The Crowded Seoul

Seoul is the capital of Korea. It was once the capital of Baekje, one of the three ancient kingdoms. Yi Seong-ge, the founder of the Joseon dynasty established its capital in Seoul in 1392, and since then, Seoul has been the capital of Korea for more than 600 years. Seoul has an area of 672 km2, and has a population of 10 million people, being the biggest city in Korea. It is surrounded by Mt. Buk-han, Mt. Su-rak, and Mt. Gwan-ak, and the Han river flows through the middle. Seoul is the center for Korean politics, economy, culture and almost everything else. The 1988 Olympic Games were held in Seoul, and it is also known for hosting the 2002 World Cup games.

PALACES. Seoul has several royal palaces. Gyeong-bok-gung is the largest of the five palaces built during the Joseon dynasty. It held the king’s office as well as living quarters for the royal family. It was built in 1395 for the new dynasty by Yi Seong-ge, the founder of Joseon. The buildings inside the palace used to number 7,225 kans (rooms or units) and the buildings outside of the palace numbered 489 kans, but in 1904 the Japanese destroyed them in order to ruin the Korean identity. Recently, some of the buildings were restored. Chang-deok-gung was built in 1405, the fifth year of the King Taejong’s reign, as a place for the king and the royal family to stay in the case of fire in the main palace or other unexpected emergencies. The king and the royal family resided there when there was a fire in Gyeong-bok-gung in 1610 and when King Gojong rebuilt Gyeong-bok-gung in 1868. Chang-deok-gung’s garden in the back is famous for being natural, mysterious, and sensitive to natural changes. It was designed as a resting place from the boredom of monotonous palace life, and its beauty lies in the dense forest, beautiful ppnd, and exquisite pavilion. The garden was recognized as one of the World’s Cultural Heritage sites to be protected by the International Agreement for Preservation of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage at the 21st meeting of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Committee in Naples, Italy on December 3rd in 1997. Chang-gyeong-gung was built in 1483, in the 14th year of King Seong-jong’s reign. It has the oldest Jeong-jeon (palace for the king’s audience chamber), Myeng-jeong-jeon, which was built in King Gwang-ha-gun’s reign. Chang-gyeong-gung is right next to Chang-deok-gung, sharing fences. In Im-ji-wae-ran, the 1592 war with Japan, the three palaces (Gyeong-bok, Chang-gyeong, and Chang-deok) were all burned down. When King Seonjo came back from exile, there was no palace for him and his family to stay. They had to live in the house of Wol-san-dae-gun, a member of the royal family since his house was the largest and the most intact. Since then, the house has been called Deok-su-gung. King Seonjo died there in February 1608, and King Gwang-hye succeeded him. Jeong-hwa-jeon in Deok-su-gung was restored in 1906. Construction of Suk-jo-jun in Deok-su-gung began in 1900 and was completed in 1910. Un-hyeong-gung is designated as a National Historical Site (No. 257), and was renowned as the political headquarters of Dae-won-gun (1820-1898), father of King Gojong. Gojong was born and grew up there until the age of 12. It was not a palace at first, but it began to be called a palace as the son became king and the king’s parents lived there. There is an exhibition hall of historical relics, and one can see the wedding of King Gojong and his queen, Myeong-seong-hwang-hu being reenacted.

JONG-MYO. Jong-myo is one of the Confucian shrines in which the tablets of kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty are kept. It is one of the most magnificient and refined buildings. Its construction begun in December, 1394, when the first king of Joseon moved the capital to Seoul and was completed in September, the following year. In Joseon, the regular memorial services for ancestors were held in Jeong-jeon in each season and at the end of the year. Special services were held in Spring, in Autumn, and at the end of the year in Young-nyeong-jun. Now the descendants of the Yi family from Jeon-ju (the royal family) hold a service in the first Sunday of May called Jong-myo-je-re. The service is also accompanied by special music and dance, which are called Jong-myo-je-re-ak.

NAMSAN FOLK VILLAGE. A village of traditional Korean houses is located on the north side of Namsan. In the Joseon age, the village had a ravine with clean water flowing and a pavilion. It was famous as a summer picnic place. It was called Cheong-hak-dong, where Cheong-hak, blue cranes live. Cheong-hak-dong is one of the five dongs with beautiful scenery along with Sam-cheong-dong, In-wang-dong, Sang-gye-dong, and Baek-wun-dong. Now it has five traditional Korean houses from a house of the upper class to a house of an average Korean household. The inside of the houses is decorated in the same way their residents used to live, and there is also an exhibition hall of traditional artifacts, which has masters’ works and souvenirs.

IN-SA-DONG. In-sa-dong is one of the representative traditional streets. It is close to Jong-ro, the center street of Seoul, and it is visited by a large number of people since it is convenient to get there by public transportation. There are many things to see such as antiques, ceramics, paper stores, galleries, and traditional tea houses. The In-sa-dong Traditional Culture Festival has been held since 1987, and with the festival and cultural attractions, the street grew to be one of the most celebrated sites in Seoul. It is known as a street of live tradition, and especially, markets formed on the street on Sundays give vivid sensations of a traditional market place. People can experience the tradition themselves as they are invited to participate in the procedure of pottery making or rice cake cooking, and can get a taste of the past.

