A Walk along Suwon Hwaseong Fortress
People tend to look to faraway destinations when planning a trip to explore a historical site and ultimately overlook well-known places that are close to where they live. For me, Suwon Hawseong Fortress is one of those sites that is so familiar that it has long been put on the back burner. As I drive into Suwon, the fortress wall and major structures associated with the fortress can be seen from anywhere in the city. It looks so familiar that I often mistakenly assume that I know so much about it and feel as if I had seen everything about it. As a result, I have never brought myself to get up close and personal with the fortress.
So I decided to take a stroll and explore the architectural masterpiece of Joseon Dynasty with which I have never truly familiarized myself due to my false sense of familiarity with it. Once I set my mind to carefully examining all the features of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, including individual structures, the wall, and the surrounding environment, I found myself burning with a mission to know the fortress that was also designated as a World Heritage by UNESCO.
The weather was beautiful on the day I set out on my journey. It was the perfect way to witness the beauty of traditional Korean architecture, patterns and colors.
The wall is 5,744 meters in length and spans 130 hectares of land. The wall is built on a flat terrain on the east and connects to Paldalsan Mountain on the west. The fortress consists of 48 parts, which make up a single circuit, seven of which were lost during floods and wars. My plan included walking along the wall’s entire circuit, and exploring half of the fortress in a train ride. Careful planning and organization were essential in scheduling all of these activities into a single trip.
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was built by King Jeongjo, the 22nd king of Joseon Dynasty, and was erected to house and honor the remains of his father, Sadoseja, Crown Prince in Suwon, the site that was considered to be the most propitious. The construction of the fortress was initiated to demonstrate the king’s profound filial affection for his father. In addition, it was intended to serve as the center of new policies driven by grand political ambitions of King Jeongjo to eradicate partisan politics and to establish strong royal leadership, as well as to have the function as a major national defense system.
The original foundation of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress remains the same as it was constructed 200 years ago. The wall remains intact in its original shape, and Suwoncheon Stream still flows through Buksumun Gate (Hwahongmun Gate) as it did during the time of its construction. The network of streets that originally connected Paldalmun Gate, Janganmun Gate, Hwaseong Temporary Palace, and Changnyongmun Gate still forms the framework of the current streets of Suwon-si. The fortress also symbolizes the spiritual and core values of Korea, in addition to being a cultural symbol as its construction was jumpstarted by political and economical motivations, rather than military purposes. Its intention was more based on filial piety, which is one of the fundamental social values in oriental philosophy.
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was designated as Historical Site No. 3 and parts of the fortress were also designated as National Treasures, including Paldalmun Gate (Treasure No. 402), Hwaseomun Gate (Treasure No. 403), Janganmun Gate, Seobukgongsimdon Northwestern Watchtower (Treasure No. 1710), and Banghwasuryujeong Pavilion (Treasure No. 1709).
The first destination in my itinerary was Hwaseong Temporary Palace and Haenggung Street. King Jeongjo, who was so devoted to his father, Sadoseja, Crown Prince, stayed at Hwaseong Temporary Palace whenever he visited Hyeollyungwon (Currently, Yungneung Royal Tombs), the tomb of his father. In fact, he visited 13 times during his rule. The palace comprised of 567 rooms, similar to a typical royal palace, and remains the biggest temporary palace. Today, the palace is a popular location where historical TV dramas are filmed and plays a crucial part in promoting Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. The palace also serves as a venue for a variety of traditional performances and events, including traditional Korean martial arts performance, the change of gatekeepers ceremony, fashion shows displaying royal costumes, and exhibitions of traditional arts and crafts. Tourists can take part in some of these events.
The parking lot of the temporary palace was set against Paldalsan Mountain, where the leaves turned in varying colors, and the Buddhist statue stood tall in the middle of the mountain. The statue looked more magnificent and taller when viewed closer from the palace grounds. The restrooms at the entrance of the palace were decorated with murals of military generals from the Joseon Dynasty in battle, and there was a trick art photo zone where visitors can take pictures.
