My first place to see in Korea was Toksu Palace, in front of Seoul City Hall. However, to me Namdaemun (남대문) is the most memorable place to visit, don’t ask me why. Probably because of the impressive traditional market near the gate.
Namdaemun is located in the middle between Seoul station and Seoul City, two places were you easily can go with the subway. Namdaemun is a place that every Korean knows.
Officially known as , Sungnyemun, Namdaemun is one of the 8 gates in the Fortress Wall which surrounded Seoul during Joseon Dynasty. Located in the south, it was once one of the three major gateways through Seoul’s city walls, therefore named Namdaemun or the great south gate.
The gate, first built in the last year of King Taejo of Joseon’s reign in 1398, is designated as the first National Treasure of South Korea. Namdaemun is one of the direction points when you cross Seoul city. The building can be seen from far and makes a great impression on visitors.
In january 2008 , the day before I left Korea to come back home, I passed Namdaemun on my way to Namdaemun market . Next day, during the take off at Incheon Airport, we heard about the fire that severely damaged the wooden pagoda atop the gate.
As like the other passengers I was shocked by the news that a person try to burn down this National Treasure. On the other hand I was happy that I was one of the last persons to see the gate. The restoration work on the gate started in February 2010 and the new gate opened to the public in may 2013. One of the most remarkable differences is the extended wall, which makes that the traffic can only run in front of the gate. But it makes the gate more accessible for visitors.
Close to the gate you can find one of the entrances of Namdaemun market, one of Korea’s largest trading markets, which is open 24 hours a day almost all year around.
Shopping at Namdaemun is always fun because of the variety of products, from clothes, handicrafts, food, tableware traditional herbs and ginseng, etc.,
Whenever I visit Namdaemun I go there with empty hands, going back home with full bags. Namdaemun is my favorite shopping place for souvenirs since it offers a wide choice of items at the cheapest price. Photographers come here to find new lenses but also second hand camera’s.
Anyway, when you visit Namdaemun take your time ! Don’t worry about food, you can try to eat at the local Pojangmacha (포장마차) or Mokjagolmok (먹자골목). When you’re not into street food you can probably find something at the nearby Shinsegae departement store.