Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress and the skyline of Suwon

The Hwaseong Fortress (화성) in Suwon was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997 and encircles Central Suwon; including King Jeongjo's palace Haenggung.

The fortress has four gates: Janganmun (north gate), Hwaseomun (west), Paldalmun (south) and Changnyongmun (east). Janganmun and Paldalmun are the largest of the four main gates and resemble Seoul's Namdaemun in roof design and stone and woodwork. The wall is 5.74km in length and varies between 4 to 6 metres (13–20 ft), originally enclosing 1.3 square km of land.

Suwon, well I didn't know much about this city other than for it's world cup stadium and Park Ji-Sung, but while researching I noticed the city had one of Korea's famous UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites, the Hwaseong Fortress (The flower of castles). This meant a perfect one day trek there from Seoul, approximately an 80minute subway ride (approximately 30km south of Seoul) from Hapjeong Station with a transfer at Sindorim Station.

Arriving at Suwon Station, I felt a bit lost. The station was huge because it was also a KTX Station, but luckily I found a tourist information centre and the representatives there were kind enough to give me a map and which bus to take towards Paldalmun and the Hwaseong Fortress. Armed with a guide map, I thought hiking it would be no problem, but once there, I was a bit intimidated with the hills towards the west walls.

The Suwoncheon is similar to Seoul's Cheonggyecheon (청계천) runs through the centre of the old city towards Paldalmun Gate, with the rest being covered today. Once I reached the Hwahongmun, I was already exhausted and burning in the scorching sun so it was relieving to relax a bit by the stream. I then walked along the stream towards the Hwaseong Haenggung, the former palace of King Jeonjo from the 17th century.

In the centre of it all is the Hwaseong Haenggung where they had similar architecture and design as many of the other palaces around Korea. I remember seeing the palace from the hills while hiking along the fortress walls and walking there and looking back up to where I once was, I was impressed with myself. After a long day, I ended having some dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥, dolsot meaning "stone pot") at a local shop before taking the train back to Seoul.

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