Martial Arts 24 is performed on the stage in front of Sinpungnu, the palace’s entrance at 11 a.m. every day except on Sundays. The 30-minute performance was so thrilling and dynamic that I kept applauding throughout. The audience was entertained by the spectacular martial arts and reenacted battle scenes, where a variety of traditional weapons were used. The performance is certainly a must-see for those who visit Hwaseong Temporary Palace.
After the performance, I looked around the inside of the palace. The interior was not painted as vibrantly as a typical royal palace, but the colors and patterns had their unique charms that made me feel at ease. As mentioned earlier, the palace is one of the most popular locations for filming historical dramas and it gives visitors the feeling of being part of such dramas.
[Hwaseong Haenggung Tourist Information Center]
Address: 825, Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si
It took about an hour to tour the inside of the palace. After finishing, I left the palace grounds to go on a stroll along the Beautiful Haenggung Street lined with traditional craft workshops and galleries on both sides. The street was indeed true to its name, and the murals were certainly eye-catching. As I walked along the street, I even felt a sense of euphoria. I decided to take a break and stepped inside a cookie shop named “Hwaseong Myeonggwa”. The store was selling cookies in shapes of the patterns and structures found in Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The store owner informed me that the shop would soon turn into a social enterprise. Part of the sales revenues went to charity. I purchased some cookies for presents, and the owner was generous enough to give me smaller cookies for free. Haenggung Street is a beautiful street, indeed, where kind people offer beautiful goods for sale.
The long stroll made me hungry and it was already lunchtime. I made a reservation at Kabojung, a famous restaurant in Suwon, located nearby the palace. The food lived up to its name and certainly met my expectations. The luncheon course menu featured marinated grilled beef ribs, which were superb. The side dishes that accompanied the main dish were impressive both in quantity and quality. I was surprised by how many side dishes were served and by the dedication the chef put into each dish. I felt like I was served like a king feasting on a royal luncheon. As I was appreciating the delicious meal, it occurred to me that I had to bring my parents next time to this restaurant.
Address: 958-1, Ingye-dong, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
After I enjoyed the lunch at Kabojung, I returned to the palace to ride the Hwaseong Train. The station is located on the road that leads to Paldalsan Mountain behind the palace. The front of the train was decorated with the head of a dragon, which symbolizes King Jeongjo and his exceptional force as the country’s leader. Meanwhile, the passenger seats were shaped like a royal carriage. The train commutes between Paldalsan Mountain and Yeonmudae 12 times a day, and tourists can tour Suwon Hwaseong Fortress in a train ride.
To my surprise, the train was busy with passengers on a weekday. It’s generally popular among both Koreans and foreign tourists. You can get on the train at two stations: Paldalsan Mountain and Yeonmudae. I took the train from Paldalsan Mountain, which was close to the palace. Starting from the mountain, the train passed through Hwaseomun Gate, Jangan Park, Janganmun Gate, and Hwahongmun Gate before it arrived at the final stop, Yeonmudae. The ride takes about 30 minutes and moves at a slow pace to allow passengers to fully appreciate the route and its surroundings. The weather was beautiful with the autumn foliage creating a stunning view. Suwon Hwaseong Fortress looked even more majestic and breathtaking when viewed against the mountain from the train. If you do not feel up to walking along the wall’s entire circuit, I strongly recommend that you try a train ride at Hwaseong. Another alternative is to ride a bicycle along the wall.
[For inquiries on Hwaseong Train]
Paldalsan Ticket Office: 16, Jeongjo-ro 777beon-gil, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si
Yeonmudae Ticket Office: 105, Changnyongdae-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si
I got off the train at Yeonmudae after a 30-minute ride, during which I was able to view the fortress from different angles. Yeonmudae, also called Dongjangdae, was a location where soldiers were trained to learn martial arts, and it is the most splendid and imposing building of all the facilities at Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. Yeonmudae also served as a command post from where the leader gave commands to train soldiers. Tourists can try gukgung or traditional Korean archery at Yeonmudae.
