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Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, a 50-Year Festival Connecting Past to Present

WriterAdministratorDate11/25/2019

Located in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do Province, Hwaseong Fortress was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, a 50-Year Festival Connecting Past to Present

Located in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do Province, Hwaseong Fortress was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. King Jeongjo of Joseon built the fortress out of filial piety towards his father, Crown Prince Sado, and to flaunt the nation’s prosperity and military power. He combined fortress designs from Korea and China, and integrated Western science theory. Hwaseong Haenggung Palace is the largest among the palaces of Joseon, and boasts a range of functionalities. Here, the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival is held annually in October. It is a time to appreciate Suwon and its culture together with the locals.

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History Theater Presents Historical Delights!

I arrived at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace after passing Dongjangdae and Suwoncheon Stream. The program running at Boknaedang, the filming of Dae Jang Geum, was Joseon Specialty Theater. The Record of Jeongjo’s Visit to His Father’s Tomb in the Year of Eulmyo had been recreated into a situational drama that got the audience involved. The main plot revolved around a chef of the royal kitchen preparing a meal for the king. Among the dishes was samhap mieum, which is rice porridge with beef, abalone and mussels. The interesting story and realistic acting kept the audience, both young and old, well-entertained. To my surprise, someone from the audience was picked to play the role of King Jeongjo. The play ended with everyone getting a taste of samhap mieum.

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After watching the play, I headed to Naknamheon, located near Boknaedang. This was where King Jeongjo held the ceremonial party for seniors and gwageo (national civil service examinations). The organizers of the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival had recreated the day of gwageo, and the audience was asked to solve two questions: “What would distress me most if I were to die now?” and “Make an acrostic poem with the word ‘hyojacheonhajidaebon.’” Three members of the audience who volunteered to be judges chose the best answers, and the winners received prizes from the king. Watching the performance made me feel like I had traveled back in time to the days of gwageo. The magic show at the end was also fun to watch.

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Feast for the Eyes and Ears Comes Alive at Night

It was already evening after the performance, and a group of people had gathered in front of Changnyongmun near Dongjangdae. They were waiting for the festival’s highlight, Night-time Military Training. Jangyongyeong, the royal guards of King Jeongjo, appeared as fancy lights hit Changnyongmun. This was followed by a performance of military arts and dance, with every gesture executed in unison. Even more impressive was the demonstration of horseback martial arts. Lastly, King Jeongjo sang a military song, signaling the end of the training session and sending the guards to battle. The Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival may have ended, but my heart was still beating with excitement. I cannot imagine how hard they must have trained to prepare for an outdoor performance of this scale.

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I walked slowly to Suwoncheon Stream, which was lined with a myriad of lights as part of the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival. Titled the Lights of Jeongjo’s Future, the modern lights serve as a symbol of Jeongjo’s vision. In addition to the photo zone below the neon arch created based on the theme of Ilseongnok, or Diary of Self-examination, I enjoyed the LED cube light art of the royal procession to the ancestral tomb in Hwaseong and the lighting display of Jeongjo’s dream with Hwahongmun as the backdrop. There were many people taking photos and videos of the lighting display from the stone bridge. The festival was more dynamic and colorful by night.

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Don’t Miss Korea’s Largest Cultural Tourism Event at Suwon

On the way from Dongjangdae to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, I saw many restaurants, pharmacies, and a police station. The everyday stores and buildings within the fortress walls create an interesting scene that is distinct from the past. Through this trip, I realized again that the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival is the largest cultural tourism event in Korea. The Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival is not limited to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. It takes place throughout the Hwaseong Fortress in various forms, such as plays, performances, parades and activities. The performances introduce the unique culture of Suwon while enhancing our understanding of history. The festival is a perfect blend of past and present. If you have the time, do take the chance to visit Suwon!

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