NATIONAL MUSEUM. The National Museum of Korea is the place where representative cultural and historical artifacts of Korea are displayed. It is the biggest museum in Korea with 140,000 items in store. It is under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for its research of historical artifacts and remains. The museum was established first as the museum of the Yi dynasty established in Chang-gyeong-gung in 1908. Funded by the royal family, it opened to the public with old paintings and relics. It had to move to different places such as Deok-su-gung, the Japanese Colonial years, the Korean war, and other historical incidents. On August 15th, 1995, the 50th anniversary of independence, the Japanese Government of Joseon building was demolished, and the plan of moving the museum was launched. The blueprint of a new museum in Yong-san Family Park was shown publicly in 2003, and it was opened on October 28th, 2005.

CHONG-WA-DAE. Cheong-wa-dae is the presidential residence locates at Sejong-ro 1, Jong-ro-gu, Seoul. With Mt Bugak at the back, it has the main building for the president’s office, a conference room, a reception room, and the presidential residence area, and an annexed building for the security guard team, secretary team, and guests. It also has a front garden, a back garden leading to Mt Bugak, and a pond. On the site there used to be a palace of the southern capital of Goryo dynasty. In the Joseon period, with the construction of Gyeong-bok-gung in 1426, it became a back garden of the palace and was named Gyeong-mu-dae. In 1972, the official residence for the Japanese governor-general was built on the site, and after independence it was used by the commander in chief of the US army in Korea. After the establishment of the Korean government, it became the official residence of president Yi Seung-man and was renamed Gyeong-mu-dae. Its name was changed to Cheong-wa-dae in August 1960, when president Yun Bo-seon was inaugurated.

THE WAR MEMORIAL. The memorial has almost all records of wars from ancient to modern times. Replicas and sets recreate vivid scenes of wars, and high-tech facilities help visitors understand the exhibitions. It has seven exhibition halls (Memorial Hall, War History  Room, Korean War Room, Korean Expeditionary Forces Room, Korean Armed Forces Development Room, Large Size Military Facility Room, and Korean Defense Industries Room), a Combat Experience Room, and outdoor exhibitions.

SUNG-REO-MUN. Sung-reo-mun, which is also called Nam-dae-mun, is the south gate of the Seoul Walls, and designated as National Treasure No 1. In the Joseon dynasty, delegations from China or Japan entered into Seoul through this gate. Built in 1396, it remains the biggest gate in Seoul, and shows off its colourful paintings and elegantly curved roof lines. It is a great sight with night lights.

SEOUL CITY HALL PLAZA. The plaza in front of Seoul City Hall was newly built as a lawn ground in 2004. It has always been a place where people gather together. In 1987, there was a huge demonstration called the June Uprising for Democracy on this spot and in 2002 citizens filled the plaza to watch the World Cup games together. Large-scale cultural activities such as “Hi Seoul Festival” or the opening ceremony of the Dajeong Film Festival are held on the lawn. It has water fountains which take on various colours by illumination, and provide a splendid night view with 48 lights surrounding the plaza. In summer, it is used as a lawn ground, and in winter an ice rink is constructed for citizens’ enjoyment in the middle of the city.

MARKETS. Nam-dae-mun and Dong-dae-mun markets are well-known to foreigners as well as Koreans. The two biggest markets in Korea sell almost everything such as clothing, everyday necessities, folk artifacts, regional special products, accessories, and produce at low price. Most of the shop owners sell the product manufactured by themselves, and the markets begin to be crowded from very earlly in the morning. If you see Seoul from the top of Namsan at night, you can find the markets are the brightest places in Seoul. At night, countless people fill the markets. The biggest merit of the markets is that you can buy anything at a low price. For young Koreans, they are known as Meccas of fashion, and always crowded with people who want to experience the culture of old type markets. Another famous traditional market in Seoul id Hwang-hak-dong Flea Market, which is also called “the market of ten thousand goods”. It is located on the Cheong-gae-chun 8th street, and has 500 shops. It was built between the 1950’s and 1960’s as a market for second-hand or rare goods, were haggling over prices can be fun. It is also called Dog-gae-bi (magic) market since old and worn-out goods are magically turned into new ones by the shop owners.

MYEONG-DONG. Myeong-dong is the Korean financial center, as the Central Bank and other bank’s main branches are located there. It used to be said, “Oneshould read the flow of money in Myeong-dong to know about the Korean economy at any moment”. In the area, there are 30 bank branches, 20 stock company offices, and 20 security bond companies. At the same time, it is the most bustling area in Seoul. There are a lot of fashion shops, cafes with a long history, bars with live stages for folk singers, and various kinds of restaurants. The average number of people visiting Myeong-dong a day is around 2 million. There is also an increasing numberof foreigners there, so signs in Japanese or Chinese can be easily found there.

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