Although I got a distant glimpse of Banghwasuryujeong Pavilion from the train ride, I had to go back and see it for myself because I only knew of its stunning view.
Banghwasuryujeong, which is the nickname of Dongbuk Gangnu (the east-north pavilion), was originally intended to be a reconnaissance and battle command post, but it was also favored as a venue for feasts due to its scenic location. Banghwasuryujeong Pavilion, which means “chase flowers and willow trees to have fun”, offers multiple views that change depending on where it is viewed, due to its unique topography and the shape of its roof. The pavilion is considered to be the most outstanding structure of the fortress and one known for its originality not found in any other fortresses. The structure itself is spectacular, but the view from the pavilion is even more striking. You can see Hwahongmun Gate right next to the pavilion, and there is a stream that was supposed to be running under the stone bridge Hongye, below Hwahongmun Gate. However, the stream dried up due to the drought. If there had been running water, it would have created a more romantic view.
I only had to imagine how beautiful it would be at night under the moonlight and headed back for Yeonmudae. I walked along the wall, went past Changnyongmun Gate and approached Paldalmun Gate, where I started in the first place. As I walked, I pictured how different the lives were inside and outside of the fortress. I watched cars on the road pass by and the houses in downtown Suwon that packed the city. The wall looked endless as I took a leisurely stroll, and I felt so free since nothing blocked my view.
[Yeonmudae Tourist Information Center]
Address: 8, Changnyong-daero 103beon-gil, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
By the time I reached Paldalmun Gate, it was getting dark. Although I was feeling somewhat tired after the long walk, I was so curious about what the fortress would look like at night that I decided to climb up to Seojangdae Command Post, which is located at the top of Paldalsan Mountain. The slope that started from Paldalmun Gate and stretched as far as to Seonamammun Secrete Gate, eventually leading to Seojangdae Command Post, was so steep that it felt like I was climbing a rugged mountain. Fortunately, the steep slope ended at Seonamammun Secrete Gate, and the rest of the path to Seojangdae was relatively flat. Overlooking high from the top of the fortress, the city offered a completely different view at night. The combination of the fortress lights with the lights from the city created an extraordinary view that left me overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling.
“Jangdae” in Seojangdae means a west command post from which a general can get the full view of the fortress and its vicinity, and give commands to soldiers residing outside of the fortress. Suwon Hwaseong Fortress has Seojangdae and Dongjangdae (Yeonmudae). Seojangdae is located at the top of Paldalsan Mountain and the plaque “Hwaseongjangdae” that hangs on the pavilion is believed to have been written by King Jeongjo. As I approached Seojangdae, the lights from the commanding post seemed more bright and glorious, even from a distance. The commanding post had a mysterious appeal as it stood tall and lonely in the darkness. I could get a bird’s view of the entire city and enjoy the beautiful nighttime landscape from the top of the mountain.
As I spent the entire day checking out every nook and cranny of the fortress from early morning until late at night, my sense of affection for the fortress grew deeper, and my sense of pride for our cultural heritage became even stronger. I strongly recommend that tourists visit Suwon Hwaseong Fortress at night as well as during the day because it offers a completely different experience. The nighttime view from the top of the fortress was undeniably extraordinary and truly memorable. It is truly a place to visit. The trip to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress created a mission for me to have the fortress be widely known not only among Koreans as a proud cultural heritage of Korea, but also to foreigners as a valuable world heritage site. If you are planning on a trip to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, you can get useful information provided by Suwon Cultural Foundation on the fortress. For information, please visit http://english.swcf.or.kr/.
[Seojangdae Tourist Information Center]
Address: 108, Paldalsan-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do