From ancient temples to soaring towers, Seoul’s architecture represents the city through the ages. Since the fourth century, Buddhism has been at the heart of Korean life. Today, a quarter of Koreans call themselves Buddhist. A visit to one of the temples in Seoul is, therefore, a good starting point on your journey to discover this incredible city.
Formerly known as Gyeonseongsa Temple, Bongeunsa Temple was constructed in 794AD. It was renamed and refurbished by Queen Jeonghyeon in 1498, and moved 50 years later to its current location south of the Han River. The Temple complex is the heart of Buddhism in South Korea, and affords incomparable peace and tranquility among the hustle and bustle of the mega-city. Appropriately for futuristic, high-tech Seoul, the temple is presided over by a statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha which, at 28 metres tall, is one of the tallest in South Korea. Well into the 1900s, Bongeunsa Temple was surrounded by lush countryside; over the last half-century the vibrant, forward-moving Seoul has crept up and surrounded the tranquil temple, bringing a fascinating comparison of the Seoul of today and the city of yesteryear. The Temple is open from 03.00 a.m. to 22.00 p.m., with the monks performing a percussion ceremony at sunrise and sunset.
Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces, Changdeokgung, Deoksugong, Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung and Gyeonbokgung each have a distinct feel, but Gyeonbokgung, or the Northern palace, has the most allure for people visiting Seoul. The Northern Palace is the largest of the five and was constructed in 1395. Although the palace was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War at the end of the 16th Century, it was reconstructed in the 19th Century, and the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond remain intact. The breath-taking architecture and historical significance give the palace iconic status in South Korea, making it a crucial stop on your trip to Seoul.
Modern South Korean Architecture has moved away from the harsh, utilitarian designs favoured in the past, opting for fluid forms and quirky designs, such as the GT Tower East, whose undulating form rises from the city’s skyline, or the Galleria Department Store, whose pearlescent façade is dramatically illuminated at night. You will be unable to turn a corner in South Korea without encountering more reality-defying, mould-breaking designs; remember to look up occasionally, and enjoy every moment!