Castle Walls and Galbitang in Suwon

Near the end of the 18th century, in the midst of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea, King Jeongjo — ruler ar the time — formulated a plan to relocated the nation’s capital from Seoul to the smaller city of Suwon, located only 30 miles directly South.  The purpose of the move was to take advantage of Suwon’s more strategic location, utilizing the city’s proximity to the Western Sea and subsequent channels to China to its advantage, as well as to design a fortified palace that was better equipped to repel the attacks of enemy invaders.  After the construction on the new fortress began, but before the capital was formally transitioned to Suwon, King Jeongjo unfortunately passed away, and with him died the plans for relocation.  Whereas the city was never able to enjoy the limelight of being the royal capital, the construction of the palace and the fortress walls that were to protect it were completed and still stand today, providing an excellent glimpse into what this strategic and military headquarters could once have been.

As the next few hundred years passed, however, the city continued to move forward with the progress of time.  So instead of evoking images of bygone days in which armies rode across dust-laden plains on horseback and castle walls were protected by the skill of the city’s archers, the remaining fortress walls are now surrounded by the lights and commotion of electronics stores, modern restaurants, tourist hotels, and shopping arcades.  In fact, to get to Suwon from Seoul, all one needs to do is hop on the subway line and head south for about and hour (Suwon isn’t even the last stop, in fact).  This isn’t to say that the appeal of the fortress has been diminished in any way — just that the rest of the city around it now reflects the modern electronic age:

The streets of Suwon

Overlooking the Suwoncheon, with open-air markets located on either bank

A giant bell near the city center, illuminated at night

The streets of the city after dark

The heart of the fortress grounds is the Hwaseong Palace itself.  Although it was heavily damaged during the Korean War, meticulous written records allowed the palace to be reconstructed in its origin form.  Besides offering a secure command post for the rest of the nation, the palace was also constructed to house the remains of King Jeongju’s father, Prince Sado — who was, ironically, murdered by his own father.  Whereas the Hwaseong Palace isn’t as impressive as Geunjeongjeon or Changgyeonggung Palaces in Seoul in scale, it isn’t still without its own charms:

The entrance to the Palace

Painting on the doorway of the main gate

Walkway facing the Main Hall

Traditional clothing hung up in anticipation of a historical reenactment

One of several historical scenes depicted in the tile work of a courtyard outside of the palace’s front gate

The real appear of a visit to Suwon, however, lies in a hike around the fortress’ walls, which are South Korea’s only remained city walls that remain entirely intact (again, though, due to a bit of reconstruction after the Korean War).  The walls are dotted with lookout towers and looming gates, stretching to a total of nearly 6 kilometers in length.  The walk (or moderate hike, in a few parts) only take a little over an hour, but it offers plenty of scenic views back over both the palace and the city itself:

I happened to be passing by when a host of dancers were rehearsing a carefully choreographed routine. Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind an audience

The highlight of the hike is small courtyard at the peak of a hillside, giving an unobstructed view over the entire city and surrounding area

Further, access to the walls is open 24 hours a day, meaning that you’re free to climb around whenever the mood strikes you.  After having circumnavigated the entire perimeter during the day, it was a treat to get back out there in the evening and watch the lights slowly flicks on as the sun set in the background:

The Seonodae Pavilion, at the peak of the hillside

Hiking the fortress walls at night

As with most regions in this part of the world, each city or town has a specific regional dish that is native to that area.  The city of Suwon is most famous for their galbi dishes — though, admittedly, I already posted a few pictures of these barbecue like restaurants in my previous post, so I’ll save you any repeats.  Regardless, another variation that you’ll find all over Suwon is galbitang, a soup made by stewing beef short ribs in a clear broth with daikon radish and onions:

Galbitang, or short rib soup, complete with the many banchan dishes, of course

Though not native to Suwon — but keeping with the galbi theme — another excellent dish that I sampled with visiting was Dak Galbi (specifically Chuncheon Dak Galbi, from the city of Chuncheon further East).  In a huge pan in the middle of each table, pieces of chicken marinated in a spicy pepper sauce called gochujang are stir-fried with cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions, and chewy rice cakes (tteok).  Have a few napkins at the ready, too, as the dish is both a shirt-staining delight and one that is likely  cause a spice-induced sweat:

You have to specifically ask for it, but be sure to have the waiter cook up a batch of fried rice in the pan once you’ve finished, as the rice will soak up all of the leftover bits of spicy goodness from the Dak Galbi

And with that, my time in Suwon comes to an end.  My trip through South Korea continues as I next move south to sample some Bibimbap and meander amongst the hanok in Jeonju.  Until then, cheers from Suwon!

It has been a while since I’ve shamelessly plastered a self-portrait up here, so I figure I’m due

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

9 Responses to “Castle Walls and Galbitang in Suwon”

  1. Really liked the shot of the fortress walls at night. Such atmosphere!!

    • Thanks, Stepanie! It was a very cool experience to be able to walk around the walls at night, with spotlights shining on all of the look-out towers and the glow of the city in the background.

  2. I am really enjoying your travel tales Andrew. The photos, as usual, are great. I really like the Prayer Tree.

  3. lakshmilovestoshop Reply October 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Loved the ying and yang door…

  4. Thank you for sharing some of the history of an area about which I know very little.

  5. I just found your blog and I’ve already fallen in love with it. ^^ Your pictures are wonderful, thanks for sharing. 🙂

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