Gallery: Historic boarding schools seek top UNESCO marks
Seowons were the dominant educational institutions of Korea's final dynasty -- the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Privately owned, exclusively male, and Confucian, these elite boarding schools of yesteryear were the gathering place of the top budding intellects in the Hermit Kingdom.
With such a high concentration of the nation's cleverest minds, seowons became very powerful, with its aristocratic members enjoying privileges like tax breaks. It was a recipe for corruption, and seowons became a source of political cliques and party squabbles.
During the resign of King Gojong, the regent Heungsun Daewonkoon issued a decree that abolished hundreds of seowons, excepting the few that were officially recognized by the king.
Today they are all relics.
But if that sounds sad, there's a bright side. A whopping 637 seowons are still standing today, and the Korean media recently made much of the fact that nine of the 637 were included on UNESCO's tentative list of potential World Heritage sites earlier this month. The nine seowons may be relics, but at least they'll be relevant relics.
Not everyone would agree that UNESCO World Heritage status is a positive thing, however. "Consumption and preservation do not go together," Francesco Bandarin, assistant director-general of UNESCO said to the New York Times earlier this month.
Despite concerns about the negative side effects of UNESCO recognition, such as an overwhelming tourism influx, Korean officials say that UNESCO recognition is actually an important part of the preservation efforts for historical sites.
"The purpose of signing these sites up as World Heritage site is to protect them, not to attract tourists," said Cho Dong-joo, the deputy director at the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, who oversees the UNESCO candidates from Korea. "UNESCO can take sites off of its World Heritage list if the protection is not up to standard."
More on CNNGo: Gallery: UNESCO adds 12 sites to its World Heritage list
The nine candidates
1. Donam Seowon (돈암서원)
74 Im-ri, Yeonsan-myeon, Nonsan-si, Chungcheongnam-do (충남 논산시 연산면 임리 74번지) +82 41 736 0096; 7a.m.–6p.m.
2. Dodong Seowon (도동서원)
726 Guji-myeon, Dalseong-gun, Daegu (대구 달성군 구지면 구지서로 726); +82 53 617 7620
3. Namgye Seowon (남계서원)
Wonpyeong-ri, Sudong-myeon, Hamyang-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do (경남 함양군 수동면 원평리 586-1)
4. Sosu Seowon (소수서원)
152-8 Naejuk-ri, Sunheung-myeon, Yeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경북 영주시 순흥면 내죽리 152-8); +82 54 634 3310
5. Dosan Seowon (도산서원)
680 Togye-ri, Dosan-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongbuk (경북 안동시 도산면 토계리 680번지); +82 54 840 6599; 9a.m.-6p.m. in summer, 9a.m.-5p.m. in winter
6. Oksan Seowon (옥산서원)
7 Oksan-ri, Angang-eup, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do (경북 경주시 안강읍 옥산리 7); +82 54 779 6394
7. Byeongsan Seowon (병산서원)
30 Byeongsan-ri, Pungcheon-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongbuk (경북 안동시 풍천면 병산리 30번지); +82 54 853 2172
8. Piram Seowon (필암서원)
184 Piram Seowon-ro, Hwangnyong-myeon, Jangseong-gun, Jeollanam-do (전남 장성군 황룡면 필암서원로 184); +82 61 393 7270
9. Museong Seowon (무성서원)
Wonchon Village, Museong-ri, Chilbo-myeon, Jeongeup-si, Jeonbuk (전북 정읍시 칠보면 무성리 원촌마을); +82 63 536 6776