Expensive, exclusive and elite are the most appropriate words to describe Seoul’s Gangnam district. It’s indeed a place to see and be seen, filled with high-end real estate, luxury boutiques and glimmering skyscrapers. But fifty years ago, this area was nothing more than a vast countryside; home to rice paddies and pear farms. And everything you see today has been built since then.
Literally means ‘South of the River’, Gangnam is a wealthy neighbourhood that lies along the southern bank of the Han River. Since PSY’ song “Gangnam Style” went viral in 2012, people all over the world have heard this name. But before receiving international attention, Gangnam has always been the desire of many Koreans. Some might say it’s the true centre of Seoul because all the big-name and big-money live here.
Brief History of Gangnam
Gangnam didn’t always look like this. In 1967, the area to the south of Han River was farmlands, full of orchards and rice paddies. But it turned into a bustling business district in the 1970s thanks to various urban development projects. The banks and tech giants were the first moved here, followed by the rich and the famous. And to accommodate the needs of Seoul’s most affluent citizens, luxury boutiques, upscale restaurants and high-end residential area were built. Today, Gangnam is the epitome of opulence, and “Gangnam Style” referred to the lavish lifestyle that associated with Seoul’s elites. In many ways, the construction of Gangnam mirrors the economic rise of South Korea – from a war-torn country in the 1950s to the fourth-largest economy in Asia.
Although Gangnam seems like a place where the money talks, there are still things that you can enjoy without breaking the bank account. One of them is the public library in COEX Mall, the Starfield Library. Within a spacious area of 2800 m², visitors can freely sit down and browse through a wide selection of books. From romantic novels to scientific publications, you can find nearly every genre in three massive bookshelves that are as tall as two-story buildings. The library also boasts Korea’s largest collection of magazines of over 600 different titles, including the latest editions of many international magazines.
Another place to unwind from the hustle of Gangnam is the Bongeunsa Temple. Constructed in 794 during the reign of King Wonseong of Silla, this Zen temple appears like a spiritual oasis at the heart of a bustling district. Its wooden architecture offers a stark contrast to the modern surrounding, creating an interesting mix of old and new. The highlight of the temple is the giant statue of Maitreya – the Future Buddha. At the height of 23 metres, he seems to look over all Seoul’s inhabitants, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Practical Information about Gangnam
- Starfield Library is located in the southern part of the gigantic COEX Mall. To go there take Subway line 2 to Samseong Station, Exit 5 or 6. The mall is also accessible by subway line 9 (Bongeunsa Station, Exit 7). From there, it’s about 15 minutes walk to the library.
- The temple of Bongeunsa is just a short walking distance from COEX Mall’s north entrance. To go there take the subway line 9 to Bongeunsa Station, Exit 1.