Seoul officially the Seoul Special City is the Capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. A megacity with a population of more than 10 million, it is the largest city proper in the developed World. The Seoul Capital Area, which includes the surrounding Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi Province, is the world's second largest metropolitan area with over 25.6 million people, home to over half of South Koreans along with 632,000 international residents.
Situated on the Han River, Seoul's history stretches back more than 2,000 years when it was founded in 18 BCE by Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. It continued as the capital of Korea under the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. The Seoul metropolitan area contains four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs Of The Joseon Dynasty. Seoul is surrounded by mountains, the tallest being Mt. Bukhan, the world's most visited national park per square foot. Modern landmarks include the iconic N Seoul Tower, Lotte World, the world's second largest indoor theme park, and Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, the world's longest bridge fountain. The birthplace of K-pop and the Korean Wave, Seoul was voted the world's most wanted travel destination by Chinese, Japanese and Thai tourists for three consecutive years in 2009–2011 with over 10 million international visitors in 2012.
Today, Seoul is considered a leading and rapidly rising global city, resulting from an economic boom and growth known as the Miracle on the Han River which transformed it from the ashes of the Korean War to the world's fourth largest metropolitan economy with a GDP of US$773.9 billion in 2012 after Tokyo, New York City and Los Angeles. A world leading technology hub, it boasts the world's sixth largest number of Fortune Global 500 multinationals such as Samsung, the world's largest technology company, as well as LG, SK, and Hyundai-Kia. Gangnam is the commercial center along with Yeoui Island forming the financial center and Digital Media City being the technology hub. Jongno and Central District are the historical and cultural center of Seoul. Ranked sixth in the Global Power City Index, the metropolis exerts a major influence among global affairs as one of the five leading hosts of global conferences. It is one of the world's most livable major cities, with the United Nations rating Seoul's quality of life higher than New York City, London or Melbourne in 2012.
Seoul has a very technologically advanced infrastructure. It has the world's highest fibre-optic broadband penetration, resulting in the world's fastest internet connections with speeds up to 1 Gbps. Seoul Station is the main terminal of the KTX high-speed rail and the Seoul Subway is the world's largest subway network by length, considered the world's best subway by Jalopnik featuring 4G LTE, WiFi, DMB and WiBro. Seoul is connected via AREX to Incheon International Airport, rated the world's best airport seven years in a row (2005–2012) by Airports Council International. Lotte World Tower, a 556m (1,824 ft) supertall skyscraper is under construction in Seoul to become the OECD's tallest in 2015 with the world's tallest observation deck on its 123rd floor.
Seoul hosted the 1986 Asian Games, 1988 Summer Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. A UNESCO City of Design, Seoul was named the 2010 World Design Capital.
Seoul is in the northwest of South Korea. Seoul proper comprises 605.25 km2, with a radius of approximately 15 km (9 mi), roughly bisected into northern and southern halves by the Han River. The Han River and its surrounding area played an important role in Korean history. The Three Kingdoms of Korea strove to take control of this land, where the river was used as a trade route to China (via the Yellow Sea). The river is no longer actively used for navigation, because its estuary is located at the borders of the two Koreas, with civilian entry barred. The city is bordered by eight mountains, as well as the more level lands of the Han River plain and western areas.
As the headquarters for Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia and SK, Seoul has become a major business hub. Although it accounts for only 0.6 percent of South Korea's land area, Seoul generates 21 percent of the country's GDP.
The largest market in South Korea, the Dongdaemun Market, is located in Seoul. Myeongdong is a shopping and entertainment area in downtown Seoul with mid- to high-end stores, fashion boutiques and international brand outlets. The nearby Namdaemun Market, named after the Namdaemun Gate, is the oldest continually running market in Seoul. Sinchon is a shopping area that caters mainly to a younger and university student crowd.
