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The “walking trend”, which began some time ago, is still a hot trend that doesn’t seem like fading any time soon. If transportation using wheels represents speed, walking, which involves moving your own two feet, represents slowness. It is ironic that, in a time where speed is valued and considered good, slowness has become a trend of its own. When, however, you realise that what lies beneath that trend is the desire for a healthy and happy lifestyle, then imagining walking as an act of returning to nature and true peace is not a difficult thing at all.
Fortunately, there are many places to enjoy such pleasures in Korea. Suwon, which lies in the mid-south region of Gyeonggi-do is one of them. Although Suwon, where the Gyeonggi provincial government building is located, is a city that is large enough to be called a miniature of Seoul, it is also the place where the Suwon Hwaseong (수원화성) walls, one of the highlights of the Eastern fortresses, are located, where one can enjoy the essence of a walking trip. The main course consists of the beautiful fortress paths which go through the forest where one can savour the traces of ancient Joseon, but don’t think that’s all there is to it. Hiding in Suwon, where the scent of history and culture is thick, are various places which would capture the hearts of travellers at first sight.
More important than speed is the direction, and more important than the direction is relaxation of the mind. If you long to enjoy the aesthetic of slowness within the city, then try walking the paths of Suwon. It’s great, whether you’re alone or with someone else! All you need is a bit of curiosity about the world, the will to remember the paths passed by, and a pair of comfortable shoes.
Jangan-mun (장안문, Jangan gate) – Changryong-mun (창룡문, Changryong gate) – Paldal-mun (팔달문, Paldal gate) – Hwaseo-mun (화서문, Hwaseo gate) – Jangan-mun (장안문, Jangan gate) – Palace mural alley (행궁동 벽화골목) – Hwaseong Haenggung (화성행궁, Hwaseong Palace) – Beautiful Haenggunggil (행궁길, Hwaseong Road)
Hwaseong Fortress, blooming like a flower in the midst of the city, is the Alpha and Omega of Suwon sightseeing. This is because, with the exception of Paldal-mun and its surrounding area, all the sections are connected with each other, so just by walking along the walls one can walk all around the fortress. Thinking that the fortress walls are there only for sightseeing in Suwon, however, is a mistake. Hwaseong Fortress was originally a term for the entire city itself, and the fortress walls were there to enhance the protection of the city. The city as it is known now was built around 200 years ago by King Jeongjo who was the leading force of the Joseon Renaissance.
King Jeongjo, who was the 22nd King of Joseon, moved the grave of Prince Sado, his father, who unfortunately met his death in a wooden rice-bin after being caught up in Joseon’s political strife, to Suwon Hwa-san (화산, Hwa mountain). At that time, Hwa-san was the best of Joseon’s fortuitous sites for a grave and it also had Suwon’s government office there as well. The people, however, were gravely worried because if a royal’s grave is made then people living within 10-li (리, 里) (around 4km) would have to move somewhere else. King Jeongjo, who was well aware of the situation, moved the government office to Paldal Mountain (팔달산, Paldal-san) and started to construct a new city there.
During that time, Shil-hak (실학, Study of Practicality), which emphasises practicality and rationality, was widespread throughout Joseon. This greatly influenced how the new city was constructed as well. With a thorough plan, Suwon Hwaseong, which involved both eastern and western scientific knowledge, was completed in September 1796, only 2 years and 9 months after construction began. While most fortresses were focused on military functionality, Suwon Hwaseong, in contrast, had commercial functions as well. This was the result of King Jeongjo’s desire to develop Suwon into a commercial city. However, you should not judge Suwon Hwaseong only by its functionality. The refined aesthetic sense of Suwon Hwaseong is what has made it one of the ‘best of fortresses’.
“One step is worth a hundred words” (백문이 불여일보) is a more appropriate phrase to describe Suwon Hwaseong, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, than the classic proverb “one sight is worth a hundred words” (백문이 불여일견). If you are a traveller who has decided to walk slowly, then it does not matter where you start, but if you’re trying to see the mural alley and Hwaseong Palace, then it’s best that you start your journey from Jangan-mun.
