A Glance at the Korean History: History of Seoul
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A Glance at the Korean History: History of Seoul
  • Ewha Voice
  • 승인 2007.05.01 00:00
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Seoul is the present capital of South Korea. Seoul had a long history. The city has played a leading role as the center of Korean national history since it became the capital of Joseon (1392-1910) which was the last dynasty of Korea. It is interesting that Seoul, the capital of Korea literally means ‘national capital.’ The word ‘Seoul’ doesn’t have Chinese letter unlike most of Korean words because it is a pure Korean word. Some might wonder where the pure Korean word ‘Seoul’ originated from. Furthermore, Seoul area was called by different names such as ‘Wireseong’ ‘Hanyang’ ‘Namkyeong’ or ‘Hanseong’ during the traditional times. In this sense, it must be useful to take a glance at history of the city Seoul.

We can trace the origin of the pure Korean word ‘Seoul’ to early period of Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) Pak Hyeokgeose, the founder of Silla established the kingdom and adopted ‘Seorabeol’ as the name of the country. At the same time, the capital of Silla was also called ‘Seorabeol’ by the people. The word ‘Seorabeol’ means capital. In other words, the name ‘Seoul’ has evolved from the ancient Korean pure word ‘Seorabeol’ which designated the national capital of Silla.

It was not until the early Three Kingdom period that Seoul area was well inhabited and developed into collective dwelling sites. However, it was in the late 14th century that Seoul became the center of the nation. Yi Sung-gye as the first king of Joseon kingdom decided to move to a new capital and cast off the vestiges of former kingdom of Goryeo(918-1392). Among a few candidate locations, Hanseong, the city surrounding modern day Gyeongbok Palace, was decided as the new capital. It was located at the nation’s center with good feng shui, spacious land and had the Han River passing through. The construction of Hanseong was carried out according to the carefully thought-out city plans under which palaces and royal shrines and altars were laid in front of Bugak mountain and roads were built centering around the Gwanghwamun, Jongno street , and Namdaemun( South Gate ). These are still maintained as the basic framework of urban planning in Seoul. 

In 1910, when Joseon dynasty became under the Japanese colonial rule, the name of Seoul had been changed  to ‘Gyeongseong’ which means the status of the capital of colonial Korea was downgraded from national capital to one of many local administrative units under Gyong-gi province. The measure was taken with Japan’s political intention to put down the strength of Korean people.

After the liberation in 1945, the city finally took its present name of Seoul. Why did Korean choose its capital’s official name as ‘Seoul’ instead of Gyeongseong in the Japanese colonial period or Hanseong in the Joseon dynasty? It must be related to the situation of Korea which just got out of the colonialism. At that time, it was essential to enhance Korean nationalism among the people and so the national capital of newborn independent Korea was named ‘Seoul’ which was derived from the ancient Korean pure word.

Seoul is the present capital of South Korea. Seoul had a long history. The city has played a leading role as the center of Korean national history since it became the capital of Joseon (1392-1910) which was the last dynasty of Korea. It is interesting that Seoul, the capital of Korea literally means ‘national capital.’ The word ‘Seoul’ doesn’t have Chinese letter unlike most of Korean words because it is a pure Korean word. Some might wonder where the pure Korean word ‘Seoul’ originated from. Furthermore, Seoul area was called by different names such as ‘Wireseong’ ‘Hanyang’ ‘Namkyeong’ or ‘Hanseong’ during the traditional times. In this sense, it must be useful to take a glance at history of the city Seoul.

We can trace the origin of the pure Korean word ‘Seoul’ to early period of Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) Pak Hyeokgeose, the founder of Silla established the kingdom and adopted ‘Seorabeol’ as the name of the country. At the same time, the capital of Silla was also called ‘Seorabeol’ by the people. The word ‘Seorabeol’ means capital. In other words, the name ‘Seoul’ has evolved from the ancient Korean pure word ‘Seorabeol’ which designated the national capital of Silla.

It was not until the early Three Kingdom period that Seoul area was well inhabited and developed into collective dwelling sites. However, it was in the late 14th century that Seoul became the center of the nation. Yi Sung-gye as the first king of Joseon kingdom decided to move to a new capital and cast off the vestiges of former kingdom of Goryeo(918-1392). Among a few candidate locations, Hanseong, the city surrounding modern day Gyeongbok Palace, was decided as the new capital. It was located at the nation’s center with good feng shui, spacious land and had the Han River passing through. The construction of Hanseong was carried out according to the carefully thought-out city plans under which palaces and royal shrines and altars were laid in front of Bugak mountain and roads were built centering around the Gwanghwamun, Jongno street , and Namdaemun( South Gate ). These are still maintained as the basic framework of urban planning in Seoul. 

In 1910, when Joseon dynasty became under the Japanese colonial rule, the name of Seoul had been changed  to ‘Gyeongseong’ which means the status of the capital of colonial Korea was downgraded from national capital to one of many local administrative units under Gyong-gi province. The measure was taken with Japan’s political intention to put down the strength of Korean people.

After the liberation in 1945, the city finally took its present name of Seoul. Why did Korean choose its capital’s official name as ‘Seoul’ instead of Gyeongseong in the Japanese colonial period or Hanseong in the Joseon dynasty? It must be related to the situation of Korea which just got out of the colonialism. At that time, it was essential to enhance Korean nationalism among the people and so the national capital of newborn independent Korea was named ‘Seoul’ which was derived from the ancient Korean pure word.

By Sohn Jung-sook, lecturer on Korean History at Ewha


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