Seoul has more than its fair share of cultural and historical attractions. Many of them are clustered around Bukchon, Insa-dong and Seongbuk-dong, north of the Han River.
But there is another part of Seoul that remains equally symbolic in terms of Korean heritage. Seochon is equally memorable with its great selection of stylish cafes, unique shops and fantastic restaurants that serve up authentic Korean cuisine.
Yet, it is often overlooked by visitors and residents alike.
Seochon, or "western village," is a collection of quaint neighborhoods that branch out from the western wing of Gyeongbok Palace and stretch all the way up to the base of Mt. Inwangand even parts of the Seoul Fortress Wall.
The area has a longstanding reputation for being a very artistic and creative part of the city. So much so that the Seoul Metropolitan Government has gone to great lengths to preserve its integrity and longevity.
Seochon is every bit as historically significant as neighboring Bukchon. Home to more than 300 of Seoul's remaining 1,400 hanok, or traditional Korean houses, its maze of alleyways -- thankfully too narrow for cars -- still boast an impressive amount of time-honored architecture.
Getting lost in these random side streets decorated with bicycles, Korean kimchi pots and traditional markings is the best way to witness just how much the area has clung to its historical roots. Many homes are hidden behind beautifully kept red brick walling, and still look today as they did many years ago.
Most notable are the wonderful wooden, early 20th century doorways, replete with ornate metal fittings that spill into courtyards, a trademark of hanok architecture.
Whereas Bukchon was home to many of the city's dignitaries and noblemen, Seochon was a popular retreat for artists and a professional middle class, made up of interpreters, doctors and merchants. Those traces of aesthetic affluence still remain.
But despite Seochon's traditional appeal, there hasn't been much in the way of preserving its cultural identity. Several notably historic sites have given way to newer buildings with little more than a stone plaque marking their relevance.
It wasn't until 2008 that the Seoul Metropolitan Government kick-started a change and commissioned a team of architects and academics to come up with ways to make the area more sustainable.
International Press Relations Manager Chung Eun-sun at the Seoul Metropolitan Government outlines the government's pivotal role in restoring the area to its former glory.
"Our key role in the restoration process is to encourage hanok owners in the area to maintain their property to preserve the historic appeal of Seochon," she said.
Chung said that as incentives, residents can apply for up to US$100,000 in subsidies to reform or renovate their hanok.
Although the Seoul city government doesn't provide investment for private properties such as galleries, restaurants and shops, they do impose guidelines and oversee development from start to finish much in the same way as neighboring Bukchon to ensure preservation procedures are fully met.
"The restoration process is ongoing," Chung said. "The government hopes to restore every hanok in the area over the next several years."
At Suseong-dong Valley, located at the foot of Mt. Inwang and a short walk from Gyeongbok Palace Subway Station, there are numerous restoration efforts underway. The valley is the source of the Cheonggycheon, the 5.8 kilometer stream that flows through Seoul.
The valley was also the subject of a painting by Jeong Sun, a renowned landscape artist during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and one of Korea's more respected painters.
The aging Ogin apartment complex in Seochon was completed in 1971, as part of the initial stage of the urban renewal policy of the Seoul Metropolitan Government to supply Western-style common houses in place of Korean-style homes.
Yet, Yun Jong-chan, who is heading the restoration project, reports the city is now intent on bringing it all down.
"These apartment blocks were all built at a time when the country was going through rapid industrialization," he says, "which is essentially why it was built in the valley of Mt. Inwang, so that the water, bedrock and trees of the valley could almost pose as the veranda and gardens of the complex."
Construction is currently underway to tear down the series of older apartments that are blocking the valley from view. The project is slated for completion next year.
"This was once a very sacred setting," Yun says. "Yet, it has been almost shielded from view. We felt a growing need to have return to the verdant landscape that it once was."