Jangan-mun, the northern gate of Suwon Hwaseong, is the largest fortress gate in Korea. The southern gate is the main entrance for most fortresses, but for Suwon Hwaseong, Jangan-mun, the northern gate, is the main entrance. This is because Jangan-mun was the first gate that King Jeongjo passed by when he came from Hanyang to Suwon.
The first thing you’ll see while walking along the fortress walls is Hwahong-mun (화홍문, Hwahong gate), with a gatehouse on top of seven stone arches. Inside Suwon Hwaseong are water gates to the north and south. Since Hwahong-mun is the northern water gate, it is often called ‘Buksoo-mun’ (북수문, Northern water gate). Passing this gate and walking a few kilometres, you will arrive at Northeastern Gak-ru (동북각루) (방화수류정, Banghwasuryu pavilion). A Gak-ru is a military type of building built in a strategic location in order to watch the situation outside the fortress, and in Suwon Hwaseong there are four gak-ru in total. Northeastern Gak-ru, an intricate and beautiful octagonal pavilion, acted as a northeastern military command centre, but was usually used as a place to rest, since it had a nice view.
Behind the Northeastern Gak-ru, outside the fortress walls, is a half-moon-shaped pond. Also called Dragon Pond (용연), this pond, along with the surrounding willows, arouses a sense of luxurious beauty.
If you pass by Northeastern Gak-ru and walk uphill then from afar you will see Eastern Jang-dae (동장대) (연무대, Yeonmu-dae). A Jang-dae is a place where soldiers are trained and directed, and the Eastern Jang-dae is often called the most majestic of the facilities in Suwon Hwaseong. The building with a half-hipped roof is noted for having no walls; it is made so as to be able to observe all directions with ease. Next to Eastern Jang-dae is a wide lawn, which was used as a place to train King Jeongjo’s army. These days, you can experience Korean traditional archery (국궁, Gukgung) here.
Behind Eastern Jang-dae is a path towards Northeastern Gongshim-don (동북공심돈) on the hillside. Gongshim-don is both a defensive facility and a surveillance place. Shaped in a cylindrical shape, you reach the top of Northeastern Gongshim-don by going up a spiral staircase. Thus, the nickname “conch gak” (소라각). About 60 footsteps away is the Northeastern Balcony (동북노대), also a defensive facility. Pass by this building, and soon you will see Changryong-mun (창룡문, Changryong gate).
Changryong-mun, the eastern gate of Suwon Hwaseong, is surrounded by semicircle Ong-seong (옹성, fortifications) made of bricks. An Ong-seong is something that is installed on the gates to prevent enemies from approaching. They are installed not only on Changryong-mun, but on the other three gates as well. However, on Changryong-mun there is one thing that cannot be found on the other gates. There are distinct Chinese characters written on the wall, in between the gate and the Ong-seong. During the construction of Suwon Hwaseong, King Jeongjo, who called specialists from all over the country, made everyone work with their names on the line in order to increase their responsibility and pride. The Chinese characters on Changryong-mun’s walls are people’s names; in other words, traces of a real-name construction system.
Because the path from Changryong-mun to Paldal-mun was made on flatland, it is the easiest of the trails in Suwon Hwaseong. Seeing the nice, peaceful view, we are led to think that it is a well-made trailing course, but in reality all the buildings across the fortress walls are military facilities. Contrary to common belief, not all fortress walls in Korea protect the cities they surround. Castles are largely divided into two sections: administrative and military. The representative of the former is Eup-seong (읍성) and the latter San-seong (산성). Eup-seong, although large, had almost no defensive facilities, so in times of war, people would abandon Eup-seong and go to San-seong. Thus, after the war most facilities within Eup-seong would end up destroyed. Following King Jeongjo’s orders, Jung Yak-Yong (정약용), who was in charge of designing Suwon Hwaseong, used bricks to build a sturdy fortress in order to overcome these limitations. On top of it he built extra defensive facilities. This was in order to have people protect the city instead of running for their lives when enemy soldiers invaded.
