Exploring Seoul’s Rich History: An Insightful Essay Sample
Journey to the Past: Unearthing Seoul’s Millennia-old History
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is officially known as the Seoul Special City because it is a directly controlled municipality of equal status to the country’s provinces. The Korean term Seoul is the direct translation of the word capital city. According to Ladd (n.d.), this reference to Seoul was first used in 1946, following the end of the Second World War II. The city is located in the middle of the Korean Peninsula, close to the western coastal line, and in the northwest corner of South Korea proper, several kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone border separating South Korea from North Korea. The port city of Incheon neighbors Seoul to the west. Incheon, Seoul, and other satellite cities form the Great Seoul region.
High mountains surround Seoul. In addition, the capital city is regarded as the Korean center of architecture, politics, religion, and other significant cultural expressions such as dance, art, and fashion. This has made it a significant tourist destination in Asia. Seoul is the largest metropolitan area in the world after Tokyo, with over 25 million inhabitants (Kim, 2012b). The main language spoken in this city is Korean. Almost half of all South Koreans reside in Seoul alone. However, the city is home to many ex-patriots as well. It is classified as a megacity and the largest city in the OECD. Two main religions are practiced in Seoul: Christianity and Buddhism. However, several minor religions exist, such as Confucianism.
Seoul has a long and rich history. Shin and Sneider (2011) assert that 600 years of Korean history can be found within this city. However, the overall history of the region can be traced back to 18 BC (Shin & Sneider, 2011). It is thus believed that the history of Seoul calculated from the present goes back over two millenniums. Seoul has developed mainly as a capital city since its inception in the 14th century (Shin & Sneider, 2011). This is because various dynasties have constantly used it as their capital. The city’s propitious location between mountains and a river presents a clue for this preference and explains why kings favored it. For instance, King Taejo, the first ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, one of the kingdoms that settled in Seoul, chose this city as his capital. Currently, Seoul is one of the leading and rising global cities. The city has undergone an economic boom that has propelled it to this position. This economic transformation, commonly known as the miracle on the Han River, has led to the city contributing to a significant chunk of South Korea’s GDP.
Embarking on a Timeless Journey: Unraveling Seoul
This study seeks to trace the history of Seoul from the beginning of ancient times to the current modern, metropolitan city that it has become. This discussion aims to explore Seoul as a city from when it was founded in the 14th century to the current time in the 21st century. An etymology of the city will also be given. The focus is to present the historical development of the city’s name, Seoul. This is because the city has been known by many names throughout history. The early history of Seoul will also be assessed. This will feature two main areas of interest. The first will be the prehistoric period of the city. This information will be derived from the findings of various archaeological studies conducted on the city. The second area of interest will cover the three kingdoms period. This will feature an exploration of three dynasties that ruled Seoul and the impact of this on the historical development of the city. The final area of interest will include the city’s architectural development, religion, and language.
The Tapestry of Time: Seoul’s Historical Saga
What’s in a Name? Tracing Seoul’s Nomenclature Through the Ages
Seoul has, throughout its history, been known by several names. One such name was Wirye-Seong. Kim (2014) postulates that this was the name used for the city during the Baekje Kingdom. Another name that was used to refer to this city was Namgyeong. This name was mostly used during the time of the Goryeo dynasty. Hanseong is another name that was used to refer to the city. This took place during the era of both the Baekje and Joseon Dynasties. Another name that this city was given was Hanyang. The name was mostly used during the Joseon era. When the city came under colonial rule, the name Gyeongseong was used as a reference. During the Japanese annexation of Korea, the city was called Keijo. The Japanese Imperialists made this change to eliminate confusion with the name Hanja, which was also a reference to the Han in Chinese. The current name, Seoul, derives from the Korean language used in ancient times, meaning capital. The city received this name after the nation gained independence from Japan following the end of the Second World War in 1945.
The Dawn of Time: Seoul’s Ancient Beginnings
Prehistoric. Humans first settled in the area of current-day Seoul during the Paleolithic age. They were believed to have made settlements along the Han River and nearby areas such as Kanghwa, Yong-in, P’aju, and Inch’ on. This has been confirmed by archaeological findings that illustrate people in this area started to live a settled life during the Neolithic age. According to Seth (2010), some prehistoric remains discovered in present-day Seoul are believed to date back approximately 3000-7000 years ago. It is believed that discoveries such as bronze were responsible for prompting the people living in this area during the prehistoric age to slowly move away from the Han River. As a result, the people started to make settlements in the direction of inland settlement regions. During this prehistoric time, it is believed that people lived in small, tribal states. Their main activity was farming, which they carried out using tools made of stone and earthenware. Some of the relics discovered by archaeologists include dolmens and shell mounds. These relics indicate a civilization along the fertile parts of the Han River basin during prehistoric times.
