South Korea consists of 9 provinces and 7 metropolitan cities. Seoul is the capital and largest city in South Korea. It is located on the Han River in the northwestern part of the country, with the city centre some 37 miles (60 km) inland from the Yellow Sea (west). The Seoul National Capital Area is the second-largest in the world at 233.7 square miles and an average elevation of just above sea level at 282 feet. Because of its very large population, Seoul is considered a global city and it is the center of South Korea's economy, culture, and politics.
Throughout its history, Seoul was known by a number of different names, and the name Seoul itself is believed to have originated from the Korean word for the capital city, Seoraneol. It was first founded in 18 B.C. by the Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The city also remained as the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. During the Japanese colonization of Korea in the early 20th century, Seoul became known as Gyeongseong.
In 1945, Korea gained its independence from Japan and the city was renamed Seoul. In 1949, the city separated from Gyeonggi Province and it became a "special city," but in 1950, North Korean troops occupied the city during the Korean War and the entire city was nearly destroyed. On March 14, 1951, the United Nations forces took control of Seoul. Since then, the city has rebuilt and grown considerably.
Seoul is home to a number of historic sites and monuments. The Seoul National Capital Area has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Changdeokgung Palace Complex, the Hwaseong Fortress, the Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.