Namdaemun - Great South Gate, Seoul
The Sungnyemun or 'South Gate' was once part of the old city walls. One of the few remaining sections of that structure, it stands at the intersection of 5 major roads and currently acts as a brightly-lit traffic island. You can approach it on foot, but most likely you'll see it as you speed past at around 50mph in a silver taxi.
One of the things that made me want to visit Seoul was this beautiful ancient gate which sits in the middle of traffic in the heart of Seoul. I am still unsure whether or not you can go inside it, but it looks like you can't. At least, I never saw anyone going into it. And since there is a fence surrounding it, and traffic swarming around it, it is kind of hard to get close to anyway. Still, it is my favorite image of Seoul.
Now, suppose you are standing there, looking at the Gate and you say to yourself, I wonder where in Seoul I could go to buy a winter coat and a pig's head? I have often wondered that myself, so I know how you feel. Well, don't worry, because right next door is the Namdaemun Market, where you can buy just about anything. Seiously, if you want dried anchovies, or little toy robots, this is the place. You can get lost going up and down the roads in this shopping district. But, once you get out, it isn't hard to make your way back to the subway station.
Namdaemun (Sungnyemun) Gate is Korea National Treasure Number 1 of Korea. In the past, every representative visiting from China and Japan had to pass through the gate in order to enter Seoul. Its construction began in 1396 and was finished in 1398 (it under -went a major restoration in 1448 and again in 1997) and so it has been in existence for more than 500 years. It is the biggest gate ever made in Korea and is the oldest wooden structure left standing in Seoul. The most interesting thing about the gate is the roof. It is even more beautiful at night because lights have been added to the structure. There were once walls surrounding the gate, but the Japanese destroyed them during the colonial era. As such, it is yet another cultural site, among many others in Korea, where bad memories of the past are still kept and can never be forgotten.
Adjacent to the South Gate is the Namdaemun Market, one of the largest traditional markets in Seoul which dates back to 1414. About 10,000 stores sell 17,000 kinds of items including clothes and accessories. Many of the stores own their own factories, and manufacture products at an astounding speed. Retailers from across the nation flock to these stores from midnight up to 4a.m, creating a peculiar night scene.
I was lucky enough to have chosen an interesting area of town to disembark from the bus. I started walking away from Seoul Station and stumbled on this old gate, which I later learned is called Namdaemun. Namdaemun is one of the 4 main gates of the old city wall. When Seoul was a walled city, Namdaenum was one of the main entrances to the capital. Completed in 1398 (!), it underwent a major restoration in 1447 and again in 1997. Designated as National Treasure #1, it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Korea. Positioned near the the current center of downtown Seoul, amidst traffic and skyskrapers, it receives a large amount of pollution, the main reason behind its most recent renovation.
This is the iconic symbol of Seoul and is listed as Korea's National Treasure #1. This gate was built in 1396 and was the largest gate into the city.
Over the road from Namdaemun market and surrounded by modern buildings its great that this piece of traditional and original architecture has been preserved.