To celebrate our 100th post, we wanted to feature a truly special place that we recently explored at length. A short subway ride out of Seoul on Line 1 will land you in the capitol of Gyeonggi-do, Suwon. We previously shared an Instagram Challenge, where we had you vote on the best picture. Ryan won with this stunning shot of the fortress wall. We have been to the city several times throughout our year in Korea, but we never took the time to do the full tour of the fortress walls. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is by far the largest we have visited in South Korea.
At an impressive 5.74km, these walls establish the old perimeter of Suwon during the Joseon dynasty and contains 48 structure ranging from defensive battle stations to secret entrances. A large portion of Suwon still remains within the old walls, but time and progress have forced expansion into the outlying area.
The north and south gates are, by far the most impressive. The north gate is the largest and is connected to the fortress walls while the South gate is disconnected but interestingly Suwon has made it into a round-about intersection with the gate as its center. In accordance with Korean architecture and customs, every wooden bit was slathered with terrific paintings and depictions of aggressive tigers and nearly every wall had several holes through which archers could launch their projectiles in defense of their city. The stunning beauty in each simple yet methodically planned structure make for a spectacular experience while wandering the path. It is easy to imagine the fortress walls and the city it once contained, teeming with life and prosperity. I was constantly being tempted into a childlike state of imagination and fantasy that all boys carry within themselves somewhere; secretly hoping to someday have the chance to live in a fortress if only they could provide modern sanitation.
I can’t say enough about the stunning views that walking the wall provides. With modern Suwon in the background, there is a breathtaking juxtaposition waiting at each guard house and watch tower for you to snap a million photos of the same scene hoping that one will do your memory justice.
Some of the watch towers allow entrance and exploration while others are barred and locked to keep children like me from staying overnight hiding in his new real-life fort. For the photo-driven or history enthusiasts out there, look no further. There are QR codes on the majority of the signs explaining each structure through an audio tour guide like in museums. Tech savvy AND awesome.
We spent the majority of our day wandering these walls in one direction in a massive circle that included Paldalsan, a defining mountain that has several structures at its top. Understandably, the views from this mountain are stunning and give terrific vantages of the whole of old-Suwon, including the palace.
The size of the fortress is daunting. We did the path in clockwise fashion, and suggest this for anyone looking to visit the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. This way you can get the mountain out of the way in the beginning. Pro-tip.
At the end of our day we got the tourist-trap area where 2,000won will buy you ten arrows and a chance to shoot a traditional Korean bow along with 30 other people who think they are the reincarnation of Robin Hood. I shot terribly, but eventually started hitting my target when aiming at the one to the left. Apparently their bows pull right…
Older men were on hand shooting their own traditional bows out to (roughly) 100m with ease. They were craftsmen from a shop that crafts handmade bows and arrows made in the traditional way for a hefty price. Although these would have made awesome souvenirs, we doubted that customs would let us bring such objects through the airport.
Truly, our experience at the Hwaseong Fortress was incredible. We had a terrific time and know that we will return in the future. Our mouths water at the thought of seeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site in a different season. Cherry blossoms in Spring, lush greenery in Summer, and the falling multi-colored leaves of Autumn would all be stunning times to revisit, and we regret that there was no snow for our winter exploration. We hope that you enjoy our pictures, but please know that they hardly do this place justice. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below.
Link to the Korean Tourism site with instructions for getting to Hwaseong Fortress can be found HERE
Link to the Wikipedia page for details on the Hwaseong Fortress and its history can be found HERE