The Westin Chosun Hotel is the grande dame of Seoul’s hospitality scene. It originated as an act of cultural desecration.
In 1913, the Japanese destroyed the Hwangudan Altar – Seoul’s equivalent of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where the Emperor would perform the rites of heaven, and built in 1897, during the brief Daehan era. In its place, it erected, in 1914, the Chosun Hotel – a modern, European-style Grand Hotel designed and built by Germans.
One of the shrines from the Hwangudan complex – the Hwangungu, a three storey octagonal pagoda – was allowed to remain standing on the grounds of the hotel, where it still stands today.
By 1968, the hotel had become too small for the number of guests, and so the entire building was unfortunately demolished, and replaced with a high-rise hotel tower. The hotel was renamed the Westin Chosun Hotel in 1981, and it has remained so today.
I stayed at the Chosun during my sojourn in Seoul and it did not disappoint in terms of luxury and service. My only disappointment was that in all respects, it felt like any other major five-star hotel chain in the world – that sense of history that would have come from staying at a historic grand hotel was missing.
I sought consolation at the Hwangungu shrine – which still continues to stand on the hotel’s grounds, and provided a mute though eloquent reminder of the hotel and its host city’s turbulent and traumatic past.
Goodbye Seoul. Till next time.