Revisiting Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Suwon

Located in Suwon, the capital city of Gyeonggi-do that surrounds Seoul, is the impressive Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성), representing the Joseon Dynasty of the 18th century. The construction of the fortress commenced in January 1794, & was completed 2.5 years later in September 1796. The main reason for constructing this magnificent structure was a show of the King’s filial piety towards his father Jangheonseja, as well as to build a new pioneer city with its own economic power. As the world’s first planned city, its thorough & systematic designs compared with other structures of the time has been widely praised by experts even today. It is little wonder then that the fortress was designated as Historical Monument No. 3 in January 1963, & a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in December 1997.

I remember my 1st visit to this grand structure more than a decade ago, back in summer 2005 when I was a student on a Korean language exchange program at Sogang University. Not sure why my friend & I decided to make a day trip to Suwon then, but I recalled it was an interesting experience climbing the fortress walls & feeling victorious as we reached the peak of Paldalsan (팔달산), despite the hot summer sun. 😛 Although I had never climbed the Great Wall of China, at that point in time, climbing up the fortress is akin to conquering Great Wall of China. At least that was what I thought to myself then haha.

Anyway, this time, I thought of revisiting Suwon, because of a few reasons: 1) I attended a Gyeonggi-do free & easy travel workshop before my holidays & it sort of inspired me to explore part of the province since it is close to Seoul; 2) pleasant memories of the Suwon day trip back in 2005 made me want to spend more time here this time to revisit the site; & 3) since the focus of my Korea spring holidays is to immerse in its culture, check out noteworthy sights & particularly awesome cherry blossoms, there’s no harm in going to yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site! So that’s how Suwon became part of my itinerary. 🙂

But I guess I overestimated my stamina & leg power, lol. When I arrived in Suwon, it was already day 6, i.e. middle of my 11-day holidays & I had already been “abusing” my legs for the past 5 days. After checking in to hotel & taking my “Teanner” (Tea + Dinner), the moment Namsumun (남수문, 南水门) appeared before my eyes, my knees went feeble, because of the tall & steep steps I saw. 😛 The “trauma” I experienced the past few days “hiking” in Andong, Gyeongju & Busan brought me back to reality & I didn’t know how I could climb 4 to 6m up to the mountain with such aching feet. Furthermore, I was somewhat fighting against time as it was already 6.30pm, the sky was getting dark with a slight drizzle. 😦 I psyched myself to at least make my way to the cherry trees near Seona Gaknu (Hwayangnu) Pavilion in the southwestern side of Paldalsan. At least I wouldn’t leave with regrets that I only admired the fortress from the foot of the mountain hehe.

The famous Paldamun (팔다문)

Passing by the famous Paldalmun (팔다문) during weekday evening peak hour

Paldalmun, designated as National Treasure No. 402, is the southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. This gate is a major attraction in Suwon for its unique design, as it is detached from the rest of the gates (Hwaseomun – west gate, Janganmun – north gate & Changyongmun – east gate), & is located in the middle of the busy city. It becomes an alluring structure at night with the lights are lit up. Arrghh, forgot to take photo at night when I passed by to return to hotel as I was very tired by then. -_- Consolation is I still managed to climb up & take some photos of the evening view at Paldalsan peak, as below!

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 1

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 3

Just a little pity that the weather wasn’t great that evening & I only reached the peak around 7pm. Hwaseong Fortress official operating hours are from 9am to 6pm daily, maybe that’s why no street lamps were installed on the Paldalsan pavement so it’s kind of difficult to take beautiful photos of the cherry blossoms in the dark. 😦 But there were still quite a handful of visitors like me. I wasn’t really mesmerized by the cherry blossom street atop Paldalsan, because there were too few blossoming cherry trees, not spectacular enough like in Gyeongju! Coincidentally, the friendly female hotel staff at Benikea New Suwon Tourist Hotel who recommended me this place for lovely cherry blossoms also visited this area that evening, & she was disappointed too. I could only console myself to hope for a better sighting the next day in bright daylight.

The next morning, I heeded the advice of that hotel staff to take a ride on the Hwaseong Trolley (화성열차) – a tourist train that travels between Paldalsan & Yeonmudae (연무대). My legs were definitely grateful that I decided not to hike haha. From the hotel, it was a leisurely 7-min stroll to the Yeonmudae Tourist Information Centre where the Hwaseong Trolley platform is, & I bought 1 adult ticket for the 30-min train ride of 3.2km up to Paldalsan for KRW1,500 (S$1.80). It runs 12 times a day from 9.50am to 5.50pm, except when it snows. From November to February every year, it only runs 11 times a day till 4.35pm. No reservations required & only same-day ticket purchase are allowed.

The Hwaseong Train journey

The Hwaseong Trolley & view along the 30-min ride

The front of the train is in the shape of a powerful dragon that signifies King Jeongjo, & the passenger cars resemble palanquins that once carried the king during his excursions. In the train, commentary service is provided in English, Chinese & Japanese as & when the train passed by significant landmarks & attractions. 1 downside to riding in the train was, ventilation wasn’t too good & it was stuffy sitting inside for 30 min. Imagine my happiness when the train arrived at Paldalsan & we could alight! Haha… on another note, it was also good to alight for it was a great day, perfect for basking in the sun on a scenic mountain overlooking the city!

Lovely sight near Yeonmudae

Lovely sight near Yeonmudae

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 7

The view atop Paldalsan in the day was much better than in the evening. With clear blue sky complementing the lovely white & pink colours of cherry blossoms, it’s hard not to like the pretty scenery! I may have played cheat this time by making use of modern technology to climb up the mountain, but what matters more is the heritage site is still as fascinating with its 5.52km long stretch of fortress wall surrounding the city. 🙂 Since it’s easily accessible via the Seoul Subway Line 1’s Suwon Station, plan a trip to explore this historical monument of over 200 years old the next time you visit Korea! Then you can admire its beauty with your own eyes too. 😉

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