The period of the 3 kingdoms. The background of the three kingdoms shows that their rule began from around 57 BC to 668 AD (Ladd, n.d.). In addition, it is sometimes said that the three kingdoms first emerged during the time of Christ. Kim (2014) suggests that the term the three kingdoms was first used to refer to these kingdoms in titles of Korean histories around the 12th and 13th centuries. The historical title of Samguk Sagi was used in the 12th century, while Samguk Yusa was used in the 13th century (Kim 2014). Using these two terms for these three kingdoms allows them to understand the Chinese three kingdoms. The formation of the three kingdoms is believed to have been after the fall of Gojosean, a significantly ancient kingdom. At this precise time, each of the three kingdoms decided to conquer the weaker states around them and ended up in the Peninsula region where modern-day Seoul was located.
These three kingdoms comprised the ancient Baekje, Silla, and Goguryeo kingdoms. They are regarded as some of the kingdoms that influenced Seoul greatly, with this influence even spanning to the present. It is believed that all three kingdoms had similar cultures and languages. This was critical since it made it easy for the kingdoms to assert their control in the city when one of them was removed from power following its defeat by another. Besides the obvious political influence of these three kingdoms, they also brought in new ways of life that were significant in influencing the cultural development of the Asian city. This touched on aspects such as religion, language, and architecture as each Kingdom tried to assert its presence in the city. One important factor is that Silla later unified the three kingdoms after centuries of conflict. Kim (2012a) postulates this was around 57 BC and AD935. This allowed the three kingdoms to practice significant control over the entire Peninsula region. This Kingdom first conquered the Kingdom of Goguryeo and then the Kingdom of Baekje after ending its alliance with it. Historians spoke of a unified Korea for the first time during this time.
The ancient Kingdom of Baekje. The Kingdom of Baekje, also known as Paekche, is believed to be the first to show its presence in Seoul. Kim (2012b) said Baekje was a highly centralized and aristocratic kingdom. It was first founded as a member of the Mahan Confederacy. This existed between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD in the region around the Korean Peninsula, where modern-day Seoul is located. This Kingdom was believed to have amalgamated Chinese and indigenous influence into the city. The Kingdom of Baekje occupied Seoul in the 3rd century AD (Kim 2012b). This was a time in the Kingdom when it was believed to have gathered enough strength and advantage to defeat its rivals and thus take control of the city. Some of these rivals were other Mahan chiefdoms. Its official entry into Seoul took place around 18 BC. It is believed that the capital city of the Kingdom of Baekje Wiryeseong was inside modern-day Seoul. Further, some of the city’s remains have been established to be dated from this period, confirming the existence of the Baekje Kingdom.
During the reign of this Kingdom in Seoul, many interesting cultures were introduced to the city. This did not only touch the way of life of the people of this city but also their system of governance. Seth (2010) states one such new introduction was the father-to-son royal succession, which became a common Korean custom. This is said to have been introduced by the Baekje Kingdom, particularly by King Geun Chugo. Later on, the grandson of King Geun Chugo made a significant contribution to Seoul when he introduced a new religion, Buddhism, which became the city’s most common and accepted religion. This took place around the year 384 (Kim, 2012a). Shin and Sneider (2011) note that before its defeat in 660 by the alliance between Silla and the Chinese Tang Dynasty, bringing about a unified Silla, the Baekje Kingdom controlled a significant western part of the Korean Peninsula. This control stretched as far as the North of Pyongyang. It is also believed that the Baekje Kingdom had influence as far as China with territories such as Liaoxi. The presence of this Kingdom in such areas had a noteworthy influence on Seoul, introducing new practices and ways of life into the city.
The ancient Kingdom of Goguryeo. The Goguryeo Dynasty defeated the Kingdom of Baekje and took over the Korean Peninsula region. The dynasty was seeking to strategically establish its position in the region. This was believed to have occurred in 392 (Ladd, n.d.). At the time, the Goguryeo Kingdom was also called the Northern Kingdom. This Kingdom emerged from the North and south banks of the Yalu River. Its emergence occurred in the wake of the fall of the Gojoseon Dynasty. The Kingdom is first mentioned in Chinese records dating back to 75 BC (Kim, 2012a). This was through a remark concerning a commandery that the Han Dynasty established. This Kingdom is said to have been very well advanced, and it brought this advancement to Seoul and transformed it into a leading city of the region at the time. One fact about this Kingdom that makes it stand out is that it was the largest of the three. The large size of the Kingdom of Goguryeo extended to border China. This led to it being influenced by Chinese culture, which it brought to Seoul when it established it as its capital. This Chinese cultural influence led to the city adopting Buddhism as its official religion.
