Arson is one possibility in last night's destruction by fire of Seoul's Namdaemun Gate, South Korea's most valuable architectural relic which neighbours on the ancient Namsaemun Market. The gate was built in 1398 and renovated in in 1447. It survived the violence of Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945 and even the Korean war in 1950-53.
In the early thirteenth century, rule by warlords weakened Korea (or Koguryo as it was then) in the face of the Mongols who swept into the kingdom in 1238. But the Mongols were never able to take complete control and Korea lapsed into anarchy wrought by Korean and Japanese warlords. In 1392, the great statesman Yi Song gye, or Litan, finally took control, founding Korea's capital city of Seoul as well as the Joseon dynasty which would rule Korea for the next six centuries using an efficient Confucian administrative system founded and managed by the Yang Ban bureaucratic aristocracy. The building of the Naumdaenum Gate in 1398 seems to have inaugurated the Joseon regime. Litan made Confucianism and Chinese higher education universal. During this time Korea opened relations with the Ming dynasty and protection by China would last 200 years. Between1419 and1450 the Joseon dynasty reached its height under Sejong the Great, when the Namdaemun gate was rebuilt.
Seoul: capital of South Korea, located near the mouth of the Han river which runs from the central south of the peninsula, northwest and drains into the sea at the port of Inchon. The capital of the Yi or Joseon dynasty, the trading and fortress city was founded in 1392 and remained prominent until the fall of the Joseon to Japan in 1910. In the early 17th century, the numbers of private merchants increased, as they expanded their trade up the Han into the interior. From the river trade grew an important boat-building industry. The merchants proceeded to prosper from government monopolies in small manufacturing and handicrafts. Three of the original gates from the old city wall remain, as do three imperial palaces. A French colonial punitive expedition was repulsed from Seoul in 1866. In 1910 the city became the colonial capital of Japanese-occupied Korea. In 1948, after North Korean delegates refused to attend UN and parliamentary sessions in Seoul, South Korea declared its independence and Seoul became the capital. On June 28, 1950, at the start of the Korean war, the capital was captured by North Korea. It was taken and retaken before UN troops secured it in March, 1951. Almost destroyed, Seoul was rebuilt as a modern city and vastly increased by a population of refugees. It has, notably, many Christian churches. From 1970 to 1985, the city modernized and grew by 4 million. In 1988, Seoul hosted the Olympics.