Seoul (English pronunciation: /soʊl/; Korean: [sʌ.ul] ( listen) — 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.
The city has been known in the past by the names Wirye-seong (위례성; 慰禮城, Baekje era), Hanju (한주; 漢州, Silla era), Namgyeong (남경; 南京, Goryeo era), Hanseong (한성; 漢城, Baekje and Joseon era), Hanyang (한양; 漢陽, Joseon era), Gyeongseong (경성; 京城, colonial era). Its current name originated from the Korean word meaning "capital city," which is believed to be derived from the word Seorabeol (서라벌; 徐羅伐), which originally referred to Gyeongju, the capital of Silla.
Seoul is first recorded as Wiryeseong, the capital of Baekje (founded in 18 BC) in the northeastern Seoul area. There are several city walls remaining in the area that date from this time. Pungnaptoseong, an earthen wall just outside Seoul, is widely believed to have been at the main Wiryeseong site. As the Three Kingdoms competed for this strategic region, control passed from Baekje to Goguryeo in the 5th century, and from Goguryeo to Silla in the 6th century. In the 11th century Goryeo, which succeeded Unified Silla, built a summer palace in Seoul, which was referred to as the "Southern Capital". It was only from this period that Seoul became a larger settlement.
The traditional, labour-intensive manufacturing industries have been continuously replaced by information technology, electronics and assembly-type of industries, however, food and beverage production, as well as printing and publishing remained among the core industries. Major manufacturers are headquartered in the city, including Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia and SK. Notable food and beverage companies include Jinro, whose soju is the most sold alcoholic drink in the world, beating out Smirnoff vodka; top selling beer producers Hite (merged with Jinro) and Oriental Brewery. It also hosts food giants like Seoul Dairy Cooperative, Nongshim Group and Lotte.
The largest wholesale and retail 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.
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 provides free Wi-Fi access in outdoor spaces. This 47.7 billion won ($44 million) project will give residents and visitors Internet access at 10,430 parks, streets and other public places by 2015.
Seoul is home to over 100 museums, including three national and nine official municipal museums. The National Museum Of Korea is the most representative of museums in not only Seoul but all of South Korea. Since its establishment in 1945, the museum has built a collection of 150,000 artifacts. In October 2005, the museum moved to a new building in Yongsan Family Park. The National Folk Museum is situated on the grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in the district of Jongno District and uses replicas of historical objects to illustrate the folk history of the Korean people.
Bukchon Hanok Village and Namsangol Hanok Village are old residential districts consisting of hanok Korean traditional houses, parks, and museums that allows visitors to experience traditional Korean culture. The War Memorial, one of nine municipal museums in Seoul, offers visitors an educational and emotional experience of various wars in which Korea was involved, including Korean War themes. The Seodaemun Prison is a former prison built during the Japanese occupation, and is currently used as a history museum.