What Is the 38th Parallel?

38th-parallel Credit: Archive Photos/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The northern 38th parallel is a line of latitude that circles the Earth at approximately the level of California, Maryland, the Strait of Gibraltar, Sicily, the southern tip of the Caspian Sea, Tibet and Shandong in China. At the end of World War II, the 38th parallel was set as the dividing line between the Republic of Korea and the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Korea.

The 38th parallel runs through many of the world's most popular vacation destinations, such as the Greek Isles, and the most heavily fortified border zone on Earth. While the exact path of the border between the DPRK and ROK shifted somewhat during the Korean War, the village of Panmunjom rests exactly on the line. In the village, precisely along the 38th parallel, a series of huts were erected to host meetings between representatives of the two Koreas and to facilitate peace negotiations. The border runs straight through the midpoint of the buildings with silent border guards from both sides holding positions on either side of a low concrete barrier that marks the border with painstaking accuracy. Elsewhere along the border, it is estimated that perhaps 1 million soldiers face each other across a stretch of terrain that has been planted with over 1 million land mines.