Seoul – a city that harmonises its ancient palaces with soaring modern structures and stands proudly as South Korea’s capital
A Little Background before You Travel to Korea
The Korean peninsula has been literally and figuratively stuck between a rock and a hard place, namely Japan and China, for most of its existence. The region was prosperous under the three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla during the first four centuries AD until the Mongolians raided the land and built an empire. The 16th century brought the end of the Mongolian Empire and the beginning of a massive game of tug-of-war between China and Japan over the strategic landmass. After World War II Korea finally broke free from Japan, with the USSR managing the North and the United States occupying the South. Today the North and South are two sovereign nations separated by a demilitarized zone. South Korea is officially known as the Republic of Korea (ROK) and commonly referred to simply as Korea.
There’s Still Soul in Seoul
Despite the fact that Seoul was largely burned to the ground during the Korean War (1950-53), the northern part of the capital city is still home to hundreds of spectacular palaces and shrines. The Chosun Dynasty’s Gyeongbokgung Palace is a 5.4 million square foot landmark with a 500-year history and stands among the remaining four palaces in Seoul. Nearly an entire day is necessary to explore the regal palace in all its magnificence. The Jongmyo Royal Shrine is a perfect next stop, as it was where the Chosun Dynasty worshipped. On the first Sunday of May each year a traditional memorial ceremony is held at the Shrine with all the grandeur of the occasion 500 years past.
The southern part of Seoul is the commercial center of the city and boasts a fascinating blend of traditional and hyper-modern architecture. It is also home to World Cup Stadium, intricately weaving shopping streets and even an amusement park, Lotte World. Make sure to visit the city gates, and then venture beyond into the strikingly lush and green landscape to travel Korea more personally.