The ancient Kingdom of Silla. However, the control of the Goguryeo Dynasty was short-lived. This was due to the seizure of the region by Silla. Seth (2010) notes that the Kingdom of Silla initially allied with the Baekje in 551 and established control of the region. However, the alliance ended later, and Silla decided to conquer the entire peninsula region for itself. This thus became the last Kingdom to govern the city of Seoul.
According to Ladd (n.d.), the Kingdom of Silla was initially named Saro before being renamed Silla in 503. It is vital to note that the name Silla was also used in this city. Before succeeding in taking over the Peninsula Region and the city of Seoul, Silla had to fight off enemies such as the Goguryeo Kingdom. To do this, it decided to form new alliances and thus reached out to the Tang Dynasty of China. Following its defeat of its rival Goguryeo, this Kingdom ended its alliance with this Chinese Dynasty. Before cutting off ties with the Tang Dynasty, besides gaining a political ally that helped it defeat its enemies, the Kingdom of Silla also gained from the dynasty in other ways. Thus, besides its own culture, Silla also included some aspects of the culture of the Tang dynasty. The high officials of the Kingdom were trained at the Confucian Academy. Despite the amalgamation of some aspects of the culture of the Tang Dynasty, Silla’s culture remained distinct and one of the most advanced in the world. This, to a large extent, paints a picture of the status of things in Seoul about culture during the time of the Silla Kingdom in the city.
As mentioned earlier, Silla practiced Buddhism in the city since the three kingdoms were culturally similar. Consequently, this became the official religion used in Seoul after establishing the Kingdom in the city. However, the Kingdom of Silla differs slightly from the first two kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo in that it was less influenced by Chinese culture.
The three kingdoms from an archaeological perspective. An archaeological perspective can be used to further understand the influence of the three kingdoms in Seoul. Some of the main archaeological sites that can be dated back to this period include excavated cemeteries, many of which are located in the mountains surrounding the city. It is claimed that the archaeological evidence of the three kingdoms’ existence has increased considerably over the years. Kim (2012b) affirms that this increase peaked during the 1990s. In particular, this increase has featured sites involving ancient industrial production, roads, palaces, ceremonial sites, and houses of commoners. An archaeological discussion of the three kingdoms will feature the following aspects. The first will involve the formation of the three kingdoms. The second part of the discussion will feature archeological evidence from burials. The third part of the discussion will entail archaeological evidence from the factory production of pottery and roof tiles. The final part of the archaeological evidence will highlight various monumental architecture and capital cities.
The archaeological discussion on the formation of the three kingdoms begins with the assertion that there existed various links of complex societies of people in the chiefdoms of Korea that can be dated back as far as 700 BC, as postulated by (Shin & Sneider, 2011). However, some of the best evidence suggests that the three kingdoms developed around 300 BC and 300 or 400 AD (Seth, 2010). This, however, does not necessarily mean that states existed during the BC era, as archaeologists have yet to prove this with certainty. This archaeological evidence shows that the correlates of state societies did not develop at one particular time; instead, this took place in spurts and started at various points in time. Kim (2014) states that the development of states and thus the possibility of the existence of the three kingdoms became a possibility around 100-400 AD. This is confirmed by the fact that this was when most individual states, societies and kingdoms had come about in good numbers.
The archaeological discussion on the development of the three kingdoms using evidence from burials began with archaeologists analyzing cemeteries. These were discovered around the late 2nd century. The discovery was made in regions believed to have been the Kingdoms of Silla and Gaya. The analysis results indicated that these were graves belonging to the elites of that time (Kim, 2012a).
This was true for the prestige grave goods. This, however, was not witnessed on a regional scale among the cemeteries. Further archaeological evidence shows that during this time, the size of the graves of the elites was increasing. These graves used a wooden chamber construction technique. Changes began to emerge during the 3rd century. A distinct pattern began to show in the cemeteries of the single elites considered to hold the highest status. The cemeteries of these elites were constructed along ridgelines, on hilltops, and in the region’s mountainous areas. This is a critical fact given that mountains surrounded the city of Seoul, indicating that the cemeteries of the elites must have been constructed in these areas. To further enhance the importance of their status, the high-status elites were buried in much larger tombs located at the highest points. This information sheds light on how burials took place in Seoul as the three kingdoms introduced their aspects of the burial process and the cemeteries.
