Well, it appears good things really do come after
your grandfather has your insane dad locked in a rice
chest and starved to death.
Built at the end of the 18th century by the brilliant
King Jeongjo to house the remains of the mad Prince
Sado, Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress is the crown jewel of
Joseon Korea’s silhak movement, an intellectual
movement within Korean Confucianism to focus on
“real world” issues, including science and technology.
Adopting in its design and construction the latest
advances in engineering technologies and military
science, including concepts imported from overseas,
the bastion—designated a UNESCO World Heritage
Site in 1997—emanates a feel that is both distinctly
Korean and yet vaguely Western. Its six kilometers of
walls are studded with imposing gates, watchtowers,
sentry points, secret portals and command pavilions,
providing visitors with an endless list of things to
|King Jeongjo, Jeong Yak-yong and Silhak
|Despite the massive scale of the project, Hwaseong
Fortress was completed in just two years between 1794
and 1796, impressive even by today’s standards. It was
the brainchild of King Jeongjo (r. 1776—1800), an
energetic reformer whose reign marked Joseon’s
cultural, intellectual and scientific renaissance.
There were several reasons behind the fortress.
Firstly, the fortress would serve as a memorial to
Jeongjo’s father, Prince Sado, an allegedly sadistic
man who would have become king had his father, King
Yeongjo, not ordered him into a rice chest that was
then locked and left in the hot sun for eight days until
he died. Believing his father to be the victim of the
Joseon Kingdom’s endemic factional strife, Jeongjo
ordered the fortress built to house the late prince’s
Behind this act of filial piety, however, lay some
more practical concerns. Korea had been invaded by
the Japanese in the 16th century and the Manchus in
the 17th century; both times, Korea’s system of
mountain fortresses failed. Clearly, more advanced
defensive facilities were needed. Perhaps more
importantly, however, Jeongjo hoped to relocate the
royal capital to the new fortress, away from the bitter
infighting and factional struggle of Seoul. He failed in
this latter objective, and the capital would remain in
Construction of the new fortress was entrusted to
Jeong Yak-yong, better known by his pen name of
“Dasan.” Something of a Renaissance Man, Jeong was
a brilliant scholar, philosopher and architect closely
associated with the silhak (“practical learning”)
movement within Korean Confucianism. Silhak
emphasized the practical over the metaphysical,
focusing on temporal matters such as social science,
industry and technology. Hwaseong Fortress was its
crowning achievement. Jeong’s blue prints
incorporated the strengths of Korean, Chinese and
Japanese design to produce a fortress that could serve
in both defensive and offensive operations. It even
drew upon elements of Western castle architecture and
construction, such as the use of brick. The building
process made use of an ingenious series of pulleys and
cranes, operated by paid workers rather than corvée
labor. The result was a fortress that was both
functional and a work of art in its own right.
|Hwaseong Fortress forms a nearly complete ring
around Suwon’s old downtown. At one time, the entire
city was contained within its walls, but urban
development in the modern era has led to much of the
city spilling out beyond the gates. Unusually for Korean
fortresses, which typically surround either a town or a
mountain top, Hwaseong does both, running along
both flat lowlands and steep hillsides. You can walk the
whole thing in about three hours, although you’ll
probably want to spend an entire day exploring.
|What to Eat
Suwon is quite famous for its galbi (barbecued ribs).
Yeonpo Galbi (02 255-1337), near Hwaseomun Gate, is
especially well known, but there are about 100
restaurants specializing in this dish throughout Suwon.
Hwaseong Fortress: 1,000 won. Hwaseong Haenggung:
The fortress (Paldalmun Gate) is a 20-minute walk from
Suwon Station, Line 1.
|Hwaseong Fortress Highlights
• Janganmun Gate: The old north gate of the fortress, this massive
portal with a two-story pavilion is Korea’s largest gate, even larger
than Seoul’s Sungnyemun. Note the crescent demilune that offers the
gate even further protection from enemies. The gate is beautiful both
day and night.
• Hwaseomun Gate: Not only is Hwaseong’s western gate beautiful
in its own right, but it’s also protected by an imposing brick
watchtower the likes of which can be found nowhere else in Korea.
• Hwahongmun Gate: More of a bridge than a gate, this section of
the wall was built with seven arches, through which flows the
Suwoncheon Stream. Nearby is a pond and, on the hill overlooking it,
a command pavilion. This is one of the most picturesque stretches of
• Paldalmun Gate and Seojangdae Pavilion: Now a traffic island
surrounded by modern Suwon, the grand old south gate offers a
dramatic contrast between the old and new. From the gate, follow the
wall as it ascends Mt. Paldalsan until you reach Seojangdae Pavilion.
Located on the highest point of the wall, this command post offers
breathtaking views of the fortress, city and hills beyond.
• Secret Gates: Called ammun in Korean, these hidden entrances
were used to sneak supplies into the fortress and, if need be, let
troops sally outside the fortress to attack a besieging enemy. The one
in the southwest, on the slope of Mt. Paldalsan, is particularly
• Hwaseong Haenggung: Built by Jeongjo as a royal residence to
use when he visited his father’s tomb, this beautiful temporary palace
was restored in 2003, the original having been destroyed during the
Japanese colonial era.
• Traditional Archery: There’s a range in the fortress where you can
try your hand at the Korean martial tradition of archery. Fee: 10,000
won for 10 arrows.
• Filial Piety Bell: Hwaseong was built as an act of filial piety; to
celebrate this, the city hung a big Korean-style bell for visitors to ring.
You ring it thrice: once for your parents’ health, once for your family’s
health, and once for your own personal development. Fee: 1,000 for
singles and doubles, 2,000 for groups of three or four.
| - The article courtesy of Seoul