Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, South Korea

   It's hard to know where to start in describing this incredible and immense fortress. Essentially Hwaseong Fortress is THE main attraction in Suwon, South Korea. It encompasses a huge expanse of land. There are many paths to walk, each one with something special to see and/or do. I highly recommend studying the map intensely and doing some good research and planning before visiting. I didn't. I now know better.

   When the Joseon King Jeongjo moved his father's tomb to Suwon at the end of the 18th century, he surrounded it with strong defensive works, laid out according to the precepts of an influential military architect of the period, who brought together the latest developments in the field from both East and West. The massive walls, extending for nearly 6 km, still survive; they are pierced by four gates and equipped with bastions, artillery towers and other features. (Source)





   Korea has a long and very rich history.  I've learned that I really like history. I've watched the historical K-dramas which, although the stories may be fictitious, are, in the very least, based on real characters and real places. On a side note I might even dare to suggest that these dramas actually bring the Bible to life leading to a better understanding of it! They do for me anyway.

   It's been a thrill to be able to visit and experience these sites during my visit. Below is some introductory information to help give you some background about this fortress:

   Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was constructed by King Jeongjo (reigning 1777~1800), the 22nd king of Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) after moving the tomb of his father Sadoseja, Crown Prince, who had been victimized in faction struggles in the court, and put inside a rice chest and had died in it [ah yes, I remember that scene in one of the historical dramas I watched!], from Mt. Baebong, Yangju, to Mt. Hwa, Suwon. and the moving of the local government headquarters from near Mt. hwa to the current location under Mt. Paldal, Suwon. The mountain was considered as the best place to build tombs according to the theory of geomancy in those days.

   There were multiple reasons for constructing the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The most important reason was King Jeongjo's filial piety to his father. But, there were other reasons: his political strategy to eradicate faction struggles and establish the king-led politics; use of it as a fortress of national defense to the south.


(Source)

   If interested take the time to watch these period dramas/films:

  1. The Throne (about King Sado who was put to death in a rice chest)
  2. The Fatal Encounter (about the assassination attempts on the kings life - OMG, what a film!)
  3. More about the Joseon Dynasty through film


   I visited the fortress on at least three different days. Being such a bad tourist, not planning ahead as I should, I still haven't seen all the fabulous sites within the structure. Looking now at the map I feel I have missed a lot. I'll simply have to come back again!

   I think my first visit was by far the best. I had met a very nice couple at the Mr. Toilet Museum. They were there with their two children. We got to talking and the next thing I knew they were driving me over to the fortress.



   Andre and Sylvia are Korean natives of Suwon. They explained that they have westernized names because they had been living in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the past few years. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the fortress. They suggested that I start my adventure at the Hwaseomun Gate, but they actually brought me to the Hwaseong Haeggung Palace Plaza. I did reach the Hwaseomun on a different day.







   At their suggestion I stopped first at a local cafe for a cool drink. I liked that cafe so much that I went there again the next day! The food was good and I absolutely loved the menu. It was in the form of a small photo album. I couldn't read the descriptions of what was available so I chose according to the photos. Have a look. What would you choose? I've included the business card if you read Korean!






Omajacha tea and tasty rice desserts










 

   I enjoyed sitting in the cafe until around 7pm. The sun was beginning to set and the climb in the heat of the summer would be bearable! So there I went. I left the quaint cafe to embark on the climb/hike up to the Seojangdae (Command Post). You can read about it via the link and see it on the map below to the left of the palace that sits to the left of the river (if only I had studied the map first!!!).



   The climb up was not too bad for an out-of-shape young-at-heart old fogy like me. I walked slowly meeting others along the way. Encouraged by women older than me I kept going! I just kept telling myself:  "Just a little bit more on this path, just a few more stairs - I can see it getting closer and closer - - the view, the view - it will be worth every step - they said it would be an easy walk up!"  It was nice that there were benches for rest stops, nice scenery and places to refill your water bottles along the way.







   I did it! Got to the top. WOW! The Seojangdae (Command Postis a truly spectacular site and the view, yes, the view... WOW! Even at night there were many people enjoying this magnificent adventure. I got an amazing birds-eye view of Suwon which is especially enticing in the evening. Enjoy some photos:
















 

   Now up it was time to get back down. Andre and Sylvia suggested I take the shorter path. I should have heeded their advice. Instead I took the advice of another hiker I met at the top. He suggested the longer path was better and not really very long at all. WRONG! First of all I had to descend along a never-ending stone staircase. Okay, so there were interesting lookout points along the way but.... remember that I am an out-of-shape old fogy? I walked over each stone step very carefully. Fortunately I am always prepared with a flashlight!!!





   I finally came to the paved pathway and made sure to follow others as well as ask the way to the Main gate. The walls reminded me of the Old City in Jerusalem.




   Inevitably I never made it to the Main gate. I have no idea how I ended up at the government office complex or even where that is in relation to where I thought I was headed. One thing I knew for sure was that I had already been walking for at least 3-4 hours, maybe more!!! I checked my GPS, found the nearest bus stop and finally got back to my Airbnb sometime close to midnight!!





   In spite of everything the Hawseong Haeggung gate/plaza essentially became my landmark point each time I visited. However, I managed to get lost quite often. I recommend getting a tour guide and giving up on the GPS!!!

   Read from the few links below to learn all about this fortress and complex. It has a very interesting history and there is much to know about the construction and life in general. I've written a few more blogs about the fortress museum and palace. Be sure to read them!

  1. Hwaseong Fortress UNESCO World Heritage site
  2. Wikipedia


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