Hiking the Walled City: Seeing Seoul from its Fortress Walls
See & Do Tours
|Did you notice the various sizes and shapes of the wall’s stones? The original fortress walls were built in the 14th century and constructed of medium-sized round stones held together by earth. Some 118,000 men were organized during the agricultural off-season to start construction of the wall over 49 days. Six months later, another 79,000 workers toiled another 49 days to complete the fortress.
Despite its peaceful, natural setting, Samcheonggak
is a place with an exciting past and present. President
Park Chung-hee built the facility in 1972 to meet with
North Korean officials, but an inter-Korean meeting
didn’t actually take place there until 2007, when
Samcheonggak was the site for a banquet for the
historic Joint Statement Declaration between the two
Today, Samcheonggak offers an impressive array
of activities for the Korean culture enthusiast, be it
cultural performances, workshops or seminars.
Specifically, the facility offers visitors the chance to
experience traditional tea ceremonies, janggu drum
and bamboo flute playing, and how to sing pansori,
Korea’s UNESCO-recognized traditional folk opera.
|A Special Getaway
It’s just a 15-minute walk from the Sukjeongmun Information Center to Samcheonggak, and it’s a trip well worth the effort. The stately Samcheonggak was built in 1972 to entertain high-ranking officials. Strangely enough, few people these days know about this gorgeous destination!
Samcheonggak’s name refers to clean mountains, water and good-natured people. Its immaculate grounds were operated as a private restaurant for two decades until the City of Seoul purchased it in 2000. Today, the Korean restaurant, teahouse, performance hall and guest quarters are a popular urban getaway to enjoy traditional architecture, cuisine and music.
As you take a look around, you’ll probably notice there are six buildings. Ilhwadang Hall is the grandest (and the only structure built with concrete), and it’s where the restaurant and tea house are located. Three smaller halls, the Dongbaekheon Chamber, and the Yuhajeong Pavilion are also set amongst landscaped grounds and an extensive network of gorgeous traditional stone, wood and tile walls.
Isn’t it relaxing?
Note to self:
Come back soon for a romantic dinner date!
|Address: Seoul, Seongbuk-gu, Seongbuk 2(i)-dong, 330-115; Hours of Operation: Hansikdang (Restaurant) 12:00 ~ 15:00 / 18:00 ~ 22:00; Dawon (Tea House) 10:00 ~ 23:00 (Performances and cultural experience activities held throughout the week.); Reservation Inquiries: 02-765-3700; More Information: http://www.samcheonggak.or.kr (in Korean)|
Although Bugaksan’s trails were opened to the
public in April 2006, they remain militarily sensitive
areas, thanks to their proximity to the president’s
official residence. For example, in 1968, thirty-one
North Korean assassins were discovered just 600
meters from the president’s house. For this reason,
walls of razor wire fences line the fortress, and
young soldiers (in park uniforms) patrol the area.
Most of this stretch of the fortress can’t be photo-
graphed, but when in doubt, simply ask one of the
The trail is open from 09:00~17:00 from April until
October and 10:00~17:00 from Nov. to March.
However, entrance is allowed only until 15:00 (two
hours before closing). Closed on Mondays (or
Tuesdays if the Monday falls on a National
Holiday). ID required.
|Back on the trail
It’s about a five-minute hike to Seoul Fortress’ great north gate, Sukjeongmun. You may have already seen one of Seoul’s other major gates – the great east gate best known as Dongdaemun. If so, you’ll notice that the north gate is a lot smaller. In fact, Sukjeongmun’s colorful wood ramparts weren’t even built until 1976. That’s because it was built to satisfy feng shui principles more than accommodate traffic.
While you’re on the gate, enjoy the view because soon you’ll be breathing heavily. Your reward for the climb? Spectacular views of the city! And before you know it, we’ll reach Baegakmaru, the name of Bugaksan’s 342-meter peak. At this point, Namsan Seoul Tower is to the left and Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbokgung Palace are right below us!
The trip back down is pretty steep, but along the way you can enjoy the view of Bukhansan’s (Mt.) dorsal fin-shaped peak. The mountain marks Seoul’s northern boundary. Before you know it, we’ll pass the Dolgorae Rest Area and just a few hundred meters later, we’ll enter the peaceful hamlet of Buam-dong. Before exiting the Changuimun Information Center, don’t forget to drop your neck pass into the basket!
Back on the trail, it’s about a five-minute hike to Seoul Fortress’ great north gate, Sukjeongmun. You may have already seen one of Seoul’s other major gates – the great east gate best known as Dongdaemun. If so, you’ll notice that the north gate is a lot smaller.
|When you walk underneath Changuimun’s grand arch, you’ll see two winged beasts. While they’re not dragons, some think the official explanation is dubious. According to the signboards, the colorful animals are phoenixes, the mythical firebird from ancient cultures ranging from Egypt to China. But a folk tale suggests a more humble heritage. The birds are possibly chickens –roosters, to be exact. Given the Fortress’ long, centipede-like shape, its natural enemy would be the rooster. Achieving balance – the yin and yang – was of critical importance in ancient Korea, so Changuimun’s chickens were said to repress the centipede’s energy, thus creating harmony. So, what do you think they look like?|
|Although Gyeongbokgung Palace was originally built in the late 14th century, it was burned to the ground during Japan’s Hideyoshi invasions after some 200 years. When King Gojong rebuilt the palace in 1868, he created a virtual city with over 300 buildings covering 64 hectares. In fact, ancient Seoul’s five palaces formed a royal compound that was second only to Beijing’s Forbidden City. Sadly, when the Japanese government annexed Korea in 1910, it razed 90% of the royal buildings and gardens.
Today, both the president’s official residence, Cheongwadae, and the Cheongwadae Sarangchae are located on former palace grounds.
|Address: Seoul, Jongno-gu, Hyoja-dong 150; Phone Inquiries: 02-723-0300; Hours of Operation: 09:00 ~ 18:00; Closed Mondays. More information: http://cwdsarangchae.kr [Korean only]|