Exploring Korea's historic Hwaseong Fortress
What is today a designated UNESCO World Heritage site was the main line of military defense for Suwon city in the late-18th century.
Hwaseong Fortress is located just 30 kilometers south of the nation’s capital, and it can be said that none of South Korea's other fortresses have been preserved or restored to Hwaseong’s level.
With walls spanning nearly six kilometers in length, the structure provides visitors with a unique glimpse into South Korea’s past.
A murdered father
King Jongjo built the massive fortress around the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, Suwon, to honor his murdered father, Crown Prince Sado.
Many fortresses in South Korea were built around the concept -- simple walls enclosing a city. Hwaseong incorporates elements of this style, but also includes crossbow towers, artillery stations and massive military compounds.
The four cardinal gates also served as portals for Suwon city, while several secret gates penetrated the walls, allowing for covert operations.
Visitors are able to explore every aspect of this fortress for ₩1,000, making a day at Hwaseong Fortress truly memorable.
The beacon tower
One of the most interesting features of the fortress is the Bongdon, or beacon tower. While Bongdons are located throughout Korea, the Bongdon at Hwaseong Fortress is the only one in the nation built into a fortress wall.
When lit, the number of chimneys sending smoke into the air served as a national security level meter. Visitors may observe not only the beacons themselves from the fortress wall, but from the furnace area as well.
The east cardinal gate
Not far from the Bongdon is the east cardinal gate, Changnyonmun. Many gates in Korea have flat faces or semicircular enclosures preceding a gate’s main entry. Changnyonmun is different.
A portion of the fortress wall extends in front of the gate and wraps around the road leading into the fortress, creating a horseshoe-like claw protecting Suwon. (More after the video)
When arriving at this gate, visitors may not only traverse the wooden observation pavilion, but also walk out on to this “claw,” experiencing what military personnel may have felt when guarding the city hundreds of years ago.
One may also exit the fortress and view the wall and gate from foot-level, something that can’t be done at any of the other cardinal gates.
The north floodgate
Another must-see location is Hwahongmun, or north floodgate. Throughout the fortress runs Suwoncheon (Suwon Stream). Hwahongmun serves as a bridge across the stream. Above the facility is a large pavilion.
It’s the perfect place to stop and take a rest. In fact, many of those hiking the fortress have been know to fall asleep listening to the soothing water below.
More information: Hiking the entire circuit may take two or three hours depending on fitness and pace. The wall ascending Paldalsan may take its toll on those less inclined for moderate hiking, but the view is unsurpassed.
The fortress offers a variety of additional activities for nominal fees. Within the fortress walls is Hwaseong Haenggung, Jongjo’s palace.
While the palace requires separate admission (₩1,500) there are free performances throughout the year.
The fortress and palace can easily be seen in full during a single day’s outing.
Gyeonggi-do Suwon-si Ingye-dong; Korea Travel phone +82 31 1330 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese); +82-31-251-4435 (Korean)
Website: http://ehs.suwon.ne.kr/ (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Admission: Adult (₩1,000), Youth (₩700), Child (₩500), Group (more 30 people), Adult (₩700), Youth (₩500), (Child (₩300)
Additional Activities: Traditional Archery (₩1,000 per 5 arrows), Ring the Bell of Filial Piety (₩1,000)
Operating Hours: Summer, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Winter, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Closed Mondays