Field (and a bit of Rail) Report: Suwon Hwaseong Museum, South Korea (18 February 2018)

This report should have been focused on the museum in the title – but, as you’ll see further on, I was momentarily distracted by the transportation infrastructure I employed to reach it. What can I say: I’m a railway enthusiast through and through. But read on chaps, and I promise you that we’ll end up talking about that museum I visited. (Eventually.)

After the 7:00 AM Sunday Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral – the mother church of Seoul’s large Roman Catholic community – I popped into a nearby convenience store for a quick dosirak breakfast…

…then rolled over to Seoul Station (via Subway Line 4) to catch an intercity train bound for my sightseeing target of the day. Whilst waiting for the appointed departure time, I wandered around to admire this massive railway terminal’s airy architecture…

…and to do a bit of light trainspotting.

Here we have KORAIL’s so-called DMZ Train, also known as the Peace Train (평화열차, Pyeonghwa Yeolcha). It’s a special tourist service designed to carry visitors from Seoul to stations near the Demilitarised Zone (close to the boundary with North Korea) via one of two separate routes. This particular train runs on the Gyeongwon Line and terminates at Baengmagoji Station, within just a few miles of the highly restricted buffer zone around one of the most heavily fortified borders on earth.

I’ve been to the Demilitarised Zone before – click here and especially here to read more about that uniquely Korean experience – but I had a very different boundary wall in mind for this morning. To get there, I boarded another train parked several platforms away: an intercity Mugunghwa service bound for faraway Busan.

Busan, of course, was a little farther – well much farther – than I’d care to travel on something that isn’t the fast, comfortable KTX. Fortunately, my stop was only about half an hour away: the historic city of Suwon (수원), capital of Gyeonggi-do.

Suwon is particularly famous for the long stretch of Joseon-era walls, known as Hwaseong (화성), that has formed a protective ring around its historic core since the late 18th century. (It’s also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.) I’ve been hiking along the walls bit by bit across several visits – click here to read my posts describing these explorations – and today was the day when I’d walk the last section and finally complete the entire circuit.

But before hitting the fortress, I went to another place in the old city centre. Interestingly enough, the driver whose cab I boarded at Suwon Station didn’t seem to know where it was. I thought at first that I’d simply botched my Korean beyond comprehension, but even showing the untranslated name on my phone didn’t entirely do the trick. In the end, he searched for the place on his GPS device, confirmed with me that he’d selected the correct destination (note: familiarity with hangeul, whilst far from necessary, is a useful skill to have when travelling in Korea), and off we went without any further hitches.

And here were are: the Suwon Hwaseong Museum (수원화성박물관, Suwon Hwaseong Bagmulgwan).

Housed in a building that partly mimics the appearance of the fortress wall, this facility features exhibits that put Suwon’s most famous landmark in its proper context, explaining everything from its construction to its ceremonial and practical role within the fabric of the Joseon state.

One of the largest items on display is a huge scale model of Suwon – surrounded by the dark grey girdle of Hwaseong – as it appeared during the Joseon period.

There’s an incredible amount of detail in the meticulously assembled model. If you’re familiar with some of the main features of Hwaseong (such as its major gates and turrets), it’s actually quite good fun to hunt down the miniature equivalents of each real-world landmark in this scaled-down version.

There are many other exhibits, of course – both inside the building (mostly on the second floor)…

…and outside, where visitors can study full-sized reproductions of the specialised equipment used during the construction of Hwaseong (which was built from 1794 to 1796). Here we have a so-called yuhyeonggeo, a cart designed for speedy transport even on sloped terrain.

This contraption over here, which has the air of a mediaeval torture device, is known as a geojunggi and was put to use in hauling up large building blocks.

And here, looking more like a siege engine than a piece of construction equipment, is a nongno – a sort of crane used for lifting and placing stones in the higher levels of the wall. Two such devices were used during the construction of Hwaseong.

A good start to the day. Now it’s time to see the real deal…

…but we’ll save that story for the next post.


One response to “Field (and a bit of Rail) Report: Suwon Hwaseong Museum, South Korea (18 February 2018)

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

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