The archaeological evidence on factory production focuses specifically on pottery and roof tiles. While archaeological evidence from the burial places of the three kingdoms were indicators of the regional political hierarchies that existed at the time, this evidence can also be used to show the economic activities and culture of the three kingdoms. Pottery was one of the main activities that was performed in the three kingdoms. In the beginning, the people focused on varying their pottery production. However, this gradually ended and ultimately disappeared and was replaced with full-time specialization in pottery production. According to Seth (2010), this change came at the end of the 4th century, when pottery production was critical in the three kingdoms. The vessels that were produced became standardized and production centralized. The archaeological excavation at Songok-dong in Gyeongju evidence this. This excavation provides evidence of the ancient industrial complex that must have existed in Seoul during the periods of each of the three kingdoms in the city. During the excavation of the archaeological sites in the 1990s, some of the discovered artifacts included remains of pottery kilns, roof tile kilns, and kilns made from charcoal (Shin & Sneider, 2011). Other interesting archaeological remains that were found included buildings and workshops that were linked with the production of this pottery.
Other significant periods of Seoul. Following the fall of the Three Kingdoms, other powers showed interest in controlling Seoul, leading to additional periods in the city’s history.
Goryeo period. The first of these was the Goryeo period. The Goryeo Dynasty came into Seoul and the peninsula region under the leadership of Wang Geon, who was described as a formidable military leader. Kim (2014) opines in particular that the dynasty came to Seoul following the defeat of its rival, the Kingdom of Silla, in 935. This officially ended the rule of the three kingdoms in Seoul. The dynasty was established in 918 by King Taejo (Kim 2014). One of the most interesting facts about Goryeo is that it is believed to be where the name Korea originated. Goryeo occupation of this region unified the boundaries that Korea today retains and those of the city of Seoul. Goryeo interest in Korea and, ultimately, in Seoul was fueled by the common belief that the most strategic Kingdom is one that has control of the Peninsula Region. This region was significant and was thus fought for by many as it was the center of transportation critical in driving economic activities. According to Ladd (n.d.), this occurred in 1104 following the Goryeo interest in gaining control of the city. The ruler of the Goryeo Dynasty at the time, King Sukjong, quickly instructed the construction of a palace in Gaesung. This area at the time was known as the Southern Capital or Namgyeong. The Goryeo period saw the city develop into a region with high political standing. This dynasty was just like others before it fell. Its collapse was due to an uprising led by General Yi Seong-Hye. He then proceeded to establish the Joseon dynasty.
Joseon period. The second period became the Joseon Period. This is believed to be the period when Seoul’s significance as a city began. This dynasty emerged in Seoul following the defeat of Goryeo by General Yi Seong-Hye. Kim (2012b) reiterates its presence in Seoul was first felt in 1394. The Joseon Dynasty decided to move its capital to Seoul. At the time, the city was known as Hanyang. This name was later changed to Hanseong, which meant “Fortress City on the Han”, as it was located on the basin of the Han River. It is believed that this was when the city became the capital of Korea. Yi Seong-Hye, now the king, had searched extensively for a location before settling on Seoul. He had wanted a place that would operate as a long-term phase of his government. Another reason why Yi Seong-Hye chose Seoul as his capital was because the city was geographically ideal for constructing palaces. Furthermore, it was an area that was fit for people to live in. Apart from palaces, stately buildings and royal shrines were also built.
The occupation of Seoul by the Joseon Dynasty lasted throughout its reign and ended later, following the fall of the Kingdom. The city was referred to as a fortress because it was surrounded by an immense circular wall that was put up during the reign of King Taejo, whose goal was to have a secure capital city. Therefore, the significance of this wall is to guarantee protection to the citizens of the city from various wild animals and other threats, such as outside invaders. During the wall construction, the ancient Koreans were aided by the plans of the inner mountains surrounding the city and geomatics. The inner walls made constructing the wall easier because the natural terrain along the ridgeline of the inner walls of the four mountains was used to show how the wall would follow in its construction. It is estimated that about 197,000 workers built the wall (Shin & Sneider, 2011). This lasted for 98 days, with the wall stretching for 17 kilometers (Shin & Sneider, 2011). A significant part of this wall remains intact in present-day Seoul and is an important tourist site. It is essential to note that this wall was vital for the city, and because of this, it underwent two major repairs. The first occurred in 1422, while the other occurred in 1899 (Shin & Sneider, 2011). That second repair was carried out to ease the impact of the city’s rapid modernization and expansion that was taking a toll on its infrastructure.
