Once Upon a Roof: Vanished Korean Architecture

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery | Gallery 22

Roof tiles made of fired clay are key elements of traditional Korean architecture. They not only protected wooden structures from the weather; they also carried aesthetic value and symbolic meaning. One special type of ornamented roof tile is the focus of this exhibition. Called chimi in Korea, these impressive features crowned both ends of the main roof ridge of prominent buildings. In addition to protecting and embellishing building peaks, they were believed to ward off evil.

While the ancient wood frame buildings they adorned are long gone, clay roof tiles, including chimi, have survived more than one thousand years. This exhibition features three chimi unearthed from the sites of two Buddhist temples and one palace complex dating to the Three Kingdoms (Baekje) and Unified Silla periods. Also included are round roof tile ends excavated at the same sites. Together, these artifacts reveal hidden stories of the ancient architecture of Korea.

Most of these works have never been exhibited outside Korea.

We thank our colleagues at the National Museum of Korea for sharing their research and for facilitating this exhibition.

Organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art and the National Museum of Korea. Generous support provided by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea.

Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism