Discover Seoul between tradition and modernity: The fascinating capital

Seoul (서울) is the capital of South Korea and is located in the northeast of the country. Between its skyscrapers and traditional houses, frenetic pace, and serenity, Seoul is a multifaceted city that will never cease to amaze you.

Suppose Seoul remains the seat of the National Assembly and the Presidency. In that case, many ministries and national institutions have been transferred to the new town of Sejong, the de facto administrative capital, since 2013.

It is South Korea’s capital and one of Asia’s most significant economic centers. It is also the political center of the country. It is characterized by the merging of modern architecture with ancient Korean architecture. Its historical attractions attract tourists worldwide and contain many commercial complexes and markets.

Located on the Han River, in the northwest of the country, it has a population of approximately eleven million intramural inhabitants and 25,620,000 in its urban area (which notably includes Incheon ) 5, which makes it the third most populous megalopolis in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City, and just ahead of New York. In addition, the city is home to nearly half of South Korea’s population. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is about 45 kilometers from the city center.

Founded two thousand years ago by the Baekje Kingdom, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, Seoul was the capital of the Kingdom of Joseon for more than five hundred years. At the end of the 19th century,  breaking with a long tradition of isolation, Seoul opened up to foreigners, particularly the United States: it was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, running water, telephone, and a tram network. Occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945 and renamed Gyeong Seong, the city became the capital of the Republic of Korea upon its proclamation in 1948.

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It was seriously damaged during the conflicts of the Korean War, of which the battle of Seoul was one of the significant events: the palace of Gyeongbokgung and its main gate were notably set on fire. Rebuilt in the 1960s and 1970s, with the help of the United States, it experienced robust industrialization and became the face of modernizing South Korea. Since the 1990s, Seoul has seen its population grow significantly thanks to the influx of people from the countryside.

Headquarters of Korea’s most prominent corporations (the chaebol ), including Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, Seoul is considered a global city. Its very high standard of living and its GDP – the fourth in the world for an urban area after Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles – make it one of the main economic centers in the world. The trendy district of Gangnam and the Digital Media City concentrate companies on new technologies.

The city has many buildings with futuristic architecture, such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Lotte Super Tower 123, which reached 555 meters in height in 2016 and surpassed N Seoul Tower. Symbol of its influence, Seoul has organized several major international events, including the 1986 Asian Games, the 1988 Summer Olympics, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and the November 2010 G20 Summit.

A major tourist destination, Seoul has three UNESCO World Heritage monuments: Changdeokgung Palace, Jongmyo Shrine, and several royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Due to its high population density, more than three million vehicles are counted there, which leads to daily traffic jams, even after midnight. Finally, as the country’s cultural heart, Seoul is the birthplace of K-pop and the spread of Korean culture worldwide (Hallyu).

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In 2018, Seoul joined the Fab City movement, following Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias’ call for all cities to become self-sufficient by 2054.

Bukchon district Seoul South Korea city sightseeing

The country’s cultural center, Seoul, has nearly one hundred museums 26, 27, including four national ones. The National Museum of Korea is the most representative in South Korea. Created in 1945 and located since 2005 in a new building in Yongsan 28 Family Park, this museum includes collections that cover the entire history of Korea from the Prehistory of Korea through the times of constitution of the first kingdoms from the “Middle Ages,” but also up to the Joseon period, galleries of Korean fine arts ( calligraphy, painting, and Buddhist art) and an Asian art gallery 29.

Two other national museums are located on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. These are the National Folk Museum of Korea, which exhibits replicas of historical objects to illustrate the history of the traditions and daily life of the Korean people, and the National Palace Museum of  Korea. The fourth national museum, opened in 2013, is a branch of the National Museum of Contemporary Art 30.

The Leeum (Samsung Art Museum) is a private museum dedicated to traditional Korean and contemporary art. Ilmin Art  Museum and Gansong Art Museum are two other private museums devoted to Korean art. Two university collections are world famous: the Seoul National University Museum 31 (ancient art and prehistory, folklore,  etc. ) and that of the Ewha Women’s University 32 (ceramics: celadon…, screens, paintings). Horim Museum 33has a beautiful collection of Korean art from Seoul (old ceramics, illustrations) in two exhibition spaces: the new annex, the Horim Museum Sinsa 34, which organizes beautiful temporary, educational exhibitions in an art center brand, and on the other hand, the original building, the Horim Museum Sillim 35, more eccentric, much calmer too, in Gwanak-gu.

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Seoul also has history museums, such as the Korean War Memorial, which traces the various wars involving Korea; the Seodaemun Prison Museum, a former prison built during the Japanese occupation and which serves as today’s museum and memorial dedicated to this period; and the Seoul History Museum dedicated to the city’s history since the Joseon period. Finally, Yonsei University has a small museum of Korean prehistory, of great interest, created by the founder of Korean paleontology, Professor Sohn Pokee.

Thematic museums include the Pulmuone Kimchi  Museum, the Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum devoted to gastronomy, and the Seodaemun Natural History Museum.

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Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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