Today, I'll introduce a small corner of Suwon's Hwaseon Fortress which is a fortified wall that encircles downtown Suwon.
If you are travelling to Suwon and you leave the train station, you should probably visit Hwaseong Fortress. If you have all day, it's about 6km around so you can even walk along 90% of it that has been restored. However, I feel for the best views you need to walk on it, in it and around it depending on where you are.
This is one of my favourite photos of Suwon. There is a pavilion, the pond and some guard platform all pictured here. It looks magical and a lot of people gather around for relaxing and picnicking.
About Suwon (수원)
Suwon is a city of 1.3 million people about 30 kilometres south of Seoul, Korea. It is the capital of Gyeonggi Province which is the region that surrounds the capital excluding Seoul and Incheon. I say 30km, but it's a continuous city with the odd mountain or narrow farming valley between.
I decided to go with an antique sepia look for this photo, it's an arrow slit in the North Gate. You can see the outer gate just past it.
Gyeonggi province itself has a total population of about 13 million people (again excluding Seoul's 10 million and Incheon's 3 million). Yikes, that's around 26 million people packed into an area of about 12,000 square kilometres giving it a density of over 2000 people per square kilometre. It's amazing they can preserve any culture here, especially since more than half the area is farms, flood plains or mountains.
I've lived in Suwon for a couple of years now, however, until recently I never took many pictures of its main tourist attraction.
Suwon used to be called Hwaseong, hence the name 'Hwaseong Fortress'. Actually, with thousands of years of history, a lot of places in Korea have multiple names. Hwaseong City is still the name of the greater Suwon area or the city that surrounds Suwon. I live on the border of the two because I prefer farms and mountains and lakes to buildings.
This is the biggest fortified gate in Korea which is a country with a lot of fortified gates.
About Hwaseong Fortress (화성)
Hwaseong Fortress was originally built in 1794-1796 when King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty was considering to move the capital of Korea down from Seoul.
This may give you a better idea of the shape of the entire structure. If you look carefully, you can see the tourist ballon.
It's an enclosed area with a perimeter of around 6km. There are two hills on the East and West ends and the Suwon Stream running down the center.
The gate actually has a smaller ring gate on it's outer side, I think it's to make attacking the main gate with battering rams difficult. I'm not sure who used battering rams in the 1790s when there were cannons?
The fortress has a palace called Haenggung, 4 main gates and 2 river gates as well as quite a few towers, pavilions and other fortifications.
I actually wrote about the South Gate called Paldalmun and a little about Gaenggung Palace before, here. Personally, I don't find the palace that impressive. It was never meant to be a big palace and the reconstruction just looks like a movie set or something. Paldalmun is impressive, it is in the center of a roundabout, but it's actually in the one section of the wall about 500m long that isn't rebuilt.
There are too many fortifications to keep track of. You can get a good idea of this wall. It was obviously built to send a message.
About the Fortifications
The castle was apparently built to defend against the Japanese, but I actually think that it is a modern nationalistic fabrication. They said it was built because of the Imjin wars which happened about 200 years before the castle was built. Who builds military fortifications based on a threat that was eliminated 200 years earlier using technology that was already well obsolete?
This 3D map gives you an idea of the layout of the fortress. I mostly stuck to the middle part at the bottom today. Maybe about 1km or around 1/6th of the total wall.
It is more likely that the king just wanted to make his new city seem important. Let's face it, by the 1790s, the American Revolution was done, the French Revolution was in full force and the Napoleonic Wars were only a decade away. City Walls were useless for anything by that time except collecting taxes on goods or stopping people, not armies.
Suwon Stream as it flows into Hwahongmun or the upstream gate is near everyone's favourite spot.
European cannons would have definitely smashed the wall to bits and any invading Chinese or Japanese army would have just blocked the river and flooded the place. Gunpowder was in Korea for at least 400 years by that time. It's kinda odd to see a mix of arrow slits and cannon placements in the design of that era.