Further changes to the wall took place in the 20th century (Shin & Sneider, 2011). Seth (2010) reiterates that 1907, a wall section was torn down to allow the then-Prince Yoshihito to pass through as he visited Seoul. The prince had refused to use the gates to enter the city. This gate was later restored in the 1970s (Seth, 2010). This restoration involved the Samcheong section. The gates of the wall, which have come to be referred to as the Eight Gates, were open during the day and closed at night. The people were alerted of this opening and closing of the gates through large ringing bells. The trace of the city during this period can still be felt in modern-day Seoul. In particular, these traces include the south gate and the east gate, referred to as Namdaemun and Heunginjimun, respectively, at the time following their construction.
The initial years of Joseon rule in Seoul were relatively peaceful. During this time, Seoul grew into a real cosmopolitan city. One development during this time was the Korean alphabet, which, according to Kim (2012a), came about around the 14th century. King Sejong is credited with having pushed for its development. Another significant historical development was Confucianism, which became the religion of the day. To assert the adaptation of Confucianism into the city, the Joseon Dynasty completely banned Buddhism and Catholicism. This was practiced only in the mountains and the countryside.
Journeys Through Modernity: Seoul’s Recent Past
The Korean Empire period. The third period was the Korean Empire Period. This was a recent period that commenced in the late 19th century. In particular, this period began in 1897, following the end of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea (Kim, 2014). It was a significant moment for Seoul as, for almost a century, the city remained in isolation. This isolation spawned the origin of the name Hermit Kingdom, which was used by Western nations to refer to Korea, a legacy that continues today as the modern state of North Korea has been given this moniker. However, according to Ladd (n.d.), in the 19th century, the city opened itself to foreigners and developed a spirit for modernization. This led the city to make a concerted effort to catch up to the world, and over time, it became a leading modern city in Asia by being the first to have electricity, water, and modern communication systems through the development of the telephone and telegraph system. By opening itself up to foreigners, Seoul was able to undergo this transformation as a result of the trade that it conducted with its new foreign allies, notably the United States and France.
The modernizing process of the city following Korea’s decision to open itself up to the world can be understood as follows. The Gwangmu Government embarked on a mission to modernize the infrastructure of Korea and, thus, that of Seoul as the empire’s capital. According to Seth (2010), the emperor at the time allowed Korea to enter into a joint venture with an American company, leading to the creation of the Hanseong Electric Company. It was through this company that Korea and, subsequently, Seoul received electricity. This was consequential in helping other industries advance as they now had a convenient power source. Another significant advancement during this period was the creation of Seoul Fresh Spring Water Company, which was closely linked to American associates. This further modernized the city by making it easy for residents to access water. The Gwangmu Government is highly credited for promoting industrial advancement in Seoul and Korea. In addition to overseeing the business relations between Korea and the outside world, the government provided substantial support in developing technical and industrial schools, many of which were founded in Seoul.
Colonial period. This was also a significant time for Seoul as it marked the end of the city’s control by the feudal system of kings, aristocrats, peasants, enslaved people, and outcasts and introduced a new system of governance through the military. This took place when Imperial Japan annexed the entire Korean Empire. Shin and Sneider (2011) observe that following its success in colonizing Korea, Japan established Seoul as its capital. The colonial rule lasted from 1910-1945 (Shin & Sneider, 2011). At the time, the Japanese decided to call the city Keijo. This had the literal meaning of the capital city in Hanja. One positive that came from this is the city became highly urbanized. According to Shin and Sneider (2011), despite the harsh rule of its Japanese conquerors, the modern aspects of the city grew considerably. Besides urban growth, other developments that took place included expansion of commerce in the city, mass cultures such as radio, and industrial development, mainly in Seoul as the capital. According to Kim (2014), by the end of Japan’s rule in Korea, Seoul was the most dynamic city in Asia.
Seoul, at the time of Japanese rule, had 2 wards. The first was Keijo itself, while the second was Ryusan-ku. Japan’s control of the city ended following the Second World War in 1945 (Shin & Sneider, 2011), although the official end of Japanese rule in Korea ended in 1948, lasting 35 years. Japanese rule over Korea might have modernized Seoul, but it had a devastating effect on the city culturally. The Japanese wanted complete control over Korea and eliminated Korea’s culture by destroying Korean palaces. One major act by Japan in its endeavor to eradicate Korean culture came through its insistence that Koreans change their names and adopt Japanese names instead. The country was uncertain despite the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea. It had no experience with modern governance systems, while on the other hand, dynasty monarchy-style rule had been eliminated following Japan’s invasion.
