Suwon Hwaseong Fortress is a monument of international importance. In 1997 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the justification, on unesco.org we can read: „When the Joseon King Jeongjo moved his father’s tomb to Suwon at the end of the 18th century, he surrounded it with strong defensive works, laid out according to the precepts of an influential military architect of the period, who brought together the latest developments in the field from both East and West. The massive walls, extending for nearly 6 km, still survive; they are pierced by four gates and equipped with bastions, artillery towers and other features.”
Despite the undoubted advantages of this place, it is not visited by tourists very often. Maybe that’s why visiting the fortress gave us so much joy: empty spaces, lack of people in sight, amazing architecture, interesting history and beautiful views.
A short history of Suwon Fortress
Suwon Fortress was built in 1794–1796 by King Jeongjo of the Joseon dynasty.
The first reason Jeongjo built a fortress was the desire to pay homage and honour the memory of his father – Prince Sado, who was sentenced to death by his father – King Yongjo. Prince Sado was emotionally unstable, he had fears, visions, uncontrolled outbursts of anger. During his fits of madness, he physically abused his loved ones and servants. In one such tide of anger – he beat one of his concubines to death and cut off the head of several of his servants.
His wife and son were living in constant fear. They asked the ruling king for help. Prince Sado could not, however, be sentenced to death for crimes, because according to the law in force at that time – the same death sentence would have to be subjected to his wife and son. So, the king ordered Sado to commit suicide. When he refused to do it, he was locked inside a wooden chest and left to die. He passed away after 8 days.
His son King Jeongjo remained faithful to his father’s memory. He built a magnificent tomb on Mount Hwa near Suwon, where a few years later he moved his father’s remains. He built the Hwaseong Suwon fortress next to his father’s tomb.
The second reason to build the fortress was King Jeongjo desire to move the capital from Seoul to Suwon. He believed that reforms were needed for the development of the state. He also knew, that implementing those reforms had no chance in Seoul, which had been corrupt for years. To make this happen, he sent some of his subjects to Suwon. He asked them to settle there and to work on city development. As an incentive for moving, he offered everyone a 10-year tax exemption. The king was dreaming about building a new pioneering city, with its own independent economy.
Suwon seemed to be a perfect place to establish a new state capital there, because of its strategic location: between Seoul and the West Sea and China. Therefore, the third reason was a need for building a defensive fortress that would protect the inhabitants of the country from the south side.
Fortress construction and architecture
During the construction of the defensive walls, innovative solutions were used. Among other things, “geojunggi” was used here – special levers to help lift and stack large stones. The fortress walls are 5.7 km long and they are from 4 to 6 meters high, depending on the terrain. The fortress has gone down in history because of its unique construction because both stones and bricks were used to build it.
Unfortunately, during its 200-year history, the fortress walls collapsed or seriously damaged a few times, mainly from the results of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. In 1975 it was decided to rebuild the defensive walls. Undoubtedly, King Jeongjo himself contributed to this, who during the creation of the Hwaseong Suwon Fortress ordered to document all activities and works related to the construction of the object. When it was decided to rebuild the fortress, the collected historical materials were sufficient enough to reproduce it in almost identical form and shape.
Suwon Fortress today
Currently, walking along the defensive walls, you can see 45 original buildings, among others: all four main gates (East, West, North and South), watergate, command posts, platforms and observation towers.
There are also “secret passages” that can be used to go outside the fortress, signal towers “Beacon Towers”, cannon forts, watchtowers and pavilions for meditation.
To go around the entire fortress, along its walls you should plan min. 2 hours. There are several places along the way where. You can stop to rest or go outside the fortress thru one of the secret gates, and find yourself in a Secret Garden.
It is worth going through the whole, but the most interesting part with the most beautiful vantage point is on the top of the Paldalsan mountain, on the slope of which a fortress was built.
There is, among others, Hyowon Bell, called the “hidden gem of the Paldalsan Mountain”. This bell was erected by King Jeongjo in honour of his father.
Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace
Haenggung, or temporary palace, has never been permanently inhabited by any king. King Jeongjo rested in it when he was leaving Seoul to visit his father’s tomb or during war expeditions. When the king was not in the palace, he was used by employees of his administration. When the palace construction was completed – there were altogether 576 rooms. There were rooms not only for the royal family but also for the servants and the army. The palace held numerous celebrations, royal birthdays and parties. Successive successors of the royal throne also came here eagerly to rest.
Both Haenggung Palace and defensive fortress are important not only because of the wonderful architecture. Both buildings have special political and military significance. They are a symbol of the royal policy aimed at strengthening the power of innovative King Jeongjo.
Currently, visiting the temporary palace will take us a maximum of 30-45 minutes. There are few buildings here to see, but they are all recently renovated. The whole area looks like the movie scenography, which, by the way, was in 2004 for the needs of the movie Daejanggeum. On weekends and holidays, you can rent costumes from the movie set and you can wear them inside the palace area.
Everything here is beautiful, new, colourful, with beautiful architecture, lots of interesting details, a really great place and almost empty. An additional attraction is small exhibitions. They are presenting life during the kingdom: royal kitchen, auditorium, guest rooms, traditional costumes, army.
