Monday, 11 June 2012

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

My favourite day-trip out of Seoul was to the city of Suwon, some 30km south of the capital. An hour's ride on Line 1 of the Seoul Metro gets one to Suwon station, and a short taxi ride to its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site - the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. Built between 1794-1796, this mini-version of the Great Wall of China encircles the old inner city of Suwon and its palace, the Hwaseong Haenggung. It was built by architect Jeong Yakyong under the orders of King Jeongjo, in memory of his father, the ill-fated Prince Sado who had been tortured to death by his grandfather King Yeongjo. 

Ever since I learnt about this unique walled city (about two weeks ago), it was a mission of mine to walk its entire length, which amounts to about 5.7km, and mount its turrets and ramparts.This 3-hour hike started at the southern gate of Paldalmun, walking in a clockwise manner beginning with a strenuous climb up Paldalsan, Suwon's highest peak. At this point of time, the Paldalmun was under renovation and completely boarded up, so I do not have a photo of it. Instead we begin this photo-excursion at the Southwest gate, known as the Seonam Ammun.    

After a lot of huffing and puffing uphill, we reach the Seonam Ammun, or Southwest secret gate. This gate leads to part of the wall that extends along a narrow ridge to the Hwayangnu, a lovely pavilion with a view of the city of Suwon. 

Walking past the Tourist Information Centre and Bell of filial piety, one reaches the Seojangdae (Western command post) and Seonodae (Western crossbow tower). This appears to be the highest point of Paldalsan and the view of the wall's lower reaches in simply spectacular. 

Walking downhill from Paldalsan, the Hwaseomun (Western gate) is the first big gate one encounters. Note that the gate is fronted by a semi-circular wall called an onseong, which further protects the gate from direct breaches.

The northwestern wall snakes for a certain distance before one reaches the Janganmun.

The Janganmun (Northern gate) is a truly impressive structure, and is supposed to be  built in the same manner as the Paldalmun in the south.  

The most beautiful stretch of the Hwaseong Fortress begins at the Hwahongmun, a gate that also serves as a bridge and portal (with seven arches) for the Suwon creek as it bisects the walled city. 

Another most picturesque site, the Dongbuk Gangnu (Northeast pavilion) which overlooks lovely spots of greenery and a little lake.

The Yeonmudae, the east command post, which served as a training ground for martial arts.  Archery sessions still take place near this pavilion.

Nearing the end of the hike along the eastern wall are the Dongbuk Gongsimdon  (Northeast observation tower), the only circular structure within the wall, and the Bongdon (Beacon), where smoke signals could be seen for a long distance.

We finally reach the Dongnam Gangnu (Southeast pavilion), which marks the end of our 3-hour long hike. It was tiring but well worth the effort!

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