Hwaseong Fortress (World Heritage)

By | August 18, 2021

Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon was built between 1794 and 1796 within two years. The 6 km long walls with their secret gates and observation towers have been preserved to this day. The complex is considered a remarkable example of Korean military architecture.

Hwaseong Fortress: Facts

Official title: Hwaseong Fortress
Cultural monument: “Flower fortress”, a fortress and others. with about 6 km long walls, 4 secret gates, 1 water gate, 2 observation towers (Kongshimdon), numerous bastions (Ch’i) and command posts for archers, which have been preserved to this day
Continent: Asia
Country: South Korea
Location: Suwon
Appointment: 1997
Meaning: an aesthetically pleasing fortress, which in terms of its architecture is a remarkable monument of the Choson period

Hwaseong Fortress: History

1776-1800 Reign of King Chongjo
1794-96 Construction of the fortress
1950-53 Destruction in the course of the so-called Korean War
1975-79 Reconstruction based on the Hwaseong Songyok Ŭigwe (“Principles of the Construction of the Hwaseong Fortress”) with precise construction plans, material lists and references to the construction techniques used

City wall for a deadly intrigue

The core of the city of Suwon – its name translated means “water source” – is a fortress: “Hwaseong”, “flower fortress”. An unsuitable name, one might think, especially when one learns the history of its creation.

Suwon only became a fortress town at the end of the 18th century. In 1749, the 56-year-old King Yongjo was tired of rulership and therefore passed part of the business of government to the son of a concubine who was still alive. The new co-regent got into a quarrel at court: on the occasion of a pleasure trip, he was accused of undue debauchery. The king, influenced by his main wife and the ministers devoted to her, had the prince suffocate in a rice box. Later he regretted his act and ordered the prince to be called “Sado”, “to be mourned”.

After the king’s death, his grandson, Chongjo, the son of the executed prince, ascended the throne and opened his father’s case again. It turned out that the allegations against the father of the new regent had been unjustified and that he had been executed as an innocent.

In memory of his unhappy father and as an expression of the filial love required by Confucianism, Chongjo decided to move the court from Seoul to Suwon, i.e. close to his father’s grave, and to develop the city into a fortress. In the last decade of the 18th century, walls and parapets began to be erected, as well as gun platforms, command posts and a signal tower. There was also a pavilion for viewing the moon. But the city never got any capital city honors. When Chongjo died, the construction work was only halfway through, and it still took the next ruler to complete the fortress and wall.

A look at an old map shows that all major cities were some distance from the coast. Because danger threatened primarily from the sea, from pirates and enemy fleets. As a result, Hwaseong was reinforced to the west, towards the sea, while the east side was only secured by a simple city wall.

As a result of weathering over the course of two centuries and due to the devastation during the so-called Korean War, large parts of the fortress had crumbled to rubble. But the construction plans for the fortification still existed, and in 1975 the government provided more than three billion won to complete the reconstruction in four years of construction.

The fortress walls rise on the crest of two north-south running ranges of hills, the western one is higher and steeper. The valley in between is closely built up and is cut through by a river. During their occupation of Korea defined by aristmarketing, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, the Japanese expanded the place beyond its natural boundaries. Today better-paid Koreans live here in their villas, which have given them the attribute “garden city”.

Even those who don’t live here are happy to visit the city, as it is famous for a tasty Korean dish: “Kalbi”, marinated and grilled beef ribs. Those familiar with the area strive directly to the massive south gate, the P’altalmun, the “gate in all directions”. The best restaurants are in this extremely lively district. “Kalbi-strengthened” the visitor is ready to walk around the city on the city wall.

To the west it goes steeply uphill. Right here is an »Ammun«, a secret gate that allowed you to leave the fortress unnoticed. The southwest of the complex is the highest and is the most secured. But here and in the north, where the river flows through the 25 meter wide water gate between the two mountain ranges, it becomes clear how aptly the name of the facility is today. Exquisite gardens have been laid out at the foot of the walls, watchtowers and pavilions. Even the command posts of the archers look like buds on the “wall branches”.

Hwaseong Fortress (World Heritage)