Last Saturday we toured Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. The fortress is not really much of a fortress but rather functions as a walled city. The fortress has neither a central palace, manor, armory, nor a stockade. It encircles a large area about twenty square kilometers 5.7 x 4.6 kilometers), enclosing Suwon’s town center. At the southern axis of the fortress rises Paldalmun, the southern gate, and to the north is its twin, Janganmun. To the west, the fortress wall climbs Mount Paldal and overlooks the city, capped by Seojangdae, a beautiful pagoda. Much of the fortress wall remains intact, although it has obviously been rebuilt and portions of the wall have given way to major street arterials. 31 major landmarks cling to various sections of the fortress wall. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the more picturesque historical sites in Korea, and it is more impressive than its somewhat obscure reputation would suggest.
Hwaseong Fortress is not ancient. Its construction dates back to the early years of the United States of America, when Joseon Dynasty King Jeongjo (1776-1800) built the fortress between 1794 and 1796 in honor of his father, Sado Seja. King Jeongjo, a victim of court intrigue who was sentenced to death by his father under false pretenses, fled the royal court in Seoul. He returned to the capital and assumed the throne upon the death of his father and built the fortress as an act of penance to appease his father’s soul. While it is a shame that hundreds of Koreans labored to fulfill King Jeongjo’s gesture of filial piety, Korea gained an architectural masterpiece. If you in Seoul and have an opportunity to visit the fortress, I highly recommend seeing it. Good, historical day trips out of Seoul are limited, but the Hwaseong Fortress is one of them.
We parked not far from Paldalmun and ate lunch at a takgalbi restaurant. Takgalbi is a spicy chicken, cabbage, and deok (sticky rice) dish fried on a grill and served with rice. It is absolutely delicious–it is my favorite Korean dish. My son doesn’t eat spicy food, so I went to Lotteria, a Korean fast food restaurant, and bought him a "bulgogi burger" kid’s meal. He devoured it while my wife and I shared the takgalbi. Afterwards, we climbed along the fortress wall up to the top of Mount Paldal. The photos I posted a couple days ago show snapshots of our ascent. We walked along the ramparts and surveyed several gates and monuments along the route. We followed the fortress on foot for about a kilometer until we came upon a shuttle shaped like a dragon that whisked us along about four kilometers of the fortress, past Jangan to Dongjangdae, a pavilion to the northeast. The way that the fortress wall wound around Suwon, up and down Mount Paldal in a broken, asymetrical circle reminded me of a diminuitive version of the Great Wall of China.