In a not so long section are po-ru (포루), chi (치성, chi-seong), bong-don (봉돈), gak-ru (각루), and more, all closely packed together. Bong-don, a signal flare used to send signals with fire and smoke, is noteworthy among them. Bong-don, Suwon Hwaseong’s communication system, is the only beacon station combined with fortress walls anywhere in Korea. There are five fireplaces in total, and the more fireplaces lit, the more of an emergency situation it signifies.
Passing by Bong-don and reaching Southeastern Gak-ru (동남각루), the flat surface of the path turns into a steep slope. Go down the narrow stone stairs and the fortress walls disappear and the marketplace alleys and the Suwon Stream (수원천, Suwoncheon) appear. The fortress walls don’t exist from the point where the stairs stop at the Paldal-mun sightseeing information desk. So from there, you will have to cross the Namsoo-mun (남수문, Namsoo gate) Namsoo-mun, which was constructed at the point where Suwoncheon from Hwahong-mun and the fortress walls meet, was demolished during the period of Japanese occupation, and restored in June 2012.
Turn left as soon as you pass Namsoo-mun and keep going, and you will find Paldal-mun on your way. Paldal-mun, with its name meaning ‘path opening in all directions’, is Suwon Hwaseong’s southern gate. The passageway in the midst of the Ong-seong is its highlight. When facing this Ong-seong, turn left and head straight, and you will find the Paldal-mun sightseeing information desk on your path. The fortress walls appear again from here.
The fortress passage consisting of stairs is quite steep but there is no need to panic. After you pass by Namchi (남치) and Nampo-ru (남포루) and arrive at Southwest Am-mun (서남암문), then all the hard part is over and done with. An Am-mun (암문) is a secret passageway meant to supply war supplies to the fortress without getting caught by the enemy. Usually they are located in deep, remote areas but Southwest Am-mun is located in a place with a nice view. It also serves as a passageway to Southwestern Gak-ru (Hwayang-ru (화양루)). Southwestern Gak-ru, connected by a long and narrow passageway outside the am-mun, is a strategic location for Suwon Hwaseong’s defence, and is also, like Northeastern Gak-ru, located in a place with a nice view.
After looking around Southwestern Gak-ru, if you go up along the fortress walls again, you will see Western Jang-dae (화성장대, Hwaseong jang-dae). Western Jang-dae, standing in an imposing manner on the summit of Paldal-san (팔달산, Paldal Mountain), was a place where a general would command his soldiers. Since it is possible to see several tens of kilometres from there, it was a favourable place for figuring out the general situation both inside and outside the fortress. Behind Western Jang-dae is the octagonal Western No-dae (서노대). A No-dae (노대), located in a high position, was used to either shoot catapults at enemies or wave the five-coloured flag in order to communicate orders.
The path toward Hwaseo-mun from now on becomes more and more easy to walk along. Northwestern Gak-ru (서북각루), where you arrive after passing by Western Po-ru (서포루), is a building on top of the protruding fortress walls on the curved part of the mountain. It was made for surveillance and rest purposes. Hwaseo-mun is located about 100m from here.
Hwaseo-mun, Suwon Hwaseong’s western gate, has an almost identical structure in size and facility to Changryong-mun in the east. It, however, seems simple and plain compared to other gates. That is because Hwaseo-mun isn’t visited as much because it is located beside a mountain. Right beside Hwaseo-mun is Northwestern Gongshim-don, which acted as a guard post. A Gongshim-don, meaning “empty inside”, has small holes on the wall to enable the shooting of guns and arrows at enemies outside. Such a lookout tower can only be seen in Suwon Hwaseong, and also is shaped eccentrically. Thus, it accentuates Hwaseo-mun’s view even more than it would otherwise.
Next, North Po-ru (북포루), Northwestern Po-ru (북서포루), and Northwestern Jeok-dae (북서적대) appear in order. A Po-ru (포루) is a tower meant for standby and rest, but in times of need it is also used for surveillance and attack. A Jeok-dae (적대) is a defensive facility attached to the left and right of the fortress gate in order to impede approaching enemies. Usually, they are built higher than the fortress walls in order to prevent enemy movement and approach. Half protrudes toward the outside, and the other half toward the inside.
