South Gate (a.k.a. Namdaemun) of Seoul – Then and Now

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South Gate (a.k.a. Namdaemun) of Seoul – Then and Now

Designed and built with an uninterrupted high-wall stone fortress encircling the entire city, Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) had 8 city entrance gates which opened in the morning and closed at night. Shown below — in this elegant map created between 1846 and 1849 — are the wonderful Eight-Gates of Seoul.

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Because of their complex names, the best way to differentiate and remember all of these gates is to say that there are the North, East, South and West gates which makes four. And then, if you further divide-up these four gates by adding either a Big or Small to each one of them, this renders a total of eight gates – voila.

Although six of the eight gates still remain standing today, outside visitors to Seoul will probably come across only two of these gates which are the South Gate and East Gate – both of which fall under the “Big” Gate category vis-à-vis Small. A photo of the South (Big or Grand) Gate, a.k.a. Namdaemun, was taken circa 1902. Here’s a then-and-now photo of the South Gate in Seoul. Today’s contemporary photo was taken on March 2nd, 2014 from where it says “location” on the above map.

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To give our readers an idea of the uninterrupted stone wall fortress which had surrounded the city of Seoul by visual image, a photo was taken near the very top of Namsan — written as Mongmyeok Mountain in the above 1846 old Seoul map — during the autumn 2014, and is shown below.

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By looking at the photos of Seoul’s city fortresses at the South Gate and on top of Namsam, these high-stone-walls are one-in-design, and about 7 to 8 meters high — approximately 25 feet — encircling the entire capital city with solemn grandeur. If you consider that these gates started their construction in the year 1392 A.D., the city of Seoul from its beginning period (late 14th century) would have a been a spectacular, if not certainly an extraordinary, place (city) to visit compared with other great cities of the world from that era.

♦ Language Footnote – Names to the Eight Gates of Seoul ♦

  1. South Gate, 남대문 (南大門) = Namdaemun, South Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Sungnyemun, 숭례문 (崇禮門), Exalted Ceremonies Gate
  2. East Gate, 동대문 (東大門) = Dongdaemun, East Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Heunginjimun, 흥인지문 (興仁之門), Rising Benevolence Gate
  3. North Gate, 북대문 (北大門) = Bukdaemun, North Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Sukjeongmun, 숙정문 (肅靖門), Rule Solemnly Gate
  4. West Gate, 서대문 (西大門) = Seodaemun, West Big (or Grand) Gate
    • Donuimun, 돈의문 (敦義門), Loyalty Gate
  5. South Small Gate, 남소문 (南小門) = Namsomun
    • Gwanghuimun, 광희문 (光熙門), Bright Light Gate
  6. East Small Gate, 동소문 (東小門) = Dongsomun
    • Hyehwamun, 혜화문 (惠化門), Distribution of Wisdom Gate
  7. North Small Gate, 북소문 (北小門) = Buksomun
    • Changuimun, 창의문 (彰義門), Showing the Correct Thing Gate
  8. West Small Gate, 서소문 (西小門) = Seosomun
    • Souimun, 소의문 (昭義門), Promotion of Justice Gate

♦ Value-Added Insight ♦

Prior to being the Capital city of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Seoul was also the Capital city from where the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.) was born over 2,000 years ago. During this Baekje (also spelt as Paekche) period, the city’s name was called Wiryeseong.

People have been living in the Greater Seoul Metropolitan area since the Neolithic (7,000 B.C to 2,000 B.C.) Era. One famous archaeological site from this past period of Seoul’s History is the Amsa-Dong Prehistoric Settlement Site.

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