An Overview of Seoul

Seoul, officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. A megacity with a population of 20,550,000, it is the largest city proper in the OECD developed world.The Seoul National Capital Area is the world’s second largest metropolitan area with over 20 million inhabitants, which includes the surrounding Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi province.Over half of South Korea’s population live in the Seoul National Capital Area, and nearly a quarter in Seoul itself, making it the country’s foremost economic, political, and cultural center.

Seoul has been a major settlement for over 2,000 years, with its foundation dating back to 18 B.C. when Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, established its capital in what is now south-east Seoul. It continued as the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire.

The Seoul National Capital Area is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.

Today, Seoul is considered to be a leading global city, ranking among the top ten global cities in the Global Cities Index of 2010. It is one of the world’s top ten financial and commercial centers, home to major multinational conglomerates, such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia. In 2008, Seoul was named the world’s sixth most economically powerful city by Forbes.

Seoul has a highly technologically advanced infrastructure.Seoul was the first city to feature DMB, a digital mobile TV technology and WiBro, a wireless high-speed mobile internet service. It has a fast, high-penetration 100 Mbit/s fibre-optic broadband network, which is being upgraded to 1 Gbit/s by 2012.Seoul Station houses the 350 km/h KTX bullet train and the Seoul Subway is the third busiest in the world, with over 2 billion passengers every year. Seoul is connected via AREX to Incheon International Airport, rated as the best airport in the world by Airports Council International.

Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2010 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. (source)

At first glance, Seoul appears to be a sprawling concrete mass of high-rise apartment buildings and modern buildings interspersed with historical treasures. But on closer investigation, the city can be divided into numerous smaller districts with their own distinct character. Your primary landmark is the Han River, which runs east to west and bisects the metropolis. Jongno forms the center to the north, surrounded by five main tourist districts, and there are two other districts of interest to visitors to the south, all of which are easy to access by the convenient and economical subway system. Very few streets have names, however, and buildings are not always numbered, so the easiest way to find a place is by locating the nearest subway station or landmark, or by asking the friendly people you are certain to meet in every part of the city. (source)

Religion in South Korea

Of the South Korean population, 29.2% are Christian (of whom 18.3% profess to be Protestants and 10.9% to be Catholics), 22.8% are Buddhist, and the rest adheres to various minority religions including Jeung San Do, Daesun Jinrihoe, Cheondoism, Taoism, Confucianism and Won Buddhism.

A small minority of Koreans also profess Islam. Large metropolitan areas had the highest proportions of people belonging to formal religious groups: 49.9 percent in Seoul, 46.1 percent for Busan, and 45.8 percent for Daegu. South Korea had the third highest percentage of Christians in East Asia or Southeast Asia, following the Philippines and East Timor.

Except for the Christian groups, who maintain a fairly clear-cut distinction between believers and nonbelievers, there is some ambiguity in these statistics. For instance, there is no exact or exclusive criterion by which Buddhists or Confucianists can be identified. Although existing in other countries, the lineage of refuge, a commitment that distinguishes between Buddhists and non-Buddhists has disintegrated in Korea and is difficult to find because religion is seen to be hereditary. Many people outside of formal groups have been deeply influenced by these traditions. Moreover, it is not uncommon for Koreans to pray at Buddhist temples, participate in Confucian ancestor rites, and even consult a shaman and sponsor a kut. Furthermore, the statistics may underrepresent the numbers of people belonging to new religions. Some sources have given the number of adherents of Cheondoism as over five million.

Given the great diversity of religious expression, the role of religion in South Korea’s social development has been complex. Some traditions are adhered to as important cultural properties rather than as rites of worship. Confucianism remains important as a social ethic; its influence is evident in the immense importance Koreans ascribe to education. Christianity is identified with modernization and social reform. Many Christians in contemporary South Korea, such as veteran political opposition leader Kim Dae-jung, a Catholic, have been outspoken advocates of human rights and critics of the government. Christian-sponsored organizations, such as the Urban Industrial Mission, promote labor organizations and the union movement. New religions draw on both traditional beliefs and on Christianity, achieving a baffling variety and diversity of views. It has been estimated that there were as many as 5000 new religions in South Korea in the late 19th century, though many were small and transient phenomena. (source)

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