Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon
On June 29th Ian and I went to Suwon, a neighboring city to Seoul. We went, of course (and it's so nice to say "of course") on the subway, which covers hundreds of kilometers of track. The purpose of our trip was to visit Hwaseong Fortress, or 화성. It was a rainy day, but Ian and I had a nice time anyway. The subway took about an hour and a half, if I remember correctly.
Wall and Steps
The fortress itself, which was begun in 1795, features numerous bastion towers, firearms towers, "secret" gates, a waterworks gate, and very large, impregnable main gates. The lay of the fortress is quite beautiful, and it takes many hours to walk around the whole course. Ian and I didn't quite have the time to do the whole thing, but we spent some six hours or so walking and taking pictures of more than half of the wall and the administrative facility of King Jeongjo, who spent some time there to commemorate his mother's 60th birthday. Apparently the royal visit created a "public nuisance" for the city, and so as compensation a special government exam was held that was open only to Suwon residents. This visit occurred between the beginning and completion of the entire fortress.
The fortress, which was designated "Historic Site #3," many decades ago, is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. My long time readers know what I think of the UN as a political body; however, I do like the idea of UNESCO recognizing special sites of cultural importance to humanity. I suppose to some degree this is a subjective process.
Within the administration facility, which is structured rather like a palace, one can see this tree, which was an omen of safety for the city of Suwon as long as it was present.
Sacred Protecting Tree
Beside the tree is a display containing (what I think is a replica of) the royal litter:
Within the compound there is an interesting historical weapons display. Pictures of this section were limited by the poor rainy-day daylight, and by the protective glass.
Also in this area, the outer court before the main inner area of the palace, was a historic crane, based on a Chinese design. This crane was used in the construction of the facility.
Proceeding, then, through the door...
...we come to the inner area with the throneroom. The first picture was taken from the throne room, looking towars the inner gate.
View of the administration complex's gate from the throne room
Excellent view of the Royal Screen
Long time readers have seen this screen before in my posts on other palaces, and in the little piece of embroidery I bought at the museum in Deoksugung last year. The beauty of the design, whatever the variations, never fails to impress me. This view is unusually good, because this room has more natural light than the throne room in most palaces.
Hwaseong fortress is so large that it encompasses a substantial part of the city of Suwon. The next picture, which is of the Paldalmun, or South gate, sits in the middle of the road. It is a National Treasure. I took pictures all around this gate.
Gate (and a cutie!)
Side view of gate
Even more than the above pictures, the next shows the juxtaposition of traditional and modern elements in Suwon:
Suwon Market from bridge
Ian and I went on a short way from here, and saw a massive church in the distance.
Landmark Church w/ parking lot
This church is visible from many parts of the small "g" great wall, and its exterior attracted me greatly. Ian felt the same tug of curiousity, so we went to investigate. We found the pastor, and he very kindly agreed to give us a tour--in first-rate English, too. He was likable enough for those minutes, although I regret that I am forced to vent in this post my true feelings at the aesthetic first degree murder of the interior of this no longer grand Presbyterian church:
There can scarcely be any excuse for this. Apart from the stained glass windows and the pillars, all remnants of the old facility have been swept away. And we know why this happened, too, as he told us: the interior was renovated, and the musical program "modernized" in an effort to keep young people in the pews. Today when the people sit in their pews they will experience an ugly front in modern theater style, with two huge flatscreen TVs, along with what the pastor acknowledged to be charismatic worship. Ugh! This obvious disdain for aesthetics and history--in the name of "young people," too--was thankfully not present in the program which restored the fortress! (And as always, I issue the disclaimer that I am no longer religious, although I do find religions fascinating.)
After visiting the church, Ian and I began our ascent here:
In this next picture, you can see the church from the distance. The picture was taken from the wall.
After walking for some distance up the stairs, we came to a tower, and I took this picture of the wall below. It is wide enough for two cars to pass.
After walking along the wall...
...we came to a bastion, as they are termed in English (치, "chi"), wherein I observed the following hole useful for attacking the attackers:
There are ten such bastions. The next picture shows this one. Be sure to notice the gun embrasures.
Another defense hole
At some point along the wall one can see the Bell of Filial Piety. Big bronze bells like this one are common in this country, but this one is only a few years old, as the old bell was too cracked to be regularly rung on holidays anymore. The bell is a symbol of Suwon, apparently. I took the trouble to push the great beam into the bell just lightly, and it touched off a bassy vibration that lasted for over a minute.
I somehow found my heart warmed by the presence of this fire extinguisher in the fortress!
Moving along, we come to the West Command Post. This area was struck by lightning in 1930, and was restored in 1975.
Side view of Command Post
Adjacent to the Command Post is a "Multiple Arrow Launcher Platform." I wish I could have seen a representation of this "Multiple Arrow Launcher."
Tower for "Multiple Arrow Launcher"
The next picture shows one of five "firearms bastions." "It has gun embrasures and loopholes," and the English of the accompanying sign here was very good (although several signs did have "vastion," that was pretty much the only error I can remember).
A good view of the wall
Looks like living in South Korea finally got to Ian!
Moving on, then, we come to a sentry tower, one of five.
Sentry post with ondol floor for sleepers
Next is the great Hwaseomun, or West Gate, both beautiful and impregnable, and accordingly designated National Treasure #403. Next to it is the Northwest Observation Tower, an impressive creation. This gate survived the Korean war, which leveled two of the other gates.
I'm not sure of the placement of the next picture as my camera doesn't load them into my computer in the right order all the time. Fortunately, I have a book and a memory to work with, but the view is hard to place. Anyway, it's a great view, of, in Tolkien's phrase from Winter Comes to Nargothrond "glowering heaven, grey and sunless."
And now we come to the famous--shhh!--secret gates. This is one of several such gates.
Path leading away from secret gate outside the wall
Shh--it's a secret!
What makes the gates secret? They were not large, and were located next to wooded areas. Since the fortress was so large, it would be impossible to physically surround it without a very large army indeed. Nevertheless, I'm not sure how impregnable the fortress would be, and didn't read of its defense measures ever being tested. It was built too late, thanks to the widespread use of this next device:
So the great fortress may not have been the most impregnable fortress ever constructed. It has nonetheless an artistic beauty (something evanglical church designers and postmodern artists alike could use!). On that note, here are some scenes of beauty to leave with.
Ivy on the Wall