The name Seongbuk means “the north (buk) of the fortress (seong)” as the area was often referred to as the northern part of Seoul Fortress in the Joseon period, and has kept that name to the present day. The name also appears on Suseonjeondo, a map of Seoul drawn up during the Joseon period in 1840. In ancient times, the southern part of Bukhansan Mountain was sufficiently forested to be inhabited by tigers, and it is said that a king once led an army to hunt tigers in the area during the Joseon period. Although it was situated outside the four main gates of old Seoul, about 3.9km from the fortress, it was governed by the administrative authority of Seoul (Hanseongbu in the past) and was the great gateway to Seoul’s northeast.
In the past, the road that passed via Hyehwamun Gate (also known as Dongsomun Gate) and Doeneomi Pass (present-day Miari Pass) in Seoul, and continued to Gangwon-do Province and Hamgyeong-do Province, was a busy trade route along which daily necessities were exported from Seoul, and various fish products were imported from Hamgyeong-do Province. The name Doeneomi Ridge originated from the vulgar Korean term “doeneo” for Chinese or Manchurians, as they came over the ridge to attack the capital in ancient times. If they penetrated as far Hyehwamun Gate, the royal palace would be within their range. Therefore, as Seongbuk was an important passageway to Seoul, it had to be well protected, and a martial arts training center was situated in Samseonpyeong Basin between Dongsomun Gate and Doeneomi Pass
It is said that during the mid-Joseon period the northern base of Eoyeongcheong Military Camp was established to defend the capital, and that a group of civilians was sent to the area to cultivate the land and live together with the soldiers, thus becoming the first residents of Seongbuk-dong. It is not known who they were exactly, but ‘the new land’ granted to them was largely composed of rugged mountainous terrain that was difficult to cultivate, so people kept deserting the area. While it was a tough place for civilians, it was a great spot for hunting and relaxation for certain people, as Seongbuk had an attractive mountain and valley that were very close to the capital. In addition, a magnificent landscape opened out beyond the fortress at the rear of the royal palace, so Joseon’s princes used to study at a villa in the area and renowned writers and painters lived there as well. Notably, a number of peach a trees at the former site of the northern military base used to attract numerous holidaymakers there in late spring.