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The True Miracle on the Han River

  • Name : korea
  • Date : 2023-08-14 10:02:08

On the Monday of my last week in Seoul, I spent an hour walking along the Han River. In that hour, I witnessed how these waters carry the spirit of South Korea all throughout the capital city, and bring Korean people together.


In Korea’s ongoing evolution, throughout drastically different periods of time, a constant has been the river. While the city has undergone drastic changes, the river has always flown through it—not dividing it, but uniting it. Its significance is illustrated in how the phenomenon of South Korea’s fast economic development is nicknamed the “Miracle on the Han River.”



The river has been an integral aspect of Korean civilization from the beginning of this nation’s history. In the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, 20 centuries ago, the different kingdoms fought over control of the river, because it served as Korea’s main connection to the Yellow Sea, and was therefore the main trade route with China. In the Joseon Dynasty, one of the reasons Seoul was decided as the capital was its location by the river, which became even more important as a primary waterway.


Today, Seoul and the river are still deeply intertwined; although it is no longer actively used for transportation and commerce, it is an integral part of the people’s lives, and one of the first landscape features people think of when they think of South Korea itself. It carries the soul of Korea throughout Seoul.



At one point, Seoul was confined to the northern part of the river, but today numerous grand bridges carry cars and buses and trains from north to south and vice versa, connecting the city into one complex, moving system.


Various vehicles move throughout the water as well. From river cruises and ferries, to water-skiing and windsurfing, to kayaks and fishing boats, the river is a hub of recreation and leisurely activities.




But the Han River is not all fast-paced and bustling. On my visit, what captivated me the most were the quiet, peaceful layers of it.


Despite cutting through the middle of a vast, modern city, you can walk around the river and experience the beauty and freedom and peacefulness of wild nature. I was astounded by the flora and wildlife. I heard the loudest cicada harmonies I’d ever heard in my life, accompanied by the melodies of birds. I saw a stork standing quietly on shallow water, while a cloud of dragonflies zipped around overhead. Big butterflies fluttered over arrays of bright flowers, in bloom for the summer, and the branches of tall trees arched over and beautifully framed the water with their drooping leaves.



In some areas, it was hard to believe I was in the midst of a metropolis. I could appreciate the success of the government-backed efforts to restore and maintain the river’s natural environment.


Entwined with the natural environment are various pieces of art. Ranging from paintings made onto the pillars of bridges, to sculptures of trees and animals blending in with the riverside vegetation, these displays combine human creation with nature. They are an effort made by the Korean people that not only shows their appreciation for the river, but adds to its beauty.




It’s clear to see that people come here too for a respite from the city.


There are numerous parks, including children’s and exercise parks, around the river, as well as biking paths and walking trails and benches and other nice places to sit.




On my walk, I saw several groups of people—family, friends, or couples—walking, biking, sitting, picnicking, or just enjoying their surroundings together. I realized this is a place people go to to share quality time with the people they love.


I also saw several individual people standing on the walking paths, quietly gazing at the view of the water. There was one woman right on the water’s edge, framed between tall grasses, who appeared to be praying. I realized the emotional and spiritual importance of the river.


Seoul is a grand city—one of the richest, most innovative, industrialized cities in the world today. It has an old, rich history as a capital, dating back hundreds of years, and has come a long way from the immense poverty it underwent during the mid 20th century. It has seen so many drastic changes throughout its different periods of history, and all along, the waters of the Han River have run through it. All along, the river has sustained the people of Seoul, and served as the ecological heart of the city.




People go to the river for what’s important—to connect with loved ones, health, the beauty of nature, and contentment—and it has always been that way. The river weaves through the country, with these values running deep in its waters, connecting Korean people.


If you visit Seoul, take a stroll around the water, and experience the true miracle on the Han River.​ 


By Caroline Ketelhohn, Summer Intern   

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