The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Asia >> Korea

[sOl] capital and largest city of South Korea

Seoul straddles the Han River, about 20 miles east of the Yellow Sea, and only about 25 miles south of North Korea. The city proper has a population of about 10.5 million; the metropolitan area, which includes the port city of Incheon, has a population of about 25.6 million. Its name is derived from a Korean word meaning "capital city."

location of Seoul


Seoul's history began in 18 B.C., with the founding of the Baekjae Kingdom and establishment of Wiryesong as its capital. The city's role as a capital ended 476 years later, when Baekjae relocated its capital to the area of present-day Gongju. Soon after, Baekjae, Goguryeo and Silla fought for control of the area near the Hangang River, indicating the strategic importance of Seoul in the Korean peninsula. The area of present-day Seoul became the capital once again in 1394, when General Yi Songgye, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, began construction of a new city, which he called "Hanyang."

In the late-19th century, Hanyang became the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone, and telegraph systems all at the same time. During the Japanese colonial period in the early 20th century, the city was called "Gyeongseong." After independence in 1946, Koreans renamed the city "Seoul." In 1949, Seoul was separated from Gyeonggi Province and designated as "Seoul Special City." On June 28, 1950, Seoul was occupied by North Korean troops and the city was almost entirely destroyed. The city was retaken by UN Forces on March 14, 1951, and it has been growing ever since. The current boundaries were established in 1995.

Seoul hosted the 1986 Asian Games, 1988 Summer Olympic Games, 2002 FIFA World Cup, and the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. A UNESCO City of Design, Seoul was named the 2010 World Design Capital.


The economic center of South Korea, Seoul generates a quarter of the country's total Gross Domestic Product. It hosts the headquarters for Korean companies Samsung, LG, SK, Kia, and Hyundai, as well as for several international corporations, including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, ING Bank, Standard Chartered, UniCredit, and Societe Generale.

Seoul provides free Wi-Fi access in outdoor spaces.

Seoul's transportation system dates back to the era of the Korean Empire, when the first streetcar lines were laid and a railroad linking Seoul and Incheon was completed. The first subway line was built in 1974, and the city now has the third busiest subway system in the world, behind Tokyo and Moscow. The city boasts two international airports, at Gimpo and Incheon.

Sites and Attractions

The Seoul metropolitan area is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites -- Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. The city is also home to over 100 museums, including three national and nine official municipal museums.

downtown Seoul

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Asia >> Korea

This page was last updated on 06/11/2017.