Namdaemun Gate is a formidable and iconic construct that served as the southern gate of the wall that surrounded Seoul during the period of the Joseon Dynasty. It tragically fell victim to a fire by arson in 2008 and the wooden portion of the gate near the top was completely charred. The story is wacky to say the very least. A local man who was disgruntled set fire to the gate (which just happens to be National Treasure # 1 in South Korea) over anger at the fact that he had not been paid appropriately for land that he had sold to developers. Namdaemun Gate suffered severe damage. Reconstruction on this historically significant structure is underway.
When you visit Namdaemun in Seoul Korea, also known as Sungnyemun, you will have the opportunity to learn the history behind why it was necessary to construct these massive gates. Taking guided tours of popular tourist attractions like the Namdaemun Gate will give you a better understanding of the social, political, and cultural climate of the time when it was built. The massive gate not only served as protection for the city, but also as the place to green foreign heads of state and emissaries, and was even utilized to keep out pesky Korean tigers. Construction of Namdaemun gate began in 1395 and was commissioned by King Taejo, the leader of the Joseon Empire at the time. It was rebuilt in 1447 and has undergone several renovations since then.
Namdaemun Market is also an exceedingly popular attraction in this area of Seoul. It is the largest retail shopping market in the entire city. Although it remains of a hotspot for tourists who are interested in seeing this large, outdoor market, this destination tends to be most frequented by Koreans, which makes it an excellent way to get in touch with local culture. Many Korean business owners from other cities make a practice of buying wholesale goods at the Namdaemun Market, then turning around and selling them at their various shops at retail cost. The Namdaemun Market was built during a time when cars were not widely in use, and to this day you cannot access the market by car. You can however easily access the market by train using the Hoehyeon Train Station on line 4. It is also less than a ten-minute walk from the larger Seoul Metropolitan Station.
Many people wonder what kinds of goods they can expect to find at Namdaemun in South Korea. As is the case with many of the street shopping districts in major population centers in South Korea, the answer is, just about anything. The same applies here at the Namdaemun Market where you will find vendors selling everything from traditional handicrafts and pieces of artwork, to wholesale textiles, to the latest electronic gadgetry. This is the type of place where it is also possible to negotiate down prices, but as a shopping district heavily concentrated with South Korean people, you may not want to push your case too hard, (the exception of course being if you speak well or have a South Korean friend with you to translate). If not, you will find that the person looking to sell you the good may just walk away in frustration. This is a cool part of town and definitely one worth checking out. If you are making the trip to the capital city, consider putting Namdaemun in Seoul Korea on your list of places to see.