Ibike Korea People-to-People Program



Photo essay: Seoul City Fortress Wall
(Northern Half)



  Namdeamum (South Gate), Seoul (2004) Namdeamum (South Gate), Seoul (2006)Namdaemun (South Gate) is appropriately named because it was literally the south gate into the city through the old Fortress Wall.  Namdaemun is National Treasure number 1. What once marked the edge of the city has long since been engulfed by it, but that hardly diminishes its elegance.  In 2004, it sat inside a traffic circle (left) with five lanes of traffic continually swirling around it. By 2006 it had been "rescued" (upper right).  All of the traffic is diverted to west flank of the gate and pedestrians have access to the gate from the east.  The regular "changing of the guard" ceremony was restored, as well. 

Namdeamum (South Gate), Seoul (2013)Ironically its 'rescue' may have facilitated its demise because in 2010 it was torched by an arsonist.  To find, collect and properly cure the old growth timber need for and authentic restoration of the structure took several years.  Fortunately the construction fences came down in 2013 and the gate is again visible.  While it is accessible to visitors, it is now difficult to get to any part of it that might be flammable.

  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea The City Fortress Wall dates back to 1396-98.  Historically it was 18.2 km and had nine gates. Today only about 10.5 km of the wall remains, most of it snaking across the highest peaks north of the city, with just major gates surviving on the city’s lowland area. The wall is about 6m thick at the base and stands between 3m to 6m high.

The journey begins near what would be the west gate and travels clockwise around the city to the existing East Gate.

  Modern outpost, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Modern fence, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Along the northern arc, it turns out that there is not only an old wall but also a "new wall" as well.  Much of this section is a formally designated military zone. To walk one section you need to register, present a passport and receive an ID badge to wear around your neck.  Who knows what all of the aspects of the "new wall" are: In some places there are chain link and barbwire fences. In other places you get a glimpse of an occupied outpost or see the tip of an anti-aircraft gun.  There are section were the woods seem to be filled with electronic devices and these are probably only the tip of the ice berg.  There are plenty of signs indicating no photography and keeping you on the trail.


  Photographing sunflower, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea It is hard not to occasionally muse about the "new wall", but it is generally better left ignored -- as best you can.  Let the flowers distract you.

Awareness of the "new wall" made me reticent to take a lot of pictures that I might have been able to.  The "no photo" signs weren't specific about what distance and what direction they applied, and there we long stretches without any signs.  Until I was most of the way along the trail and saw others take pictures in areas with no signs I wasn't embolden to record some of these perspectives. environmental awareness sign, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea

The human side of the trail include an environmental awareness signs which listed how long various types of litter last: cigarette butts - 1-5 yrs, plastic bags 10-20 yrs, nylon fabric 30-40 yrs, tin cans -- 50 years, aluminum cans -500 yrs, glass bottles -- 1000 yrs, plastic containers and Styrofoam -- indefinitely!

  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaPart of the interest of the trip is the wall itself and it snakes along up the ridgeline, over peaks and across the next saddle, then through a tranquil forest.  It is sort of a contradiction to its reason for being.
    This is mixed with various view of the of the built-up megacity expanding out through the valleys.  The ridge also provide a view of a brown layer of urban air pollution that I had never seen embedded among in the city buildings, as I usually am.
  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea
  Changuimun, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Changuimun, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaChanguimun is one of "Four Small Gates" (Sasomun) of the Fortress Wall.  It is located northwest of downtown Seoul.  This served as a major link to the north.  The gatehouse was burnt down during the Imjin Waeran (Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592.)  The gatehouse was rebuilt about 1740.  The gatehouse is currently the oldest gatehouse of the Sasomun. Visitors are allowed to visit around the gate, but not enter inside.  Attempting to do so will set off a laser alarm system!

From here the wall goes up over Bugaksan.

