Whether you turn a street corner or look out a window, Namsan Seoul Tower (남산서울타워) rules the skyline. Its appearance varies depending on perspective but it’s always there. Like it or not, the tower is tagging along wherever your destination in the city. Should you stumble out an unfamiliar subway station, its presence acts as a compass that tells you where you are.
Namsan derives its name from two Hanja characters: 南 (남: nam) meaning ‘south’ and 山 (산: san) which is ‘mountain.’ The 240m communication and observation tower sits atop Mount Nam or Nam Mountain, giving ‘South Mountain’ Tower an elevation of 480m above sea level.
Construction of the tower began in 1969 and was completed by 1971. A museum and souvenir shop were added in 1975 when builders realized they had a tourist attraction in their hands–8.4 million people visit Namsan Seoul Tower annually! South Korea’s first general radio wave tower serves the secondary purpose of broadcasting television and radio signals from media outlets KBS, MBC, and SBS.
I departed Myeong-dong Station (명동역) on Line 4 via Exit 3, expecting to catch sight of Namsan Seoul Tower. Instead, my peripheral vision settled on the Pacific Hotel; the tower’s view on Toegyo-ro 18-gil (퇴계로18길) was obscured by the other buildings. Nevertheless, it was the landmark that my internal navigation system had calibrated. So during the mostly uphill hike, my brain replaced everything in front of me with Namsan Seoul Tower.
At the conclusion of Toegyo-ro 18-gil awaits the entrance to the Namsan Cable Car. I took a moment to catch my breath, reminded that for 1,100 Won, Namsan Shuttle Bus No. 5 could have also taken me to the tower lobby. Incidentally, the bus stop was also near the the start point of my ambulatory jaunt: Myeong-dong Station, Exit 3. But to sacrifice the cable car view was not worth the compromise.
Scenes from the SBS hit drama, My Love from the Star (별에서 온 그대), were filmed at the Roof Terrace on the second floor of the Tower Plaza. This is where you’ll find the “Locks of Love”, where many couples hang padlocks as a symbol of their love for one another. A 2011 survey by the Seoul Metropolitan Government found that 16 percent of foreign visitors said hanging padlocks on the Roof Terrace was their favourite activity in Seoul.
Since the tower first opened, 15 billion KRW ($17.5 million CAD) has been spent on renovations and restorations. As the top tourist attraction and symbol of Seoul, losing it would be akin to having a civic limb removed to residents.
In 2005, the tower was acquired by CJ Corporation and renamed N Seoul Tower. Regardless, it is still commonly referred as Namsan Tower or Seoul Tower to most Seoulites. Naver Maps continues to label it 남산서울타워 (Namsan Seoul Tower), which prompts me to recall on older Torontonians’ reluctance to refer to the Skydome as Rogers Centre.