Seoul (sāˈōl, sāˈŏl, sōl) [key], city (1995 pop. 10,229,262), capital of South Korea, NW South Korea, on the Han River. It has special status equivalent to that of a province. The political, commercial, industrial, and cultural center of the nation, Seoul is by far the most important city in the country, containing almost one quarter of its citizens. In the 15 years between 1970 and 1985 the population grew by over 4,000,000 and Seoul modernized dramatically, becoming one of the world's major cities.
Seoul is linked by rail, expressway, and subway with Incheon (Inchon), its port, and there are airports there and at Gimpo (Kimpo). Before the partition of Korea in 1945, Seoul's easy access to industrial raw materials stimulated the establishment of iron, steel, and other primary industries; with most of the raw materials now in North Korea, the city has emphasized textile manufacturing, agricultural processing, automobiles, electronics, petrochemicals, printing, publishing, and varied consumer and service industries. There are also tanneries, railroad repair shops, and large power plants.
Seoul was an early fortress and trade center, and the modern city was established in 1394 as the capital of the Choson (or Yi) dynasty, which ruled Korea until the country became (1910) a colony of Japan. The Japanese governor-general made Seoul (known as Kyongsong or Keijo) his headquarters. When the country was partitioned after World War II, Seoul became the seat of the U.S. occupation forces. It became the capital of South Korea in 1948. North Korean forces captured the city on June 28, 1950, only three days after the Korean War began; it then changed hands several times until UN troops took it in Mar., 1951, and it became the headquarters of the UN command in Korea. Heavily damaged during the war, the city was rebuilt along modern lines. Its population was greatly increased by refugees.
Seoul retains two gates of the ancient wall that once surrounded it and three imperial palaces—the Gyeongbok Palace, built in 1394 by the first monarch of the Choson dynasty; the Changdeok Palace, containing many valuable relics; and the Deoksu Palace (1593), which houses the National Museum and Art Gallery. In the center of the city is a huge bronze bell that was cast in 1468. It has a Roman Catholic cathedral and numerous other Christian churches; there are also the soaring Seoul Tower, many museums, theatres, libraries, zoological and botanical gardens, and universities, including Seoul National Univ. Seoul played host to the 1988 summer Olympics, for which it built the Seoul Sports Complex.