Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and Hwaseong Haenggung (Palace)
A famous part of Korean history and now a World Heritage Site
Mind-boggling in size and complexity
Our friends Jongsoo Chang and Mi Kwon live not far from the town of Suwon, so this was a perfect place for a day trip. They have visited before, and really liked it, so they were happy to show it to us. We parked and then just wandered around at will in the palace, and later walked up the hill to catch the little train for a circular tour around the walls.
It was free when we were there at the very beginning of August, because authorities were trying to promote tourism, which dropped because of MERS. The little train was also free, but we still needed a timed ticket.
It was a really interesting visit for us—unfortunately it was so hot and humid, as it normally is in Korea in August, and the ground at the palace really muddy and full of puddles in places because of the recent rain. But, we’re happy we went as it’s an important site; one that most tourists wouldn’t get to as it’s quite far out of Seoul (40+ km) and not that easy to get to without your own transport.
For us, this huge fortress and palace complex is notable for is size and amazing reconstruction and also for the stories attached to it, like the tragic death (assassination) of King Jeonjo’s father and his mother’s special 61st birthday party. The 61st birthday was considered particularly auspicious and marked a major date in an ancient Korean’s life. The complex is also remembered because King Jeongjo, who was extremely filial, stayed at the Palace 13 times when he was visiting and worshiping at the tomb of his father.
(We took a LOT of photos—way too many to put up here—so I’ve put some on to a web page. I’ve you’d like to take a look, go here http://www.viviennemackie.com/Korea_2015/Suwon_Palace.html )
This fortress complex was constructed in 1794-1796 by King Jeongjo (reigned 1777-1800), the 22nd king of the Joseon dynasty. But, the palace was started earlier at the eastern foot of Padalsan Mountain in 1789, the 13th year of King Jeongjo’s reign, to establish Suwon as a new town. It was used as the Suwon government’s office and as a Temporary Palace, so called because the king did not live here permanently.
The Temporary/Detached Palace was completed by expanding Hwaseong Haenggung from 1794-96, the 18th-20th year of his reign—the same period that the fortress was constructed. The Palace is within the fortress complex. The fortress was built so that King Jeongjo could move the tomb of his father, Crown Prince Jangheon, also known as Crown Prince Sado. His father had met a tragic death in 1762 at the hands of his own father, by being stuffed into a Duiju. A Duiju is a wooden chest for storing rice and beans. A horrible story, but one quite common for that time.
It was the largest and most beautiful Temporary/Detached Palace at the time of its construction, because it had almost 600 rooms and was shaped like the main palace in Seoul.
Most of its structures, however, apart from Naknamheon (one of the big halls used for banquets during Lady Hong of Hyegyeonggung’s 61st Birthday Ceremony in 1795), were destroyed during the Japanese Colonial era. After this, a hospital and school were built on the site. Local people organized the Committee for Restoration and Repair at the end of the 1980s. It was reconstructed according to old diagrams etc and you can still see some original foundation and corner stones. The completed restoration was opened to the public on October 2003.
Courtyard follows courtyard as you wander around the large walled complex. It’s really huge—it wouldn’t be too hard to get lost in there! It’s a really beautiful series of buildings, with curved roof lines, gorgeous painted eaves and beams, and lovely latticed walls.
The reconstruction of the rooms the royalty lived in is fascinating, as is the dining area with the feast for the grand birthday. We learn other stories associated with the palace: the lives of the eunuchs and serving women; a traditional kitchen; traditional musical instruments etc.
King Jeonjo was a very well-liked king, during a kind of renaissance time in Korea—he imported new things and brought new ideas to Korea, such as sweet potatoes, eye glasses, a crane for construction, red peppers, tobacco. A big sign on the main building of the palace (called Bongsudang) has 3 characters basically saying support-life-house and translated as “long live the king”.
Suwon’s impressive fortress walls are free to walk along. They are made of earth and faced with large stone blocks, stretching for 5.7km (about 3.5 miles) and are 4-6 m (roughly 13-20 feet) high and designed to deflect arrows, spears, swords, guns and cannons. For 200 years the walls were collapsing, especially during the Korean War, but 95% have been restored.
You can hike around the fortress (ca 2+ hours) or take the train to see the
wall snaking up and down the hill, with its command posts, observation towers, 4 entrance gates, secret gates to bring war supplies to the fortress without being caught by enemies, and fire beacon platform. At the turning point of the trolley/train run is a large grassy field where people can try their hand at traditional Korean archery.
The train/trolley is a bit tacky, as those usually are, but still a good way to see the walls, which are amazing, snaking along up and down. The engine is shaped like a dragon head, which symbolizes the vigorous driving power of King Jeongju. The carriages represent the king’s chair that symbolizes the king’s authority. I love it how Asian countries attach great symbolism to so many things in their lives!
**NOTE that these kings had portraits in the Portrait Gallery at the town of Jeongju (south of Seoul), at the Royal Portrait Museum, which is part of Gyeonggijeon Hall.