[personal profile] niori_1709
With most of my entries into my awesome LJ blog, I focus my reviews on one specific place, be it museum, attraction or historical location. With only a few exceptions, most of these places have been located in Seoul, South Korea's capital city. Since I focused on specific places, I haven't really gotten to talk about Seoul itself. Besides the big things Seoul has to offer, there are a number smaller sights, which, alas, aren't enough to fill a travel guide on their own. That's why, for the next two entries, I've decided to write about the interesting, miscellaneous sights that Seoul has to offer.

Seoul is a city that has over 2,000 years of history behind it. It was founded in 18 BCE during the Three Kingdoms Period, by the Baekje Kingdom. Seoul has gone through a couple different names (it officially became 'Seoul' after the liberation from Japan in 1945, but it's been the capital of Korea for a long, long time). In more recent times, Seoul was taken and re-taken a number of times during the Korean War. That left the city heavily damaged, an in the post-war years, Seoul went through a major phase of reconstruction and modernization. Today, Seoul is a modern technological hub, with a population of 10 million people, making it the largest city proper in the developed world. When taking in the outlying areas that make up the Seoul Capital Area (the city of Incheon and the rest of Gyeonggi Province), it's the world's second largest metropolitan area (second only to Tokyo) with over 25.6 million people. It also, much to my delight, has the best public transportation system I have ever had the pleasure to ride on.

Seoul is an awesome city, and I'm lucky that I live so close (about a twenty-thirty minute subway ride to down town). There's always something to do, be it large or small. I'm here to tell you about some of the small stuff. This is the stuff that's great for an afternoon of wandering, pretty much free of charge.

The first of those things is the old Seoul Station. The old Seoul station, originally built in 1925 for the railway (and heavily reconstructed in the wake of the Korean War), hasn't been used as an actual station since 2004. A new, modern station was built, and old Seoul Station remained closed until 2011, when it opened again as a Culture Station Seoul 284. Seoul Station was turned into a cultural space, with the first floor for performances, exhibitions and events, and the second a hall for various events or venues. When I went to Seoul Station, there were two different exhibits set up in the building. The smaller exhibit was all about camping, and looked a lot like the set up pf an outdoors department of a sport's store. It was meant to encourage Seoulites to go out and embrace nature. The second exhibit was on collectables. That, to me (as an avid collector) was for more interesting. There were collections of many kinds: toys, dolls, Lego, coke products...you name it. There were Wizard of Oz nutcrackers that I was tempted to make off with, and a large collection of coffee mugs from all over the world. Guess what? Calgary was amongst them!

While both of those exhibits would be changed by now, I'm sure there are equally interesting ones that have taken their place. The exhibits in Seoul Station aren't the only interesting thing about it. The building itself is also unique. It's a brick building with a domed roof, which totally stands out here in Korea. The more detailed design is even more interesting. In fact, old Seoul Station reminds me of an old brick building I saw in New York City. It was definitely worth seeing.

Within walking distance of Seoul Station is the next stop on out miscellaneous list. The next place up for viewing is the Sungnyemun Gate, which is more commonly known as Namdaemun. It's name literally translates into Gate of Exalted Ceremonies, and it's one of the eight gates of the fortress wall that used to surround Seoul. Sungnyemun was one of the main gates (The Great Southern Gate), and it was used to greet emissaries, control access to the city and keep tigers out (and yes, that was a serious problem). The gate was originally built in 1398, and reconstructed a few times since then (including after a fire in 2008). The fortress walls around Seoul may be gone (for the most part), and many of the gates as well, but Sungnyemun still stands there in all its glory. The bottom of the gate is stone, but the top is a colourful, wooden pagoda style that I have come to adore. It looks like the top half of a temple or palace. Though it's nothing more than a free standing structure now, it's easy to imagine what it must have been like years ago, when it was one of the few gateways into the city of Seoul.

Last, but not least, is Unhyeoung Palace. First things first: when I say palace, I don't mean the western style palaces, I don't mean the western style palaces that first come to mind. Palaces here are huge living complexes, not massive, elaborate, singular buildings. Unhyeoung Palace is a very small compound, and I do question why exactly 'palace' is in the title. Unhyeoung was the private residence of Heungseon Daewongun, the father of Emperor Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty. He changed the name of the dynasty in 1897, which made him the first king of the Korean Empire. More popularly known as the Regent, Heungseon Daewongun pretty much ran the country while his son was officially king. The Regent ruled the country from this residence, including a tight closed door policy which attempted to keep Korea isolated from the rest of the world.

Another interesting historical figure once lived here, and that was Empress Myeongseong. More commonly known as Empress Min, she was the wife of Emperor Gojong. She was assassinated in 1895 by the Japanese, which was one more nail in the coffin of Korea-Japan relations.

The palace is built in the traditional style, and looked just the hanok village I've written about before. It was open for the most part, but still had four sections. The first was Sujiksa, which was the home of the servants and guards who worked at the palace. Second was Noandang, which was the area for men (men and women had completely separate living spaces in traditional Korea). This was the place where the Regent went over state affairs. The third was Norakdang, which is the largest structure in Unhyeoung. This was the most publicplace, where affairs such as the royal wedding, like the one between Gojong and Myeongseong, were planned. The last was Irodang, which was the women's quarters and family area. There is also an exhibition hall, where artefacts from the Joseon Dynasty are displayed.

I found Unhyeoung Palace quite by accident, while I was wandering around killing time. I'm glad I found it, because it was a slice of Korean history that I wasn't expecting. It was just as interesting but not as crowded as the bigger palaces by a long shot. Plus, it was super cheap, at only 3,000 won (just under three dollars Canadian). It was a great way to spend half an hour.

So there you have it. Three things you can enjoy in Seoul if you're looking to avoid the bigger land marks, or just want a day of leisurely exploration.



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