Introduction to Seoul

Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and it’s also the largest city in Korea, as well. The population of Seoul is 9.976 million people. And alongside the city of Incheon and the province of Gyeonggi-do, it forms the Seoul Capital Area. Originally, the name of Seoul was Wiryeseong, when it existed as an early capital of the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.). Later, the name would change to Hanyang during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), and then Hanseong during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when it was named the capital of Joseon in the 14th century. And then, during Japanese Colonization, the name of the capital changed to Keijo, so as not to be confused with “hanja.” The capital was also known at this time as Gyeongseong. After liberation in 1945, the city would take on its present name of Seoul. This name originated from the Korean word for “capital city.” It’s believed that this name is a descendant of the former name for Gyeongju (the capital of Silla), which was Seorabeol.

Seoul has a mountainous topography with a hilly landscape. Seoul is located in the northwest part of Korea with the DMZ a mere 74 km from the capital. The city is divided in half, the northern and southern halves, by the Han River, which is also a key component of the city’s landscape. There are four main mountains in central Seoul: Mt. Bukhansan (836.5 m), Mt. Inwangsan (338 m), Mt. Naksan (125 m), and Mt. Namsan (262 m). Seoul also has some eight mountains, as well as the plains of the Han River to the west. In total, Seoul is divided into twenty-five major administrative districts known as “gu.” These “gu” vary in both population and area. The area of these “gu” can range from 10 to 47 km2, and the population can vary in size from 140,000 to 630,000 people.

Seoul is the business and financial centre of Korea. Seoul is comprised of only 0.6% of the total land area of Korea; and yet, it generates 48.3% of Korea’s total bank deposits. Additionally, Seoul generates 23% of the country’s overall GDP. And because of Seoul’s geography and its economic development, there are numerous city centres in the capital. The older political and historic part of the city lies in the Jongno District, while the newer economic centre lies in the Gangnam District.

In addition to finances, Seoul is known for manufacturing, technology and tourism. After Seoul was declared the capital of Joseon during the 14th century, the “Five Grand Palaces” were built, to help cement and consolidate power. These palaces are Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung and Gyeonghuigung; of which, Changdeokgung is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. In addition to these palaces, there are plenty of other cultural sites to enjoy like museums, royal tombs, and parks. Of particular note is the National Museum of Korea, the National Folk Museum of Korea, and the Seoul Museum of Art. As for parks, you can enjoy Namsan Park, Tapgol Park, and the Seoul Olympic Park. As for the royal tombs, part of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009, are partially located in Seoul and the adjoining Gyeonggi-do area. Also, you can enjoy the Jongmyo ancestral shrine. During the winter months, when perhaps you want to see and enjoy these tourist sites, the temperature, on average, goes down to -1.9 degrees in January; but in August, the average temperature is 26.1 degrees. In fact, there is just too much to list for tourists to Seoul in this introduction.

Religiously, and according to the 2015 census, the largest religious group in Seoul is the irreligious at 53.6%. However, this probably includes those that are culturally Confucian. Unlike Busan, which has the second largest group being Buddhist, Seoul’s second largest religious group follows Christianity at 35% (24.3% being Protestant, while 10.7% are Catholic). And the third largest group, at 10.8%, are Buddhist.

Seoul is home to a countless amount of Buddhist temples including Jogyesa Temple, which is the headquarters for the Jogye-jong Order (the largest Buddhist sect in Korea). Additionally, you can enjoy Gangnam’s Bongeunsa Temple or the mountainous Doseonsa Temple on Mt. Samgaksan. There truly are an innumerable amount of Buddhist temples in Korea’s capital of Seoul. Here are but a few of those temples below.

Seoul Temples

1. Doseonsa Temple – 도선사 (Mt. Samgaksan, Seoul): 10/10

2. Bongeunsa Temple – 봉은사 (Gangnam, Seoul): 8.5/10

3. Jogyesa Temple – 조계사 (Jongno, Seoul): 8/10