property of Seoul with Dongah agreeing to receive toll fees for the next 20 years. The company offered free passage during the first month of the opening and began charging vehicles but received negative response from drivers. The bridge soon opened as public facility after Dongah decided to donate the entire property under the city government`s possession.

Olympic Bridge

This bridge was constructed to commemorate the hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It became the 16th bridge over the Han River, boasting 88-meter-high central tower decorated with four concrete pillars and supported by 24 parallel steel wires. The number 24 represents the 24th Olympics.
On May 29, 2001, while setting up a flame-shaped sculpture on top of the pillars, the army CH-47D helicopter crashed, killing all three onboard.

Other bridges in Seoul include: Jamsil Bridge (opened 1972), Yeongdong Bridge (1973), Cheonho Bridge (1976), Banpo (Jamsu) Bridge (1976, 1982), Seongsan Bridge (1980), Dongjak Bridge (1984), Hengju Bridge (1995), Seogang Bridge (1999), Cheongdam Bridge (2001), Gayang Bridge (2002), Jamsil Railroad Bridge (1979).
Those in Gyeonggi Province are: New Hengju Bridge (1995), Gangdong Bridge (1991), Paldang Bridge (1995) Gimpo Bridge (1997) Banghwa Bridge (2000) and Ilsan Bridge (2008).
The newest bridges are World Cub Bridge (2nd Seongsan Bridge) from Yangpyeong-dong in the southern part and the World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong, and Amsa Bridge in the eastern part of Seoul linking Amsa-dong in the southern part to Guri of Gyeonggi Province.
By Lee Joo-hee