Development after the end of the Second World War. It is essential to note that following the end of the Second World War, which was also significant in ending Japan’s colonial rule over Korea, things did not immediately change for Seoul. This was due to the division and the subsequent Korean War. But on another note, according to Kim (2012b), the city took up its current name, Seoul, during this period. The end of Japanese colonial rule paved the way for the Republic of Korea, which made the city it’s capital. The tension between the two factions took place, dividing the Republic of Korea into South and North Korea. This led to the breakout of the Korean War. During the war between the two sides, Seoul changed hands four times. The effect was its destruction when South Korea took back the city.
Contemporary period. Today, Seoul is a modern city with a highly modern and technologically advanced society that contributes to Asia’s overall development and is a leading force in innovation. This can be seen from its streets filled with magnificent skyscrapers and a population of over 10.3 million (Kim, 2014). Thus, this has become where everything significant in South Korea is centered. In addition, Seoul acts as a representative of the economic development of dynamic South Korea. The South Korean infrastructure is well-developed for supporting public transport. For instance, the city’s subway system is one of the main methods of travel among Seoul’s residents and visitors. This has been essential in making this relatively compact city smaller by connecting all the parts of the city.
Edifices of Time: The Architectural Wonders of Seoul
This discussion will feature the architecture of Seoul from the time of the three kingdoms and other significant periods of Seoul’s history.
The Octagonal Odyssey: A Tour of Seoul’s Eight Gates
Among some of the most fascinating architectural designs that exist in Seoul are the Eight Great Gates. A discussion of these gates provides an in-depth understanding of the historical development of the architecture of Seoul from the ancient times during the three kingdoms to the present.
The first gate under discussion is Namdaemun, also known as the Great South Gate or the Gate of Exalted Ceremonies. Its construction commenced in 1365, and the structure was completed in 1398 (Shin & Sneider, 2011). This gate was the largest, oldest, and most famous in Seoul. In modern-day Seoul, the gate is located next to one of the city’s major markets, which ultimately came to be named after the gate and is believed to have existed since the 1400s (Ladd, n.d.). During ancient times, this gate was used by foreigners to enter the city. Unfortunately, the gate was destroyed during arson in 2008 (Kim, 2012b). Despite this, the gate had existed for more than five centuries before its destruction, demonstrating the magnificent architecture of Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty.
Dongdaemun, also known as the Great East Gate, has a market with its name next to it. This market is the city’s most crowded and busiest shopping center. Having the markets near the gates was a measure of preventing congestion inside the city. This gate encompasses a significant amount of the city wall. The gate was initially put up in 1396, although it was reinforced in 1453 and rebuilt in 1869 (Seth, 2010). One unique feature of this gate is its exterior contains a wall built to reinforce it and ensure the effective defense of the city. Other architectural details include an arched hongyemun opening at the center of the granite base. The ornamentation on the gate is extremely detailed and typical of the Joseon Dynasty.
Bukdaemun Gate, also referred to as the Great North Gate, was first constructed in 1396 (Shin & Sneider, 2011). It was, however, not utilized as a gate but was instead built to fulfill the need for a fourth great wall for the dynasty of Joseon. The gate was used for the first 18 years after it was built and then shut down due to superstitious beliefs that an evil spirit could use it to enter the city. This was due to this gate’s closeness to the mountains where the cemeteries of the elite were located. This gate is open today; however, it is under strict security, as users must present their passports or IDs to get through. The reason for this tight security was the assassination attempt of then-president Chung Hee Park in 1968, which was believed to have given the assassins access to the presidential residence.
Seoudaemun, sometimes called the Great West Gate, is believed to have initially been constructed in 1396 but was later rebuilt in the 18th century (Kim, 2014). Most of this gate’s history is tied to the Japanese. For instance, it is said that this gate was the site where Japanese assassins murdered Korea’s last queen, Myungsung. In addition, this gate’s destruction came under Japan’s hands following its occupation of Korea. While this gate no longer exists, plans for its rebuilding are underway.
Dongsomun, sometimes known as Hyehwamun, which means Distribution of Wisdom, is the small northeast gate. Following the construction of the eight gates, this was the main gate used in Seoul. The original name given to this gate was Hongwhamun, which was changed in 1511 to the current name (Seth, 2010). With time, this gate lost relevance and was no longer used, leaving it frail. The gate was later restored in 1744 by the order of King Yeongjo (Ladd, n.d.). Due to the great work done towards restoring this gate, it has become a major tourist site today.
