Nandaemun (or Sungnyemun) is a prime example of the old majestically mixing with the new and the modern. Amidst the hustle and bustle of traffic and the skyscrapers that seem to sprout in the area, it is a refreshing reminder of Korea's glorious past. Namdaemun is a historic city gate, one among the four belonging to the old city walls. It is located right at the heart of Seoul and is considered as South Korea's National Treasure #1. It is also one of the country's most famous and recognizable landmarks.
The Great South Gate, the literal translation of Namdaemun, is actually a large castle stone structure. In its middle, you will see an arched entrance. It has two stories, delineated by a column on top of a platform. The gate was completed in 1398. It was originally called Sungnyemun. Construction began during the reign of King Taejo (of the Joseon Dynasty) in 1395. This makes it the oldest wood-built structure that is still standing in Seoul. Renovations on the gate were undergone in 1447 under King Sejong's reign and in 1479, during the reign of King Seongjong. It survived the destruction of Seoul's city walls (by the Japanese, ostensibly to ease traffic in the area). It also endured damages during the Korean War. But it is still standing and after major repairs in 1962, it was designated as 'National Treasure No. 1'. Most of the stone of the gate are still original.
It used to protect the city from the Korean tigers. Now, it is the gateway to one of the best shopping experiences you will have this side of Korea – the Namdaemun market. The Namdaemun Market (the largest wholesale market there is) provides you with a virtually 24-hour shopping spree to several malls and street markets. This market has existed for some 600 years now and is the place to be if you want to do some serious shopping in Korea.
Its more than 10 acres give you a shopping wonderland where you can buy virtually all kinds of stuff – clothes and accessories, spices, flowers, produce, fabrics, watches, ginseng products, carpets, hats, mountain gear, toys and many more. You can also purchase great souvenirs such as the hanbok (the traditional costume in Korea). Get lost in the rabbit warren of alleys even as you hunt for one-of-a-kind products. Mind you, some vendors can speak a little English so be ready for some heavy bargaining. If you find yourself short of ready cash, there are plenty of money changing shops that can offer you better exchange rates as compared to the bank. Nandaemun market should be part of your tour of the Great South Gate. The sights and the smell of the market will surely be a heady experience.
You can visit this historic landmark at Seoul Special City, Jung-gu. It is near Toksukung Palace, the City Hall and Seoul Station.
The Great South Gate is open everyday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. A good time to visit is at dusk, when, after you have toured the gate, you can see how the castle gate's lamp shed ethereal beauty to Namdaemun at night.