Hwasong Fortress in Suwon

Background and significance of the construction of Hwasong castle.

The book, which contains the construction process of Hwasong castle, is a book, which is as famous as The Law of Shi Huangdi, First Emperor of China. This book called the Hwasong Seongyeok Uigwe (), or the Archives of the Construction of Hwasong Fortress, shows the construction of Hwasong castle (1794-1796) during the reign of Jeongjo (reigned 1777-1800). The book is now stored in Kyujangha (the cultural library of Seoul National University). Hwasong is also known as Suwonsong or the fortress of Suwon town.

Originally Suwon was located at the foot of the Hwasan mountain range. It's near Osan, about 8 km. away from Suwon some 30 km. south of Seoul. Hwasong castle was built by Jeongjo, the 22nd king of the Choseon Dynasty, for his late father. King Jeongjo's father, Sado Seja, the second son of the 21st king, King Yeongjo, had been installed as crown prince but was condemned by his father to be imprisoned in a rice chest where he died. King Jeongjo moved the tomb of his father from Beabongsan to Hwasong in Suwon and moved Suwon-bu to the vicinity of Padalsan mountain.

Jeongjo innovated domestic administration, enhanced learning to establish a library called Kyujanggak and encouraged industry and mechanics. Building the walled city, Hwasong, was one of his political deeds.

Hwasong was derived from Hwasan, the name of both the old town and the mountain were the tomb was located. The hwa in Hwasong and Hwasan were believed to have a phonetic resemblance. Hwasan was also called the 800 peaks surrounding a peak, therefore looking like a flower bud (Hwa) and the Hwa of Hwasong (Fortress of grass?)

The construction is an example of how Korean and Chinese construction could go together. The total length of the walls of Hwasong is 5,520 mtr. It is a flat type of mountain fortress build alongside the Paldal mountain in the west and on low hills and level ground in the east. It has various defensive facilities such as; four gates, a secret gate, a flood gate, a watch tower, an empty watchtower, empty signal fire towers, fortress tower, commander's pavilion. Until then the castles of Choson were divided into a castle to live in and a mountain fortress wall to protect refugees in times of war. Hwasong however stands out, since it has both functions.

It is a remarkable fortress for several reasons since it has watchtowers and loopholes. It was basically the first fortress to be build with Western technologies which were brought in from China a century before. It has a remarkable use of a combination of stone and bricks.

It's location would allow the king to have easy access to the tomb of the Jeongjo's father. The underlying background however was a completely different one. It was an attempt to balance the power between various political partisans and to test the potential of a new center of national spirit, in short, an attempt to build satellite cities scattered along the outskirts of the capital Seoul.

The process of construction.

Jeongjo changed the name from Suwon-bu to Hwasong. Chae Je-gong, a former minister and the magistrate of Yeongjung chu -bu Prefecture, presided over the project and Jo Sim-tae was the superintendent, which was fully carried out between January 1794 and September 1796 with the help of scholars of the Practical Learning (sirhak) school such as Chong Yak-yong who was well acquainted with mechanical devices which facilitated the construction. The arch of the Janganmun (Jangan means capital) was completed in July 1794. A many storied building and Jangnakdang of Padalmun in August 1794, Banghwa Suryujeong, "the Pavilion to Enjoy the Flowers and Willows" in October, Kangmudang in January 1795, the north fortress tower in February, the south fortress tower in October and the west fortress tower in May 1796.

Banghwa Suryujeong, "the Pavilion to Enjoy the Flowers and Willows" is located on the cliff next to the Yong pond which has willow trees around it. It is indeed a pitoresque place till now.

There were 4 gates in the north, the Jangan gate or Janganmun in the direction of Seoul. In the south there was the Paldalmun with the meaning of opening all directions. East of the Janganmun was the Changryongmun and to the west the Hwaseomun. The inauguration festivities were held on October 1796.

It took only 28 months to complete the Hwasong construction without counting the 6 months when there were no building activities. By using the technologies brought in from China a considerable amount of money and time were saved. For the construction 642 masons, 335 carpenters, 295 plasterers and 11,820 painters and tilers were mobilized. All in all there were 70,000 workers mobilized for the period of one year.

The laborers were mobilized and were to be paid reasonably instead of the usual force labor and received Joksoje (heat-fighting herbal medicine) as well. 187,000 stones, 695,000 bricks, 26,000 pieces of timber were used and the laborer were provided with 6,200 sok (bags) of rice and 4,550 sok of beans. The Hwason wall surrounds a total surface of 873,520 nyang (old measurement = 130 ha) and has a total a total length of 5.74 km.

Many other facilities were also constructed, amongst others the Hwasong Haenggung or the Royal Country Palace, the Jungposa and Naeposa Armories and the Sajikdan or the altar to offer sacrifices to the guardian Gods of the state. Most were burned down in the course of wars and uprisings. However, Naknamheon, an annex hall of the Royal Country Palace, has partially survived.

During the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War, some facilities of Hwasong Fortress were damaged or burned to ashes, but from 1975 to 1979 the Korean government and the Suwon municipal government undertook an overall restoration, basing it on Hwasong Seongyeok Uigwe, or the Archives of the Construction of Hwasong Fortress. Now 41 facilities out of 48 have been rebuilt in their former splendor and beauty.

The fortress is unique in the world and different from the ones built in China and Japan. It has a multifunctional design which includes a military, political and commercial center and was built both on flatland and on hilly terrain.

Nowadays it is a monument worth visiting since the walls are surrounded by a so-called 20 meter wide greenbelt to protect it against influences of urban life. This makes it an wonderful place to visit and walk along the walls or on them, basically you can have a splendid all around the castle walls.

Finally Yungneung has the tombs of Sado Seja and his queen Kyeongui and Geonneung has the tombs of King Jeongjo and his queen Hyoui. This was believed to be geomantically the most auspicious burial site in Korea, so Jeongjo reburied his father here. King Jeongjo eventually was buried next to his father.

These are the drawings made for the fortress

Today much of this fortress still can be seen (click on the image to see a full picture, patience, they are big)
Henny Savenije

Pictures on this website are watermarked and copyrights are deposited at Digimarc


Gate to the capital
(from the outside) (Janganmun)

Gate to the capital
(from the inside) (Janganmun)

North floodgate (Hwahongmun)
( from the outside)

North floodgate
(from the inside)

South floodgate (Namsumun)
(from the outside)
South floodgate
(from the inside)

Tower northeast
(from the outside)
(interior view)

Tower northeast
(from the outside)

Tower northeast
(from the inside)

Pavilion in the northeast corner
(from the outside)
Pavilion in the northeast corner
(from the inside)

Several ornaments and water reservoir and loopholes

Several ornaments for drainage etc.

Several ornaments, stairs, balustrades etc.

Bricks and molded stones.
Signal lights.

The great hoisting crane

Several parts of the hoisting crane


Pictures of the several buildings

Links to other sites about Korea

You are visitor

since August 14, 2002

How to get to Suwon Castle

The official site of Suwon city (English)

Hwasongsong in the Choson anals

A beautiful site with moving animations about Hwasongsong (in Korean)

A beautiful site with lots of pictures (in Korean)

Another one with beautiful pictures (in Korean)

Another link to Hwasongsong

Another one on Korea insights

Seoul Tour - Fragrance of the Emperor

History of Korea by Radio Korea International, where Hwasong is mentioned

History about the castle (text only)

Shilla magazine about Hwasong
(with some old pictures)

Tour to the castle

A site from the Airport about Hwasong

Another tour to the castle

The history of the first westerners in Korea

The history of Western maps of Korea


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