Previously the site of the 15th century Buddhist Wongaksa temple and a 10 story pagoda, Tapgol was re-purposed as a garden and national park in 1897. Involving the demolition of dozens of houses, it was designed as a “western park” and opened in 1913 as the first modern park in Korea. The pagoda has been preserved.
In 1919, the March 1st Movement began here with the reading of the Proclamation of Independence (from Japanese occupation). Over the next two years two million Koreans participated in 1500 protests, accompanied by independence proclamations. Japanese militia put down this movement savagely resulting in 23000 dead and wounded and 46000 arrested. On the east side of the park are a number of bronze bas-relief plaques depicting the independence movement and subsequent Japanese retaliation. Near a statue of one of the student protesters are large plaques with the 1762 word declaration of independence in both Korean and English.
More recently, Tapgol Park was the terminus of the Grand Peace March for Democracy on June 24, 1986. See also Seoul Plaza.