Insadong is the cultural art market of Seoul, where traditional and modern Korean artworks, such as paintings, sculptures and calligraphy are sold. Hwanghak-dong Flea Market and Janganpyeong Antique Market also offer antique products. Some shops for local designers have opened in Samcheong-dong, where numerous small art galleries are located. Itaewon caters mainly to foreign tourists and American soldiers based in the city. The Gangnam district is one of the most affluent areas in Seoul and is noted for the fashionable and upscale Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong areas and the COEX Mall. Wholesale markets include Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market and Garak Market. The Yongsan Electronics Market is the largest electronics market in Asia. The Gasan Digital Complex also has an extensive variety of electronic products.
Times Square is one of Seoul's largest shopping malls featuring the CGV Starium, the world's largest permanent 35 mm cinema screen.
Seoul has many historical and cultural landmarks. In Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement Site, Gangdong District, neolithic remains were excavated and accidentally discovered by a flood in 1925.
Urban and civil planning was a key concept when Seoul was first designed to serve as a capital in the late 14th century. The Joseon Dynasty built "Five Grand Palaces" in Seoul: Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung and Gyeonghuigung, all of which are located in the district of Jongno District and Jung District. Among them, Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 as an "outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design". The main palace, Gyeongbokgung, is currently being restored to its original form. The palaces are considered exemplary architecture of the Joseon period. Beside the palaces, Unhyeongung is known for being the royal residence of Regent Daewongun, the father of Emperor Gojong at the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
Seoul has been surrounded by walls that were built to regulate visitors from other regions and protect the city in case of invasion. Pungnap Toseong is a flat earthen wall built at the edge of the Han River which is widely believed to be the site of Wiryeseong. Mongchon Toseong (몽촌토성; 蒙村土城) is another earthen wall built during the Baekje period which is now located inside the Olympic Park. The Fortress Wall of Seoul was built early in the Joseon Dynasty for protection of the city. After many centuries of destruction and rebuilding, approximately 2/3 of the wall remains, as well as six of the original eight gates. These gates include Sungnyemun and Heunginjimun, commonly known as Namdaemun (South Great Gate) and Dongdaemun (East Great Gate). Namdaemun was the oldest wooden gate until a 2008 arson attack, and is currently undergoing reconstruction. Situated near the gates are the traditional markets and largest shopping center, Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market.
There are also many buildings constructed with international styles in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Independence Gate was built in 1897 to inspire an independent spirit. Seoul Station was opened in 1900 as Gyeongseong Station.
Major modern landmarks in Seoul include the Three International Finance Center, N Seoul Tower, the World Trade Center and the seven-skyscraper residence Tower Palace. These and various high-rise office buildings, like the Gangnam Finance Center and Jongno Tower, dominate the city's skyline. Due to its high density, Seoul has a vast array of skyscrapers; the city council is now planning a series of new highrises, including a 640-meter business center in Sangam Digital Media City district and the 523-meter Lotte World 2 Tower in the Jamsil district of Songpa District and Gangdong District. As of Jan 2013, the tallest building in the city was the 285m Three International Finance Center.
The World Trade Center of Korea, located in Gangnam District, hosts various expositions and conferences. Also in Gangnam District is the COEX Mall, a large indoor shopping and entertainment complex. Downstream from Gangnam District is Yeouido, an island that is home to the National Assembly, major broadcasting studios, and a number of large office buildings, as well as the Korea Finance Building and the world's largest Pentecostal church. The Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, and Lotte World are located in Songpa District, on the south side of the Han River, upstream from Gangnam District.
In recognition of all the notable recent buildings erected in the city, in 2010 Seoul was designated the World Design Capital for the year. Also, two new modern landmarks of Seoul are Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park, designed by Zaha Hadid, and the new wave-shaped Seoul City Hall, by Yoo Kerl of iArc.
Seoul hosted the 1986 Asian Games commonly known as Asiad, 1988 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. It also served as one of the host cities of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Sangam Stadium hosted the opening ceremony and first game of the tournament. Taekwondo is Korea's national sport and Seoul is the location of the Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of taekwondo, as well as the World Taekwondo Federation.