The Olympics are in full swing and the South Korean city of PyeongChang – certainly not to be confused with Pyongyang, in the North – is enjoying an influx of tourists, athletes, and advertising dollars. At press time, the medal count is Norway 17, Germany 15, and Canada 13. The U.S. is in fifth place, with 8. These standings will surely change.
Although I’ve never been to PyeongChang – nor to Pyongyang, for that matter – I have been to Seoul, the vibrant capital of South Korea and part of a greater metropolis that, all told, is home to almost 26 million people, according to worldpopulationreview.com. Seoul is a teeming city that never sleeps, but, like Tokyo, Beijing, and other East Asian mega-cities, its skyscrapers are punctuated by verdant green spaces. This month’s gallery pays homage to Seoul’s urban gardens and palaces.
It hasn’t been since 1988 that the Korean Peninsula played host to the Olympics – the Games of the XXIV Olympiad, set in Seoul during not winter but summer. Olympic Park, in the north of the city, is a massive green lung, containing numerous athletic venues, sculptures, and this stunning entryway, World Peace Gate, beneath which burns the eternal flame.
The red arc above, shaped like an archer’s bow, is one of approximately 200 sculptures exhibited throughout the “Olpark.”
South of the Han River, the entrance to Seoul’s largest temple complex, Gyeongbokgung Palace (Northern Palace), was covered from public view during renovations at the time of my 2007 visit…
Gyeongbokgung Throne Room, built for King Taejo in 1394, destroyed by fire in 1553 and rebuilt the following year.
Imperial-style entry gate to what is perhaps the loveliest palace complex in Seoul, Changdeokgung.
Changdeokgung Palace is a UNESCO Historic Site, due largely to its not-so-secret “Secret Garden,” above, a lovely place to while away an afternoon.
Can you believe you’re in the middle of a city of over 10 million inhabitants?!
Cheongye Stream, a once-polluted eyesore that was spruced up in the early 2000’s, now serves as a sort of pedestrian shortcut through Seoul’s Central Business District.
Large swath of lawn in front of Seoul’s turn-of-the-century city hall, architecturally out of style with the rest of the city (and since replaced, as of 2012). In other cities, this green space would be prime sunbathing territory, but such exhibitionism is strictly forbidden in Seoul.
The southern fringes of the city center back up to the forested slopes of Namsan Mountain. These slopes house, among other things, Seoul Tower. The tower, which is 236 meters (774 feet) in height, was visible from my hostel dorm room.
Also within walking distance of Seoul Youth Hostel (a great, albeit sterile, place to stay, incidentally) is Namsangol Hanok Village, an open-air museum of recreated, traditional homes built in the imperial style of East Asia, as the above roof comb suggests.
School group at Hanok Village – a can’t-resist photo opportunity.
The next time I found myself in Seoul, it was pouring relentlessly, although that didn’t stop me from exploring. Deoksugung Palace, near the aforementioned city hall, dates back to the Joseon Dynasty of the 15th century and is surrounded by skyscrapers, as the picture above suggests.
Gyeonghuigung Palace (Western Palace), adjacent to Deoksugung Palace. I was the only person here, and soaked to the bone. Still a great day!
Namdaemun Gate, overexposed in this photo but one of the Joseon dynasty landmarks, sits on an island of green near Seoul Plaza and Seoul Station. According to theseoulguide.com, Namdaemun means “Gate of Exalted Ceremonies.”
All pictures were taken with a Canon Powershot camera. All images are the property of GringoPotpourri unless credited otherwise, and should be used with permission only.