Hwaseong Fortress (화성)

[pullquote align=”left”]When I accepted my current job and decided to moved to Suwon, South Korea, I didn’t know much about the city.[/pullquote] Some quick research and a much longer move across the world showed me Suwon has far more to offer than originally anticipated. The first of which is the city’s famous yangnyeom-galbi (seasoned beef ribs). It’s a weekly staple in my diet and a favorite thing to “show” visiting friends. While the galbi is incredible, the most impressive feature of Suwon is the UNESCO World Heritage Hwaseong Fortress. It’s said that Suwon was the first planned city in the world and today, remains the last walled city in Korea.

King Jeongjo constructed Hwaseong Fortress during the Joseon Dynasty in the 18th century. It was built for a multitude of purposes, one of which was to honor his murdered father. Despite having suffered considerable damage during the Japanese colonial occupation and the Korean War, much of the wall has been restored to its original splendor.

Over 5.5 km in circumference, the fortress spans varying terrain and offers a mix of attractions. While hiking along the wall, you’ll summit Mt. Paladalsan and be rewarded with spectacular views of Suwon. The view is an attraction unto itself, but there are over 30 other points of interest along the wall. From sentry posts to flood gates, there is something to be seen with almost every step of this “Great Wall” of Suwon.

Arguably the most impressive parts of Hwaseong Fortress are the four gates located along the wall at each cardinal direction. Each gate is a bit different, both in size and design, but all are worth viewing.

[frame align=”left”][/frame]There are a number of other noteworthy attractions along Hwaseong Fortress. The most promising of which is Hwaseong Haenggung, or the temporary palace. King Jeongjo’s palace away from home is understandably modest when compared to palaces in Seoul, but it provides plenty to see and do upon visiting. A favorite is an area where visitors can play traditional Korean games like tuho (투호) and nol-ttwigi (널뛰기).
If traditional games aren’t enough interaction, you can try gukgung (국궁), or Korean traditional archery, along the eastern portion of the fortress. Other options include ringing the filial piety Bell of Hyowon atop Mt. Padalsan or visiting the massive bronze statue of King Jeongju, located nearby and just a short detour from the western portion of the fortress wall.

With plenty to see and do, the only questions remaining are when and how to visit. The best way to see Hwaseong Fortress is on foot, up close, and at a slow pace. You can easily hike the entire fortress in just a few hours. Another option is hopping aboard the Hwaesong Trolley, which picks up at several points along the fortress and comfortably drives you to a number of attractions. You can’t miss it; it’s shaped like a giant dragon.

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I’ve hiked Hwaseong Fortress during all four seasons, day and night. Each time has provided a unique perspective. For an enhanced experience, I suggest visiting during one of the performance festivals. The Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, held annually in October, includes an impressive and interactive reenactment of King Jeongjo’s royal tomb procession.

Did I mention the famous galbi?  No trip to Hwaseong Fortress, let alone Suwon, would be complete without a dinner of beef ribs before heading home to your respective city. Try the Paldal-gu area around Paladalmun (South Gate), a hotbed of the city’s finest galbi restaurants. 

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