One of the most tragic stories in Korean history is that of Crown Prince Sado. Thought to be mentally unstable, his father King Yeongjo ordered the young Crown Prince to commit suicide. Failing to do that, the King ordered him imprisoned in a rice chest. Sado sat cramped in the space for eight days before perishing. Today there is speculation there may have been other agents at play and they may have manipulated King Yeongjo into ordering his son’s death. Nonetheless, Sado’s son, King Jeongjo years later created a magnificent tomb for his father in Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do. King Jeongjo desired to move Korea’s government from Seoul to Suwon, so he could be closer to his father’s tomb. This month, The Korea Blog begins a four-part series exploring the area beginning with the Hwaseong Castle (Fortress).
The fortress was constructed in just over two years between 1794 and 1796. Its primary architect was Jeong Yak-yong. Previous to the Hwaseong fortress, most cities were made up of a simple wall around them and a fortified mountain fortress for defense. King Jeongjo wanted the Suwon Fortress to be different, for during the Imjin War front lines collapsed and he desired the new seat of government to be stronger. Jeong Yak-yong incorporated various Chinese and Korean designs along with modern science and Silhak principles.
Some of the additional features of the Hwaseong Fortress that were added include bidirectional firing windows, crossbow towers, military compounds, and secret doors that allowed soldiers to leave the fortress without exiting through the main gates to carry out secret missions.
However, proximity to his father’s tomb wasn’t the only reason King Jeongjo wanted to move the nation’s capital to Suwon. He believed it to be strategically superior to Seoul with respect to the West Sea and China. Convincing people to move away from Seoul wasn’t easy, or cheap. Moving to Suwon required an incredible expense. To offset these charges, King Jeongjo exempted individuals from paying taxes for ten years.
In 1997, UNESCO declared the fortress a World Heritage Site and since then it has seen millions of visitors. With over 5km of fortress walls to explore, this is probably one of the best day-trips in Korea when trying to stay close to Seoul. When trekking to this location there are many things to see, and here are a few recommendations.
Paldalmun – Locally referred to as Nammun (South Gate), it’s positioned in the middle of a roundabout in central Suwon. Its stone base is capped with a two-story wooden pavilion. A small, semi-circular protective guards the inner fortress gate and is called an ongseong. It managed to survive through the Kroean War unharmed. Presently it is in the middle of a massive restoration project that began in 2010.
Bongdon, the beacon tower, sits midway from Paldalmun to Changnyongmun (East Gate). It is located intentionally in direct line with the Hwaseong Haenggung (palace). While other Bongdons are placed throughout Korea, allowing officials to monitor incoming threats, this is the only one ever built into a fortress wall. The series of beacon towers alerted the king and other military officials to the state of the nation. When the southern-most chimney was lit, all was well. If all five in the series were lit, then the enemy was approaching on Korean soil.
Hwahongmun (Buksumun) – This area serves as a bridge over the Suwon stream. The rushing water and tranquil pavilion is one of the best places to pause and rest. The covered pavilion is a favorite place for many to sit and relax during their stroll around the fortress and is said to be one of the eight most beautiful places in the city.
Janganmun, known locally as Bungmun (North Gate), is the largest gate of its type in Korea. Many theorize this was intentional, as all visitors to Suwon during King Jeongjo’s time would have passed through the gate and furthered his desire to move the capital away from Seoul. It also has a two-story wooden pavilion above the stone structure. Flanking the gate are two cannon stations.
Address: Gyeonggi-do Suwon-si Paldal-gu Ingye-dong Jangan-gu, Gwonseon-gu Area
Phone: +82-31-1330 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese); +82-31-251-4435, 4437
Web: ehs.suwon.ne.kr (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)
Hours: Summer season 09:00-18:00; Winter season 09:00-17:00
- Individual – Adults 1,000 won / Youth 700 won / Children 500 won
- Group (over 30 people) – Adults 700 won / Youth 500 won / Children 300 won
Directions: Suwon Station (Seoul Subway Line 1). Take Bus 2, 7, 7-2, 8, or 13 and get off at Jongno 4-geori (intersection). Walk 5 minutes to fortress (Paldalmun).
Next week, the series continues, taking a look inside the Hwaseong Haengung.