The upstream gate is one building I went in. I liked looked out of the fortress, upstream the best.
Unlike the Walls around Seoul, the Japanese didn't bother tearing down Suwon Fortress when they colonized Korea in the 1900s (the Japanese took over Korea with a few spies and deception, there were no sieges or battles). Hwaseong Fortress was left alone by the colonizers. However, it was smashed to pieces during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
The Republic of Korea (South Korea) decided to designate the fortress a national monument in the early 1960s and rebuilt it in the 1970s.
Looking out the pavilion down the Suwon Stream and into the center of the protected area is also quite lovely.
UNESCO World Heritage
Hwaseong Fortress became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Actually, out of all the World Heritage Sites in Korea, I think it is among the most impressive.
The Stream is quite spread out and shallow here. I think it's not too dirty and I've seen people splashing around in it. I've never walked down there along it. One day maybe when I do the Eastern Wall and need to head back, which I've never walked along.
There are hundreds of national heritage sites and I've definitely not seen all of those, but I've seen most of the World Heritage Sites in Korea. There are a lot in East Asian countries or any country that is obsessed with nationalism for that matter. There are a few others I like, but many are not that impressive (for example burial mounds or standing stones). Hwaseong Fortress is however impressive. We do have to keep in mind that unlike the tombs, this fortress was heavily reconstructed and well maintained because you don't have to worry about upsetting ancestors.
This picture should allow you to truly appreciate the Suwon stream gate. It will probably go in my slide show
Not too far from the Stream Gate is the Pond. This pond is called Yongyeon which basically means dragon pond. Every other pond in East Asia has a dragon living in it. They are friendly and protect the cities. However, ignorant westerners and their stupid technology (like electricity) scared off the dragons and their magic.
In any case, if you don't believe me that nationalistic countries try to get UNESCO a lot, just look up intangible heritage where you can pretty much get the recognition for anything. Hell, I'm making Kimchi next weekend and that's on the list. I'm literally going to make some World Heritage in my Mother-in-Law's livingroom.
The Fortifications Pictured Here
The gate pictured with the river flowing under it is called Hwahongmun (화홍문). This gate was necessary to stop people from just attacking via the river. Honestly, I think having a river run down the center of your fortified city is a major vulnerability. We all saw Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers. It's an obvious weak point. It looks Awesome Though.
I visited a couple of weeks ago just as the fall grasses were looking their best and some leaves were turning red. This is a view of the north side of the East Hill. Tomorrow I'll show a little of the north side of the West Hill which is taller and heavily forested.
The large gate is called North Gate or Jangan Mun (장안문). It's a double gate and the largest gate in Korea. Oddly, it's not the most famous. The gates in the middle of roundabouts tend to be more famous.
The North-East Pavilion (동북각루) is the Pavilion Located behind Yongyeon Pond (용연) which is the lotus pond in some of my photos.
One tower is called North-East GunTower (북동포루), there is North-East Turret (북동치), North-East Gate Guard Platform (북동적대), North-West Gate Guard Platform (북서적대) and North-West GunTower (북서포루). I don't point these out specifically and to be honest I may even be missing a few of them.
There are also several modern gates for cars to drive under and people to walk through. This fortification is in the middle of downtown after.
- I really like looking at the silver grass which is called Eok-Say (억새). It isn't eaten as far as I know, but it is a distinct fall image in Korea.*
My Thoughts on the Fortress
As I mentioned, I live in Suwon. I'm about 5km from the fortress. I don't visit too often, but after editing these photos I want to visit a lot more often. I couldn't even fit all the photos in this blog and have more from along the wall and the one hill I'll show a little later. I plan on coming back a few times and eventually showing most of it.
I took the picture of this cool mural when I was doubling back to go home. It is on the wall of a building just outside the North Gate.
I love how the city blends it's past and it's present. Inside there is a more distinct ancient feeling, especially in some areas, but there are also a lot of modern structures, too.