The section from Hwaseo-mun to Jangan-mun is the shortest among the fortress passageways, so there aren’t that many things to see around here. If you head out of Hwaseo-mun then right away you will see Hwaseo Park (화서공원). Follow the park and move toward Jangan-mun and the path will lead to Jangan Park (장안공원). Since seeing the fortress from the outside gives a completely different impression from seeing it from the inside, you should take time to go around the park as well.
Tip: Suwon Hwaseong (수원화성, Hwaseong Fortress) by train
If it seems too much for you to walk all the way along the fortress passageways, then take the Hwaseong train. The Hwaseong train, running from Paldal-san to Yeonmu-dae, helps you enjoy the beautiful views with ease. The train stops at Paldal-san, Jangan Park, Jangan-mun, Hwahong-mun, Yeonmu-dae, and it takes about 30 minutes for a full ride. The boarding station for Paldal-san is located on the mountainside behind Hwaseong Palace; and for Yeonmu-dae, it is located near the sightseeing information desk.
Tip: Enjoy the aesthetics of taste in Suwon(수원)
Near Jangan-mun (장안문) – Boyung Dumplingsx(보영만두)
Handmade dumpling specialty shop, established in 1977. It is a famous eatery that is popular enough to enter the top 10 restaurants in Suwon. Freshly fried dumplings (군만두) and Jjol-myun (쫄면, spicy cold noodles) are the most popular combination of dishes.
Near Paldal-mun (팔달문) – Fried chicken alley (통닭골목)
Near Paldal-mun, all the good fried chicken restaurants are all in one alley together. Maybe calling it a fried chicken alley is going a bit overboard, but it does make one curious, seeing all the queues in front of these restaurants. All of the top 3 most popular fried chicken restaurants boast of a fantastic taste, but the side dishes they provide is where preferences begin to form among visitors. Jinmi Fried Chicken (진미통닭) fries the gizzard (닭모래집) with the chicken, and Yongdal Fried Chicken (용달통닭), across from Jinmi, provides gizzard and fried chicken feet (닭발튀김) as a side dish. Lastly, Jangan Chicken (장안통닭) provides gizzard and garlic so it’s best to choose according to your own taste.
Jidong Market (지동시장) – Sundae-town (순대타운)
It is located within Jidong Market, which is near to Hwaseong. Various sundae (순대) restaurants are located there. The main menu is stir fried sundae dishes (순대볶음). Enjoy large portions at low prices in a comfortable atmosphere.
Near Haeng-gung (행궁) – Suwon Wanggalbi (수원 왕갈비, jumbo-sized pork ribs): Haenggungjeong (행궁정)
When people think of Suwon, they think of Wanggalbi (왕갈비). That’s how famous it is. If you want to try out real Wanggalbi near Hwaseong, then head to Haenggungjeong. Haenggungjeong is already famous for its marvellous tastes, so finishing up a walking trip by eating here is a fabulous option.
If you’ve seen the fortress, then it is time to see the ancient city. Against the inner fortress walls, filled with old buildings and winding alleys, are a total of twelve ‘dong’s, including Mehyang-dong (매향동), Jangan-dong (장안동), and Buksoo-dong (북수동). All twelve dongs together are called ‘Haenggung-dong’ (행궁동, Palace town). Due to the cultural property protection policy, development in Haenggung-dong has been limited. For that reason, Haenggung-dong still has the aura of the ‘70s and ‘80s in the air. Every alley has its own story, but among them are those with not only a story, but also pretty murals as well. The mural alley appears when you take the road in the Paldal-mun direction from Jangan-mun, and turn left at Jangan intersection.
The reason for its creation was due to the art project by “Daeangonggan Noon” (대안공간 눈, Alternative Space Eyes) in 2010. Daeangonggan Noon is a cultural platform with the purpose of supporting and nurturing local art activities. The purpose of the mural project was to save the lagging culture in Haenggung-dong and bring out the views of preserved life and people within Suwon Hwaseong. The murals born from the participation of visual arts artists, locals, and volunteers have brought life back into the village, which led to it winning the Korean Space Culture President Award grand prize.
