Field Report: Hiking along the eastern walls of Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea (28 January 2017)

Suwon (수원) is one of my favourite day trip destinations out of Seoul, mainly because of its breathtaking Joseon-era stone walls. And these walls really do take one’s breath away: not just because they look awesome, but because hiking all the way around them tends to leave unfit couch potatoes like me gasping for air.

This was my second visit to the nexus of political and economic power in Gyeonggi-do: a city of nearly 1.2 million people located a mere stone’s throw south of Seoul. (Assuming one can throw a stone across the roughly 30 kilometres between one and the other, that is.) It’s quite easy to reach from the Korean capital – I mentioned one option in my previous post – so there really wasn’t any excuse to avoid returning…

…especially since I had some unfinished business to take care of from last time.

On my previous visit – first part here, second part here – I explored a large portion of the western half of Hwaseong (화성), the nearly 6-kilometre circuit of stone walls constructed in the late 18th century around the historic centre of Suwon. Now, it was the turn of the eastern ramparts.

From Suwon Station, I hailed a cab and was driven over to Paldalmun (팔달문), the main southern gate of Hwaseong. Unlike the fortress’ other entrances, this one wasn’t reconnected to the walls when they were restored in the 1970s, partly because one of the city’s major avenues was built all around the structure. The gate now stands isolated – effectively acting as the centre of a large roundabout – in much the same way as Seoul’s famous Namdaemun once stood before recent restoration work was completed.

Paldalmun was also the starting point of my previous, westwards exploration of Hwaseong. This time, I headed due east: towards Suwoncheon, the stream that cuts straight through the heart of the old city. In order to allow the waters to run freely without leaving a gap in the fortifications, the wall builders constructed Namsumun (남수문), a massive stone and brick floodgate with arched openings for the stream to pass through.

The start of the trail led me on a short uphill course towards Dongnamgaknu (동남각루), a watchtower on the southeastern corner of Hwaseong.

From here, it was a relatively smooth and level walk in the shadow of the fortress walls. Except there was no shadow, since it was morning and I was on the eastern side with the sun to my right … but you get the idea.

This rather odd-looking structure, known as Bongdon (봉돈), once served as a signal beacon for sending messages across long distances. It was built almost due east of Hwaseong Haenggung, the palace at the centre of old Suwon (you can see pictures of the royal compound in this earlier post), thus allowing the king – if he happened to be in residence – to see messages sent up from the beacon tower’s five beehive-shaped smokestacks.

I kept heading north, past several more watchtowers and long, snaking stretches of wall…

…until I reached Changnyongmun (창룡문), the heavily fortified gate near the northeastern tip of Hwaseong.

I entered Hwaseong through Changnyongmun and crossed a large, sloping expanse of open ground, part of which was being used as an archery range (you can see the targets near the centre of the image below).

On the other side of the field stood my next target: Dongjangdae (동장대), Hwaseong’s eastern command post. This was one of two fortified command posts built into the city wall, the other being Seojangdae up on the western hill overlooking old Suwon (you can view pictures of that spot in this previous post).

I resumed my hike, on top of the wall this time rather than alongside it. Following the ramparts on a westerly course, I walked past a smaller gate and a richly decorated watchtower…

…and eventually came upon Bukammun (북암문), one of Hwaseong’s five so-called “secret gates”. These smaller but securely guarded portals were used for quietly transporting people and supplies into the walled city when – for one reason or another – it was deemed prudent not to have them pass through the four major gates.

I exited Hwaseong through the gate and walked down into a gentle depression considerably lower than the level of the walls. The beautiful scene I beheld from here was a splendid summary of all the things I’d found particularly enjoyable on this long walk: tramping along a well-worn trail, breathing in the cold winter air, gazing upon fields of grass faded to shades of pale copper and gold, with the ancient walls for a constant and ever-fascinating companion.

Turning left, I caught sight of an ornately decorated pavilion perched on top of a low hill. Designed not merely as a defensive outpost, but also as a place for leisure, the belvedere’s dual role is reflected in its two names: the dry, utilitarian Dongbukgaknu (동북각루), which simply means northeast corner watchtower; and the poetic Banghwasuryujeong (방화수류정), which might be rendered very loosely as “Pavilion for Visiting Flowers and Abiding with Willows”. Built in 1794, this elegant little structure was designated as a Treasure of the Republic of Korea in 2011.

I reentered Hwaseong through Bukammun and walked a short distance west, to one of the most iconic features of the ancient fortress: the formidable Buksumun (북수문), also known as Hwahongmun. The northern counterpart to Namsumun (which I passed at the start of my walk), this large floodgate allows the Suwoncheon stream to flow into the city unimpeded whilst maintaining the integrity of the circuit wall.

Back to the outward-facing side of the wall, and another stroll towards the west…

…until I reentered Hwaseong through the massive Janganmun (장안문), the main northern gate and supposedly the largest structure of its kind in Korea.

Since my previous visit covered the section of wall immediately to the west of here, I declared a successful end to my walk along the eastern half of Hwaseong. That said, although I was done for the day, my long-term exploration was by no means at an end.

For starters, there’s still the half-kilometre or so in the west that I didn’t cover on my last visit. In addition, I’d like to try a different perspective by switching trails even on those segments I’d already seen: that is, walk alongside the parts I’d explored from the top, and walk on top of the sections I’d seen from the side.

So yes, I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t seen the last of Suwon – and Suwon hasn’t seen the last of me.

Until next time, cheerio.

One response to “Field Report: Hiking along the eastern walls of Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea (28 January 2017)

  1. Pingback: Field Report: The Northwestern Walls of Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea (18 February 2018) | Within striking distance·

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