The Joseon Capital
Establishment of the King’s Residence
"Having seen the lay of the land, this site is suitable for the royal capital. It is accessible to the sea and is centrally located in the kingdom, bringing convenience to people’s lives.” In 1394, King Taejo uttered these words upon viewing Hanyang. Soon after, the Main Palace compound, Altars to the Gods of Soil and Grain, and Royal Ancestral Shrine were built, thereby finalizing the establishment of the new royal house and garnering the loyalty of the people. In addition, products from around the entire kingdom were brought to Hanyang, the new Joseon capital.
1863 ~ 1910
Taking Tradition Forward with Aspirations for an Imperial Capital
The winds of change began to sweep across the Joseon capital from the middle of the 19th century. The reconstruction of Gyeongbokgung Palace, which had lay in ruins for more than two and a half centuries, started in 1865 as part of efforts to make over the city where the king resided.
French warships appeared on the Hangang River shortly thereafter as imperialist powers began to encroach on the capital. From this time on, new ideas and things found their way into the lives of the people, to include Western-style buildings as well as the use of electricity and petroleum.
The international status of the state was upgraded from the Joseon kingdom to the Daehan Empire in 1897. Seoul (then still officially known as Hangyang or Hanseong) transformed steadily into a city that was a mixture of East Asian tradition and Western modernity. Gyeongungung Palace (now Deoksugung) became the imperial palace; new streets were built, and a streetcar line was installed along Jongno. Several public parks appeared as well. In 1904, however, the Japanese military, which occupied the capital, dashed the hopes of the Daehan Empire.
1910 ~ 1945
Seoul under Japanese Control
Shades of Modern Urbanization
In August 1910, Japan forcibly annexed the Daehan Empire and established the Japanese Government-General.
This institution held virtually absolute authority over administrative, military, legislative and judicial matters.
The prefectures for Seoul, Incheon, Gaeseong and Gyeonggido were put under the newly formed Gyeongseongbu (Capital Prefecture). However Seoul (then officially known as Gyeongseong) remained the capital. Located here were the headquarters of the colonial government, along with major businesses, schools and cultural institutions.
Ethnic discrimination became institutionalized. Persons of Japanese nationality were in charge of all administrative functions, and resources were concentrated in the area south of Cheonggyecheon, where the Japanese lived. Although Korean residents opposed the discriminatory practices, the allure of the “Namchon (southern neighborhood)” did not diminish.
This was where the latest products and modern developments could be experienced, but the Korean residents were reduced to onlookers only. The Korean capital modernized quickly under Japanese colonial rule, but the modernity of a colonial city merely fascinated Koreans. It did not include them.
1945 ~ 2002
Period of Rapid Growth Seoul
Rising from the Ashes to become a Metropolis
Seoul became the capital of a sovereign nation in 1945, with Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, and three years later, it was upgraded to “Special City” status. However, the city was plagued by poverty as refugees poured in from North Korea and masses of ethnic Koreans returned to their homeland from overseas. Making matters worse, the Korean War broke out in 1950, and soon the city was in ruins. After the war, economic development returned, and Seoul began to transform into a huge, modern metropolis. The construction industry advanced steadily with the pressing need for more water mains, sewage systems, roads, subways, housing and schools to accommodate the explosive population growth. Streets were laid in the area south of the Hangang River, and the boundaries of the Seoul metropolitan area continued to expand. The ‘Miracle on the Han River’ brought industrialization, economic growth, democratization, and governmental decentralization to the nation.
Seoul, Now and in the Making...
The City Model Image Hall
The hall serves as a multifunctional exhibition space that holds lectures or seminars about urban life. It is also used as an educational tool for students and citizens to understand the city's natural and urban environment, while presenting foreigners the improvements that Seoul has made and its future vision to raise the city's profile.