The mural village comprises five alleys, each named ‘I love you road’ (사랑하다 길), ‘first morning road’ (처음 아침 길), ‘romance road’ (로맨스 길), ‘going backward road’ (뒤로 가는 길), and ‘way toward Daeangonggan Noon’ (대안공간 눈으로 이어지는 길). Newcomers might panic a bit, but it is alright to start from anywhere. Every alley meets at a central point.
The murals drawn on the old walls and buildings are as diverse as the individual uniqueness of the participants. Some are refreshing and cute, while others are mysterious and powerful. While there are some that give a warm feeling, there are others that give you chills. There are some that make you laugh while others plant a deep impression on the heart.
Since the mural village is very small, even at a slow pace, 30 minutes is enough to see everything there. There are people who skip this because it is small, but there’s nothing more travel-like than finding murals all over the place. If leaving just after seeing the murals of the winding alleys leaves a soft lingering in your heart, then try visiting Daeangonggan Noon, where works filled with artists’ passion, and fragrant tea are waiting for you. It’s a perfect place to take a short rest since it consists of both a café and a gallery.
Tip: Ji-dong mural alleys (지동벽화골목), drawings outside the fortress walls.
There is the Haenggung-dong mural alley by the inner fortress walls, and by the outer fortress walls is the Ji-dong mural alley. The murals that start in the alley beside Suwon Jaeil Church (수원제일교회) have been created since 2011. The arts there tend to be more of a bright and eccentric atmosphere than those of Haenggung-dong. The murals are planned to be drawn continuously until 2017, so if there’s an opportunity, then do try visiting.
If you head out of Haenggung-dong mural alley to Jangan intersection again, and follow the road towards Paldal-mun, then you will arrive at Hwaseong Palace, which can be called, without exaggeration, the centre of Suwon Hwaseong. A haenggung (행궁) is a palace meant for temporary stays; the king’s vacation home so to speak, when the king went out of the main palace. In the Joseon Era many “haenggungs” were built throughout the country, such as in Onyang, Gwangju, Ganghwa, and Namhansansung, but the largest among them was Hwaseong Palace.
Hwaseong Palace, second only to Kyeungbok Palace (경복궁) due to its superior interior and functionality, was usually used as the Suwon government office, and was used as the king’s bedroom quarters when the king visited. King Jeongjo, who visited Prince Sado’s grave 12 times during his rule, always held various events whenever he visited. Most notable is the 60th birthday party for his mother, Hyegyeonggung Hong (혜경궁 홍). It was a huge event at the time, enough to have records of both detailed writings and vivid drawings due to its grandiose nature.
The palace trail starts by passing the main gate, Shinpung-ru (신풍루). “Shinpung” (신풍) means ‘the new home of the king’, which shows King Jeongjo’s exceptional love for Suwon. Since there are many buildings that show off elegant beauty in the palace, it does not matter if you go wherever you feel like going. However, Bongsoo-dang (봉수당), where Hyegyeonggung Hong’s 60th birthday party was held, Yuyeotaek (유여택), King Jeongjo’s office, Noraedang (노래당), which King Jeongjo built dreaming of his later years, and Naknamheon (낙남헌), where they gave out certificates for those who passed the national exam, are more noteworthy than others. Naknam-heon is especially special since it survived the demolishing of Hwaseong Palace without being damaged during the Japanese rule.
Naeposa (내포사) and Mirohanjeong (미로한정), at the top of the palace back garden, are also places not to miss. Naeposa was a facility used to notify residents of dangers outside the palace. When the signal was received from outside the palace, they would hit the wooden clapper to inform people about the dangerous situation. Mirohanjeong, meaning ‘pavilion where one could rest with ease in old age’, is located in a place where all of Hwaseong Palace’s views can be seen at once. King Jeongjo was planning to give the throne to the prince in 1804 and go to Suwon to live. The name Mirohan-jung reflects such wishes.
