Seoul, South Korea Facts and History

The Nation's Capital and Largest City

Traffic in downtown Seoul at night.

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Seoul is the capital and largest city in South Korea. It's considered a megacity because it has a population of over ten million people, with nearly half of its 10,208,302 people residing in the National Capital Area (which also includes Incheon and Gyeonggi).

Seoul, South Korea

The Seoul National Capital Area is the second-largest in the world at 233.7 square miles and an average elevation of just above sea level at 282 feet. Because of its very large population, Seoul is considered a global city and it is the center of South Korea's economy, culture, and politics.

Throughout its history, Seoul was known by a number of different names, and the name Seoul itself is believed to have originated from the Korean word for the capital city, Seoraneol. The name Seoul is interesting, however, because it has no matching Chinese characters. Instead, a Chinese name for the city, which sounds similar, has recently been chosen.

Hwaseong fortress in Suwon, South Korea at night.
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History of Settlement and Independence

Seoul has been continuously settled for over 2,000 years since it was first founded in 18 B.C. by the Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The city also remained as the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. During the Japanese colonization of Korea in the early 20th century, Seoul became known as Gyeongseong.

In 1945, Korea gained its independence from Japan and the city was renamed Seoul. In 1949, the city separated from Gyeonggi Province and it became a "special city," but in 1950, North Korean troops occupied the city during the Korean War and the entire city was nearly destroyed. On March 14, 1951, the United Nations forces took control of Seoul. Since then, the city has rebuilt and grown considerably.

Today, Seoul is still considered a special city, or a direct-controlled municipality, in that it as a city has a status equal to that of a province. This means that it has no provincial government controlling it. Rather, the federal government of South Korea controls it directly.

Because of its very long history of settlement, Seoul is home to a number of historic sites and monuments. The Seoul National Capital Area has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Changdeokgung Palace Complex, the Hwaseong Fortress, the Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.

A busy area of Seoul, South Korea at night.
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Geographic Facts and Population Figures

Seoul is located in the northwestern part of South Korea. The city of Seoul itself has an area of 233.7 square miles and is cut in half by the Han River, which was previously used as a trade route to China and helped the city grow throughout its history. The Han River is no longer used for navigation because its estuary is at the border between North and South Korea. Seoul is surrounded by several mountains but the city itself is relatively flat because it is on the Han River plain, and the average elevation of Seoul is 282 feet (86 m).

Due to its very large population and relatively small area, Seoul is known for its population density which is about 44,776 people per square mile. As such, much of the city consists of dense high-rise apartment buildings. Mostly all of Seoul's residents are of Korean descent, although there are some small groups of Chinese and Japanese.

The climate of Seoul is considered both humid subtropical and humid continental (the city lies on the border of these). Summers are hot and humid and the East Asian monsoon has a strong impact on Seoul's weather from June to July. Winters are usually cold and dry, although the city gets an average of 28 days of snow per year. The average January low temperature for Seoul is 21 degrees F (-6 degrees C) and the average August high temperature is 85 degrees F (29.5 degrees C).

Politics and Economy

As one of the largest cities in the world and a leading global city, Seoul has become the headquarters for many international companies. Currently, it is the headquarters of companies like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia. It also generates over 20% of South Korea's gross domestic product. In addition to its large multinational companies, Seoul's economy is focused on tourism, building, and manufacturing. The city is also known for its shopping and the Dongdaemun Market, which is the largest market in South Korea.

Seoul is divided into 25 administrative divisions called gu. Each gu has its own government and each is divided into several neighborhoods called a dong. Each gu in Seoul varies in both size and population. Songpa has the largest population, while Seocho is the gu with the largest area in Seoul.

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Briney, Amanda. "Seoul, South Korea Facts and History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Briney, Amanda. (2023, April 5). Seoul, South Korea Facts and History. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Seoul, South Korea Facts and History." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).