Buksomun, as one of the Eight Gates, means ‘Showing the Correct Thing’. First built in 1396, it is among the smallest gates and is the small northwest gate (Ladd, n.d.). It was mainly used as a public passage. The gate was shut down just a few years after its construction in 1416 due to superstitious beliefs that led to the claim that it could harm the king. (Shin & Sneider, 2011). Despite this, the gate was reopened in 1506. Japan was instrumental in destroying the wall during its entry into the city during its conquest of Korea. This is the oldest gate among the eight, following the destruction of the gate south gate by arson.
Namsomun, located in the southeastern part of the city, is also one of the smallest gates. It is sometimes referred to as Gwanghimun or the Gate of Bright Prosperity. As with the other gates, it was first constructed in 1396. It has undergone rebuilding and restoration over the years since its construction (Ladd, n.d.). The city’s residents mainly used the gate for funeral processions. Not much remains today of this gate apart from its stone pavement. This is due to Japanese forces’ destruction of a large chunk of it. This gate is located in present-day Seoul on a street corner enclosed by a fence. Despite this disclosure, visiting the gate is not restricted.
The Gate of Seosomun, which means the Gate of Clear Justice, is also one of the smaller gates located southwest of the city. Like several others, this gate was built in1396 (Ladd, n.d.). Like the gate of Namsomun, Seosomun was used for funeral processions from the city and served as a public passage. Prisoners were publicly beheaded in a park near this gate. Their heads were usually displayed on the gate after the beheading ceremony to serve as a warning. Like the other gates, Japan once again had a hand in destroying this gate when it invaded Korea and Seoul. The Japanese later demolished this gate to establish themselves in the city and erase the Korean culture. This destruction was so thorough that no traces of the gate remain today.
Royal Echoes: The Majestic Palaces of Seoul
The palaces of Seoul represent the power that existed during the occupation of some of the powerful dynasties and kingdoms in the city while it served as their capital. These palaces are a source of the history and culture of Seoul during this time.
Changgyeong Palace. This palace, one of Seoul’s most popular tourist attractions, was built by King Sejong as a present to his father. Although little is known about its original name, its current name, Changnyeong, was given to the palace in 1483 following its renovation (Ladd, n.d.). The palace was used during the rule of the two main dynasties in Seoul: the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties. During their occupation of Korea during colonial times, the Japanese fulfilled their wish of undermining Korean culture by building a zoo and a garden at the palace site. Notably, this palace was considered among the five grand palaces during the ancient times of the three kingdoms in Seoul. Japanese eventually destroyed the palace during their attempts to invade Korea.
Gyeongbokgung Palace. Among the five grand palaces, this is believed to be the oldest and the largest. It was built in 1395 by King Taejo (Seth, 2010). Its name, Gyeongbokgung, means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” Only a little remains of the original palace as the Japanese destroyed it during the invasion of Korea. Despite this, significant restoration was carried out on the palace in the 1990s (Shin & Sneider, 2011). This results in restoring the palace to something close to its original version. Currently, it is one of the most visited parts of the city by tourists eager to get a feel for the history of Seoul and Korea as a nation.
Changdeokgung Palace. The Palace of Prospering Virtue, or Changdeokgung, was first built in 1405 (Ladd, n.d.). It was the second royal palace to be built in Seoul. Of note about this palace is that it is the palace that was occupied the longest by kings. This can be attributed to the political strife that existed in the Kingdom and also due to personal preference by kings as a result of it having maintained many of its traditional elements compared to the other palaces. As in the case of the rest of the great palaces, it, too, suffered great destruction, mostly in the hands of the Japanese. It has, however, been restored over the years to resemble its original design and thus has become a place of interest for many tourists visiting the city.
Deoksugung Palace. This was not originally built as a palace but became one following the Japanese destruction of the other palaces, forcing the royals to make this their temporary home. King Gwanghaegun gave this palace the name Gyeongungung. The original name Deoksugung, the Palace of Virtuous Longevity, was given in 1907 (Seth, 2010) to sustain King Gojon’s longevity, the last Joseon Kingdom king and the first emperor of Korea. The present location of the statue in the city is small in comparison to the rest of the other great palaces. The statue of the Great King Sejong can be seen in this palace.
