For many South Koreans, the former presidential palace in Seoul was a little-visited, heavily secured mountainside landmark. That's now changed as thousands have been allowed a look inside for the first time in 74 years. As one of his first acts, the new South Korean leader has moved the presidential offices from the Blue House, named after its distinctive blue roof tiles, and opened its gates to the public, allowing a maximum of 39,000 people a day to visit. The normally serious compound has been transformed into something like a fair, with excited crowds looking around and standing in long queues.
"I feel grateful that the Blue House has opened to the public," 61-year-old office worker Lee Sang Woon said recently during a tour with his family. "I am really happy to be here."
The Blue House has gone through multiple transformations over the years. Once the site of a royal garden, the Japanese built the official residence for their governors-general there during Tokyo's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. After Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, the US military commander occupied the place until it became South Korea's official presidential office and residence upon the country's foundation in 1948.
The Blue House opening is part of new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's pledge to abandon the palace and establish his offices at the Defense Ministry compound in the Yongsan district, about 5km away.
Yoon said he chose the Defense Ministry compound because it's already equipped with security-related command facilities. He said he aims to build something similar to the White House in Washington that would let citizens have a closer look at the building over a fence. Yoon said the new offices will allow for better communication with the public.