I highly recommend visiting Haenggung Palace – it will not be a waste of time.
Suwon – what else is worth to see, how to spend your free time
King Jeongjo statue
The king’s monument is located on a hill behind the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. You can reach the road that starts at the end of the car park on the right side of the palace entrance. This road you should go up the hill until the intersection with the main road. At the end of the road, turn right. Getting to the monument will take you about 15 -20 minutes, but it’s really worth it.
This small temple is famous for a golden Buddha statue. This monument is visible from many places in Suwon because it is located on the slope of Mount Paldalsan.
The Global Luxury Suwon south gate “Nammun” Market, which is a special commercial tourist zone. This is a traditional Korean market that is over 220 years old. Built by order of King Jeongjo.
In the designated area around the southern gate of Suwon, there are several smaller market halls. The most famous are the Yeongdong market, Jidong market, Paldalmum gate market. Markets are mainly visited by local residents. There are many small local restaurants where you can eat really tasty and cheap. Although no one speaks English here and there is no menu in the restaurants, you can always order the same dish as another guest has 😊
Suwon Jeil Church
Suwon Church is worth visiting due to its observatory (Sunset Observatory), which is located on the roof of the temple. This is a hidden attraction of the city. You can go to the top of the roof and view the Suwon Fortress and the entire city. The observatory point is at a height of 138 meters. To get to the top of the roof, you need to ask for the roof key in the church office.
The holy tree
In the area of Hwaseong stands a beautiful natural monument – Zelkova Tree. This tree is over 600 years old. It stood there before a temporary palace was built. It is considered a holy tree.
Suwon Fortress Directions and Practical Information
Trip to Suwon: a trip from the centre of Seoul (min. 1.5 hours each way) and sightseeing, it will take us a minimum half a day. It is worth going there in the morning, so you can stay there for the rest of the day if you like it.
How to get from Seoul?
- From Seoul Station – train to Suwon Station, travel time approx. 30 min
- From the city centre by Metro Line 1 to Suwon Station, travel time about 1 hour.
- From Gangnam (Gangnam Station Nara Building Ap) express bus No. 3000. Travel time is 1h20 min. Directions to Suwon station.
Hwaseong Suwon Fortress can be reached from several sides. Preferably at Suwon station, go to the exit on the right side of the station. Outside, turn left and walk nearby the large Novotel hotel. There is a bus stop in front of it.
- Take a bus 11 or 13, approx. 5 stops to gate No. 4 (5 stops).
- You can also start sightseeing from the palace (Gate No. 7), bus 7, 7-2, 60, 66 or 66-4 (AK Plaza stop), 10 stops
- visiting the fortress: 1000 WON (0,9 $)
- visiting the palace: 1500 WON (1,3$)
- you can also buy a combined ticket, including the above attractions, Suwon Museum and Hwaseong Fortress Museum: 3500 WON (3$).
When we were visiting Suwon (during Lotus Festival week) – all entrances were free of charge.
- The palace is open daily from 9.00 to 17.00 out of season and from 9.00 to 18.00 from March to October.
- Suwon Fortress is open 24/7.
- The official map of the entire area can be found here
- Official fortress site (also available in English): swcf.or.kr
Royal Parade of King Jeongjo
King Jeongjo visited his father’s tomb every year (over 60 times in total). In the same time, there were 13 solemn processions since the tomb was moved to its final destination. The march of the royal court from Seoul to the tomb near the fortress of Suwon lasted 8 days. It was attended by the immediate family, servants and the army.
The first march took place due to the 60th birthday of the king’s mother. This moment was described in detail by royal historians and illustrated by the best cartoonists. In 1975, the Royal Record Book of long-distance processions (“Won Haeng Eul Myo Jeong Ri Eui Gwe”) was created. It contains all the details of the procession in writing and in illustrations. Today, this work can be seen not only in the city archive. It is also painted on ceramic tiles along the Chekngyechecheon stream. The wall painting of Banchado of King Jeongjo, illustrating the march of the royal procession, is told on more than 5100 ceramic tiles. This image is the largest work of this type in the world.
It is also interesting that during these solemn processions, the king was using his time to talk and hear the problems of his subjects. Historians say that no other king has ever heard and solved the problems of as many of his faithful as King Joseon did. The archives contain over 3550 decrees, created during these expeditions and approved by the king.
Royal Parade reconstruction
In 2019, another reconstruction of the parade (fourth in a row) took place in Seoul to commemorate King Joseon’s annual journeys to his father’s tomb. The parade took place on October 6, 2018, and lasted 2 days. To this end, the cities of Seoul, Suwon and Hwaseong met again to recreate the famous royal procession. A temporary bridge called Baedari was created in Seoul across the Hangang River in the city of Noryangjin. The same building techniques that people used in the Joseon dynasty was used at that time. The bridge has connected the roads and allowed the parade to go towards Hwaseong and Suwon. There were over 4,800 people dressed in historical costumes who took part in the reconstruction of the parade. The entire route was 59 km long.
More details can be found at kingjeonjo-parade.kr
SOUTH KOREA – MY OTHER POSTS
I also encourage you to read my other posts about Seoul and South Korea: