Since Korea's division, the South has developed into one of Asia's most affluent countries. The North has slipped into totalitarianism and poverty.
The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in August 1948 and received UN-backed support from the US after it was invaded by the North two years later. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace agreement leaving South Korea technically at war for more than fifty years.
The following four decades were marked by authoritarian rule. Government-sponsored schemes encouraged the growth of family-owned industrial conglomerates, known as "chaebol". Foremost among them were the Hyundai and Samsung groups. The South- North border is the world's most heavily-fortified frontier
South Korea Tourist Attractions
They helped transform South Korea into one of the world's major economies and a leading exporter of cars and electronic goods.
A multi-party political system was restored in 1987, and President Roh Tae-Woo launched an anti-corruption campaign against both his own party and his political predecessor.
Relations with its northern neighbour remain a major concern in Seoul, particularly over the North's fragile economy and its nuclear ambitions. Arch of Triumph
South Korea has resisted international calls for sanctions against the North and since the late 1990s it has pursued a "sunshine" policy of engagement. This has involved aid - including shipments of fertiliser and rice - reunions between North and South Koreans, tourist projects and economic cooperation.
South Korea attractions
South Korean companies employ thousands of North Korean workers at the Kaesong industrial complex, near the border. The demilitarised zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea is the world's most heavily-fortified frontier.
But the US, which maintains tens of thousands of soldiers in South Korea, is pulling its forces away from the front line and plans to reduce troop numbers.
South Korea map
Full name: The Republic of Korea
Population: 48.2 million (UN, 2007)
Area: 99,313 sq km (38,345 sq miles)
Major language: Korean
Major religions: Buddhism, Christianity
South Korea flag
Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 82 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: won
Main exports: Electronic products, machinery and transport equipment
GNI per capita: US $17,690 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .kr
International dialling code: +82
President Lee Myung-bak