History Lifestyle

Hwaseong, The Fortress That Almost Didn’t Happen

Fact Attack!

Source: Rob Marsh Sep 2014 @inspiremekorea

Nestled at the center of the beautiful city of Suwon is the impressive Hwaseong Fortress. The intention was to move the nation’s capital to a location that would take invaders longer to reach as well as offer protection to traveling merchants that were often the target of bandits along the long trade routes to and from Seoul. The Fortress only took 2 years to complete and was the first governmental structure built in Korea that the workers were actually paid for. The outer wall ran nearly 6 km (3.6miles) encompassing over 1.3 square km (1/2 sq mile) with 4 main gates. As impressive as these basic facts are, there is so much more to this story!

A Son Honours His Father

Source: Rob Marsh Sep 2014 @inspiremekorea

From an outsider’s perspective, Hwaseong Fortress looks like a loyal son fulfilling the wishes of his father but there is much more to the story. King Jeongjo got the idea of building Hwaseong from his late father – Prince Sado. The Prince was often known to speak out – saying that the Korean Capital should be moved to where the present day city of Suwon now stands. He invisioned a fortress large enough to protect the surrounding residents yet small enough to easily defend from a single central command post; Incorporating tactics and technology of both the traditional Korean and the new western worlds. Though it is unclear whether this was one of the reasons why his own father sentenced him to death, it clearly was not the popular opinion of the day. It’s said that he was put to death by being stuffed alive into a rice box after refusing to commit suicide as his father ordered. After assuming the throne, his son commissioned the city to be built in the image his father had envisaged and in 2 short years it was ready. Because he had been sentenced to death, Prince Sado’s remains were not placed with his ancestors so King Jeongjo created a special place for his father to be relocated to within the new royal city. Since it was said that Prince Sado may have been a very abusive father himself, this may have only been a symbolic gesture showing that one cannot prepare for the future if they don’t first honour the past. These stories may or may not be true however, if they are, it makes it even more surprising that the King would go to such lengths to honour his father.

Saving History

War has an unfortunate way of stealing from much more than the people who must experience it first hand. All too often, beautiful pieces of history are damaged or lost completely. Hwaseong was not able to escape this tragic truth and stood in ruins for years. Luckily, the original documents used in the building of the great fortress were well preserved. Their survival allowed for a genuine restoration in the 1970’s and kept everything as close to the original as possible.

Inspiring More Than Awe

Source: Rob Marsh Sep 2014 @inspiremekorea

As you watch the martial arts displays and the guard changing ceremony, your mind starts to spin with thoughts of what life was like when the fortress was in its prime. Imaginations run wild within the grounds where you could almost forget which time period you’re really in. You are not alone! The impressive structure has inspired many before you and was even the inspiration for stories and TV shows like, “Eight Days, Assassination Attempts Against King Jeongjo.”

We encourage you to come and explore this beautiful monument for yourself. What secrets will whisper to you from the shadows? What stories will your heart and mind invent? It’s impossible to not daydream at least a little and when you’re done, it’s a short walk back to the present for a drink and maybe some food while you visit our blog for more ideas on where to go next. We’re looking forward to hearing about your adventures and we hope that we will bump into you in the beautiful country of South Korea!

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Featured image: ©Rob Marsh, Sep 2014,

Robert Marsh

Crazy American soldier who fell in love with the beautiful country, culture, and people of Korea. I started to learn more of the language and culture before I discovered kpop and kdrama



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