Suwon Castle aka Hwaseong Fortress


Suwon Castle, also known as Hwaseong Fortress, is one of the countries oldest and best known fortresses. It is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage built during King Jeongjo’s reign in the Joseon Dynasty. It is said that Jeongjo built the fortress in view to move the capital city from Seoul to Suwon. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, to move the tomb of his father Prince Sado, a sad and tragic story in itself. And secondly, to stabilise his power and suppress the corrupted powers of the old. Unfortunately, his plans did not come to fruition as Jeongjo died in 1800 at the age of 48.

The fortress was built in two and a half years from 1794 to 1796, which was a huge feat during those times. It was the first time any King had rewarded civilians for their hard graft and labour. And perhaps this showed a glimpse behind Jeongjo’s genius. For had he not innovated this sort of capital infrastructure investment the fortress may not have been built so quickly.

The circumference of Hwaseong Fortress’ is 5.7km long and its height ranges between 4.9m to 6.2m. The rest of the facility contains a little over 50 other structures.

Hwaseong Fortress Map

There are four main gates to the fortress: Janganmun (north gate), Hwaseomun (west gate), Paldalmun (south gate) and Changnyongmun (east gate). Janganmun and Paldalmun being the largest. and other structures worth noting are the Ammun Gate, Sumun Gate, Jangdae, Gakru, Gongsimdon, Poru, and Bongdon. In the center of Hwaseong Fortress is the Hwaseong Temporary Palace, where the king sought refuge during times of war and enjoyed restful repose in times of peace.

Jangan Gate

There are beacon towers throughout the perimeter of the fortress. It has five chimneys to make different signals with smoke or fire. When one was lit it signalled peace, two meant the enemy had been spotted, three warned that the enemy was approaching, four meant the enemy had made it into the city, and five signals lit was an alert that fighting had begun.

Today you can still see most of the original infrastructure and many new buildings, shops and houses now reside in the surrounding area. It is a thriving city. The citizens of Suwon are known as the citizens of ‘Happy Suwon’. Notable persons from Suwon include Park Ji-Sung (footballer), Ha Ji-won (actress).

In terms of food, Suwon is most famous for their ‘Kalbi’ beef. This delicious dish is beef strips marinated on the bone and char-grilled on your table. There are many restaurants in the city, but be sure to try one with authentic Korean beef, and not the imported American beef. Why? Trust me, the beef is so much more tender and succulent. This is served with your usual side dishes such as Kimchi, beansprouts, spinach and potato salad, among others depending on the restaurant. It’s always nice to wash everything down with some ‘Soju’ a traditional Korean wine. Be careful though, this is can do some damage at 20% alcohol.

Suwon is also home to Suwon Bluewings the local football team which features in the Korea’s top national league: the K-league.

The Korea Effect

South Korea has an almost indescribable knack of drawing you right back in after it pushes you to the very edge. Take yesterday for example, I went to school as usual and got settled at my desk and half an hour later the heating broke, I got stung with a substantial, unexpected tax bill and got the first of five angry phone calls from my landlord asking about a payment I’d already made. I wasn’t too happy by the end of the day and there was no resolution in sight for any of those three problems.

As I walked home, muttering furiously to myself about how foreigners never get told anything, how unfair life is and other melodramatic things that I’m too embarrassed to repeat, I got an instant pick-me-up. A much older man stopped me in the street to ask for directions to the bus station, I replied, he thanked me for the directions and proceeded to give me all the compliments under the sun and could not thank me enough for visiting his country. As he walked away, my runaway thoughts changed their tune and I walked the rest of the way home debating whether I was being stupid to even consider leaving a country full of people who are so welcoming and sincere. And, just like that I’d done a complete U-turn and was head over heels again for a country that only an hour earlier had seemed impossible. It happens time and time again and the turn always comes when you least expect it. The Korea Effect is a powerful thing.

(Did I mention that my whole conversation with the man on his way to the bus station was in Korean? It was so satisfying. It’s moments like that when you feel that you should be living here in Korea and it all makes perfect sense).