If you’re done looking around Hwaseong Palace, then try going to Hwaryeongjeon (화령전), located right next to it. Hwaryeongjeon was built as a shadow palace by the 23rd king of Joseon, Sunjo (순조), King Jeongjo’s son, in order to honor the filial love and posthumous influence of his father. The shadow palace, where the dead king’s portrait is enshrined and kept just as it was when he was alive, is a bit different from a typical shrine. At the centre of Hwaryeongjeon is Unhan-gak (운한각), where King Jeongjo’s portrait is enshrined. Iancheong (이안청), right beside Hwaryeongjeon is there to temporarily enshrine the portrait if needed. Unhan-gak and Iancheong are connected by a corridor with a roof so that the king’s portrait is never exposed to rain or wind.
Tip: All about Hwaseong, Suwon Hwaseong Museum (수원화성박물관)
If you want to learn more about Hwaseong Fortress, how about visiting the Suwon Hwaseong Museum across the Hwaseong Temporary Palace Road (화성행궁 길)? Suwon Hwaseong Museum has various miniatures of Hwaseong Fortress and an explanation of its legacy that can help you understand the basic structure of Hwaseong. The Museum also shows the image of King Jeongjo’s trip to Suwon, and Jang Yong-yeong (장용영), the escort stationed in Hwaseong. There is equipment that contributed to the building of Hwaseong Fortress, such as a Geojunggi (거중기, a lever to lift heavy stones), an Yuhyeonggeo (유형거, a wagon to carry items), and a Nokro (녹로, a lift).
When you come out of Hwaseong Haenggung and turn right, you see a wide alley. The passage from here to Paldalmun is called “Beautiful Haenggunggil” and often “Handicrafts Alley” (공방거리). It is a short alley less than 500 m long but it is closely packed with galleries, cultural spaces, cafés and restaurants that draw you in.
The best thing here is that you can appreciate the small and cute miscellaneous goods created by skilful artisans and competent artists, and art pieces full of emotion, but another great thing is that you can actually learn leather handicrafts, cloisonné, ribbon handicrafts, Hanji (한지) art, sewing, knitting and more. During weekdays, it is not too crowded, but during weekends it is very crowded because of the street stalls and flea market. There are quite a lot of goods that will satisfy your tastes. Therefore, take your time and linger.
If you walk along Beautiful Haenggunggil, you will find yourself at Paldalmun. Contrary to the other three gates, it is very crowded around Paldalmun. This is because Yeongdong Market (영동시장), Jidong Market (지동시장), and Paldalmun Market (팔달문시장) meet here. Living in a transitional era with a shift from an agriculture-oriented society to a commerce-oriented society, King Jeongjo was planning to develop Suwon as a city of economy because it was located at a major traffic point. He offered innovative benefits and gathered competent merchandisers from all over the country. The history of the traditional markets that started then has survived to this day.
These markets are the best place to end your journey because they were a means to realise the dreams of travellers who had stepped into the city full of the dreams of King Jeongjo. The charm of traditional markets is that you can find all kinds of goods and buy them cheaply from people who are very nice and generous, but what makes their charm even better must be the food. If you have no idea what to eat, go to the chicken street near Suwoncheon, or the sundae-town in Jidong Market. Nice prices, a lot of food, nice smells and appetising looks will refresh you.
Written by & photographed by Ju Yujeong
1. Suwon Hwaseong (수원화성)
Address: 11, Haenggung-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
UNESCO World Heritage Registration: December 1997
Summer (Mar. to Oct.): 9 am to 6 pm
Winter (Nov. to Feb.): 9 am to 5 pm
※ Entrance allowed until 30 minutes before closing time
Admission fee: Child 500 Won, Teenagers/Soldiers 700 Won, Adults 1000 Won
2. Hwaseong Haenggung (화성 행궁) Address: 14, Namchang-dong, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Summer (Mar. to Oct.): 9 am to 6 pm
Winter (Nov. to Feb.): 9 am to 5 pm
※ Entrance allowed until 30 minutes before closing time
Admission fee: Child 700 Won, Teenagers/Soldiers 1000 Won, adults 1500 Won