Pusan: The Temporary Capital

View of Pusan
View of Pusan, PM 2003.17.2972

During the Korean War, Pusan, a port city on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, was the last holdout against the North Korean advance, and it became the temporary national capital once Seoul fell. Nestled in the Naktong River valley and protected by mountains to the west and the sea on the east, the 50-by-50-square-mile area around the city became known as the “Pusan Perimeter.”

As a result of the war and the massive influx of refugees and troops, the city’s population more than doubled to over a million. Makeshift settlements grew up on the outskirts of the city, and in addition to the Korean government, other institutions such as schools and churches relocated from Seoul to Pusan. During the war the city suffered significant accidental fire damage; however, because it was spared direct combat, its economic infrastructure remained relatively intact.

Pusan rapidly became the center of U.S. and international relief efforts that not only addressed humanitarian concerns but also aimed to rebuild Korea as a bulwark against the spread of communism.