One thing that I really love about living in Korea is the history that's simply everywhere. With Korea's rapid modernization, fancy cities have sprung up around old structures, creating a really interesting contrast of the new against the historical. One of the coolest examples of this is Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress. It's right outside of Seoul, easily accessible via the subway, making it an excellent daytrip that you should check out this summer!
Hwaseong Fortress was built in the 1790s under the reign of King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. It was designed to be a defensive structure, with 48 structures along the wall, including sentry posts and gun towers. It has four main gates, each facing a different cardinal direction, each of which are still impressive to see. The Korean War damaged the fortress, but in the 1970s, effort was made by the government to rebuild most of what was destroyed, with the current structure being about 75% of what it originally was. Then, in 1997, it was named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
See all the holes in the walls? All for defensive measures.
What stands today is a fascinating look into Korea's history, juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of one of Korea's main cities. It really is neat to see cars zipping down the street right next to the walls of the fortress -- just as you forget you're in the middle of the city, you look out from above the wall and are reminded of the stark contrast.
One of the many lookout spots.
Walking along the fortress wall is what I would recommend doing, which stretches 5.25 kilometers. Though I will warn you that it's a lot of stairs, just like much of the hiking in Korea. Definitely hike all the way up Paldalsan -- the fortress wall snakes up the mountain and leads to a lookout spot that offers a really stunning view of Suwon and its surrounding area.
As high up as we could get.
City, city, and more city.
In the middle of the fortress walls lies a palace, Haenggung, that was built not only as a place for the king to stay in when visiting Suwon, but also to serve as the king's residence since King Jeongjo supposedly planned to move the capital from Seoul to Suwon. This never happened due to his sudden death, but the palace remains and was a lot of fun to wander through while we were exploring the fortress.
Directions and Information:
Suwon Station, Seoul Subway Line 1
Exit 4 -- the Tourist Information Center outside this exit can direct you to the city bus that heads in the direction of the fortress.
Hours: 9am-6pm, March-October; 9am-5pm, November-February
Admission: 1,000 won
Definitely give yourself at least a few hours to hike the whole thing, and maybe plan to pack some food. There are spots all long the wall to stop and rest, so I think this would be a great spot for a picnic while you soak up the history of this old structure that still stands smack in the middle of a modern Korean city!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!