For foreigners, Seoul is an ancient city, as it was founded in 1392, 100 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. But when historians compare Seoul to Korea’s ancient history, the capital city of the Republic of Korea is relatively new. The city’s history only spans 500 years. Before the modern era, Seoul City was called Hanyang, and later Hansong.
The capital was chosen by General Yi Song-gye. He is known in history as King Yi Taejo as he was the first ruler of the Yi Dynasty. The official name of his kingdom, Choson, was the same as Korea’s first legendary kingdom founded by Tan-gun in the fourth millennium B.C. The name implies morning freshness or calm. Today many Westeners’ speak of the Yi Dynasty rather than the Choson Kingdom. The ancestral origin of the Yi royal family is Chonju City in Choila-buk-do Province.
The little village before it became the capital of Choson Kingdom was called Hanyang. It is not known when the word Seoul was first used for the capital city. Seoul is one of the few cities in Korea that cannot be written with Chinese characters. It is believed the this word originated from the early Shilla word of sorabol. This was the name given to the early capital and kingdom of Shilla founded in 57 B.C.
King Taejo started immediately to build a ten-mile fortress wall with nine gates around Hanyang (Seoul). Five of these city gates and some portions of the old wall have been restored as historic sites. The massive ten-foot city bell, the ringing of which opened and closed the city gates at sunset and sunrise, has been preserved. Now Seoul has spread far beyond the ancient stone wall that surrounded Taejo’s Hanyang.
Seoul’s special lure and charm are its ancient palaces with their traditionally classic and breathtaking architecture and gardens that represent a colorful but turbulent history.
These major attractions provide a glimpse into Korea’s past.
Located between rugged mountains, Seoul is a city of contrasts. The traffic rushing past modern skyscrapers, office buildings, and apartment complexes seems strangely out of place beside tile-roofed pavilions, shrines and gates that are centuries old.
The majestic gates to the south and east now sit in stoic contemplation in the swirling center of vehicular commotion. There are few cities in the world, much less capitals, where the very modern. And the ancient exist side by side in perfect harmony.
Onto Seoul’s past a heritage has been woven, which is evidenced by the palaces, shrines, gardens and monuments that still exist.