Gyeonghuigung Palace. The name of this palace translates to “the Palace of Serene Harmony.” This was initially not among the great palaces of the day but was built where the royals could be moved in an emergency. In short, this palace was more like a safe house. It was built in 1623 (Ladd, n.d.). Initially, it was a relatively large palace containing about 100 buildings with a bridge connecting it to the Deoksugung Palace (Shin & Sneider, 2011). Once again, Japan hurt this palace by destroying it during its occupation of Korea. However, the palace has been restored to its former glory and is a tourist attraction.
Spiritual Crossroads: Tracing the Sacred Pathways of Seoul
Tracing the history of religion in Seoul entails understanding Korea’s religious practices and beliefs. The various religions practiced from this time to the present will be discussed.
Before the current religions practiced today, ancient societies practiced a religion that Mu guided. Buddhism was later introduced during the period of the three kingdoms. For instance, Buddhism was the most commonly practiced religion in both the Silla and Baekje Dynasties. Buddhism was also practiced in the later period of the Kingdom of Goryeo. According to Kim (2012a), the expansion of Buddhism as a religion was so great that it became a political force. Despite this, Chinese-influenced Confucianism managed to assert itself in these ancient kingdoms. This became the main ideology and belief system practiced in the Joseon Dynasty.
Consequently, the Joseon Dynasty worked to suppress the practice of Buddhism and the indigenous religion of Shamanism. This was accomplished by destroying Buddhist monasteries and restricting nuns and monks from entering cities. This lasted until the 19th century, making Confucianism the main religion practiced in Seoul, given that it was the capital city of the Joseon Dynasty (Kim, 2012a). Western religions made their way into Korea and, consequently, Seoul following the collapse of the Joseon Kingdom. Thus, Christianity became a significant religion in Korea, allowing missionaries to enter its cities.
Further religious development came to pass from 1945 onwards (Kim, 2014). This marked the year when Korea was divided into two rival states. One of the consequences of this is many Christians made a move to South Korea as the Communist ideals of the North were not favorable to them. Believers of the Cheondoism remained in the North, thus resulting in South Korea having a limited number of believers of this faith. During the 1970s and 80s, the South Korean government banned indigenous faiths (Kim, 2012b). This resulted in the revival of Buddhism, and the influence of the Christian faith grew significantly. Besides the indigenous religions of Shamanism, Cheondoism, and other faiths that include Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity, other religions are also practiced in South Korea, including Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. It is, however, critical to note that these faiths are practiced in very low numbers.
Words of History: Exploring the Linguistic Tapestries of Seoul
To understand the historical development of language in Seoul, it is first essential to gain an understanding of the Korean alphabet. The alphabet in South Korea is referred to as Hangul. On the other hand, a different name, Chosongul, is used in North Korea. The term Chosongul is used in Chinese as well. This alphabet has been the foundation of language since the 15th century (Shin & Sneider, 2011). The evidence of its existence and development was described in Hummin Jeongeum. The translation of the name of this document means “The Proper Sounds for the Educated People.” In both its classical and modern forms, the alphabet contains 24 consonants and vowels (Shin & Sneider, 2011). These are written by being grouped into blocks to form words.
From Timeless Traditions to Modern Majesty: Reflecting on Seoul’s Rich Legacy
In conclusion, the history of Seoul from ancient times to the present is extremely captivating. The fact that there is evidence demonstrating the beginning of this history from prehistoric times confirms just how old this city is. Various archaeological excavations in present-day Seoul have been used to show this. However, the most pronounced aspects of the history of Seoul came during the periods of the ancient three kingdoms of Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla. These three kingdoms proved to be instrumental in shaping the city’s development as they brought new ways of life and culture when they used Seoul as their capital. The same thing can be said regarding the period of Goryeo, Joseon, and the Korean rules in the city. The modern period of Seoul began following Japanese colonial rule. This paved the way to the current contemporary times that have seen the city amalgamate its past with the present, making it the 20th most visited city in the world.
1. Kim, D. K. (2014). History of Korea ( 2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
2. Kim, J. (2012a). History of Korea: From “land of the morning calm” to states in conflict. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
3. Kim, K. (2012b). The study of urban form in South Korea. Urban Morphology, 16(2), 149-164.
4. Ladd, G. T. (n.d.). In Korea with Marquis Ito: Part I. a narrative of personal experiences; Part II. a critical and historical inquiry. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/inkoreawithmarq03laddgoog/mode/2up?view=theater
5. Seth, M. J. (2010). History of Korea: From antiquity to the present. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
6. Shin, G., & Sneider, D. C. (2011). History textbooks and the wars in Asia: Divided memories. New York, NY: Routledge.