  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Sejong-ro from City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaBaegaksan (Mt.) (now called Bugaksan) was chosen as the Jusan (guardian mountain of a city) when Hanyang (Seoul) was chosen as the capital city of Joseon.  Hanyang was situated so that the Jusan Baegaksan was the northern boundary and Mongmyeoksan (present Namsan) was its southern boundary.  Naksan, to the east, was seen as the Eastern Blue Dragon (one of the four celestial animals in Fengshui).  Inwagsan, to the west, was seen as the Western White Tiger. The main palace, Gyeongbokgung, was built on the lower slope of Baegaksan, the guardian mountain and the rest of the city was built out from there.
  Blue House from City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea

Tree hit by bullets during the Blue House Raid on January 21, 1968, Seoul, Korea

At one point the roof of the Blue House was visible in the distance, seemingly in a forest reserve, tuck up against the base of the mountain.  This is the residence of the President.

There is a tree on Bugaksan that was hit by bullets as part of the aftermath of the Blue House Raid in January, 1968. The Blue House Raid involved thirty-one handpicked commandos from the elite all-officer Unit 124 of the Korean People's Army (KPA). This special operation unit trained for two years and spent their final 15 days rehearsing action on the objective in a full-scale mockup of the Blue House. After infiltrating the DMZ on January 19, the plan began to unravel when four brothers out cutting firewood stumbled across the commandos camp. The brothers reported the presence of the insurgents to the police station in Beopwon-ri. The raiders broke camp, quickly head south and slit up into cells as the neared Seoul. They regroup the next day at Seungga-sa Temple, where they made final preparations for the assault.  Meanwhile, the South Korean Army (ROKA) and police were undertaking a massive search for the stealthy team, who had changed into ROKA uniforms. On January 21, they formed up and prepared to march the last mile to the Blue House, posing as ROKA soldiers returning from a counter-infiltration patrol. The disguised assasin unit marched along Segeomjeong Road toward the Blue House, they passing several National Police and ROKA units heading out. At a checkpoint less than 100 meters from the Blue House the Jongro Polic Chief, Choi Gyushik (a national hero), approached the unit and began to question them.  When he grew suspicious of their answers, he drew his pistol and was shot by a commando. After a short firefight the KPA unit dispersed. Over the next eight days 29 members of Unit 124 were killed, one was captured, and the other was presumed to have returned to North Korea. South Korean causualties total 26 killed and 66 wounded.

  construction techniques, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea construction techniques, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaHere is a guide to the different construction techniques for the wall in the 14th, 15th and 18th centuries.  There are a lot of places were you can see the different patterns in close proximity to each other.  The conclusion would be, as specific sections of the wall deteriorated they would rebuild those segments.
  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaThe section (left) includes old wall, new wall and electronic wall.

Generally the trail was on top of the wall or parallel the wall on the inside. The section (right) had the trail on the outside.  There were indication that the area inside the wall were being used for other purposes that weren't so bucolic.

    A view of the main palace and Sejong-ro, into the heart of Seoul.
  North Gate, Sukjeongmun, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea North Gate, Sukjeongmun, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea North Gate, Sukjeongmun, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaUnlike the Northwest Gate and the Northeast Gate, which are at points where the ridge is low, and were heavily used, the North Gate, Sukjeongmun, is located where the ridge is high, behind the main royal palace and hardly used except for symbolic functions.  It was built, along with much of the rest of the this section of the wall in 1396. At some point the wood pavilion burnt down and was rebuilt in 1976.

According to the traditional theory of Yin, Yang and the Five Elements, the North Gate represented "water" and hence "shady energy."  With this belief, during the Joseon period, when the nation was struck by drought, the North Gate was left open and the South Gate was closed.

  trail in the city, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea

forest of high rise buildings, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea

berries on bush, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea directional sign, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea route map, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaAs the ridge gets lower and the wall reenters more built-up parts of the city the trail has a wider and smoother surface, there is more signage, some lighting and more ornamental plants.  The vistas of forests of trees are again replaced with vistas of forests of high-rise buildings.

Increasingly the wall is obliterated and the route follows city streets for sections. Even with more directional signage, as the route twists through city streets it can be hard to follow.  Several different signage schemes are used and it is sometimes hare to connect-the-dots, so it is helpful to carry a map as well.

  Hyehwamun, northeast gate, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Hyehwamun, northeast gate, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea Hyehwamun, northeast gate, City Fortress Wall, Seoul, KoreaHyehwamun is one of the Four Small Gates (Samomun) of the fortress wall. It is in the northeast section of the wall.  The gatehouse was built in 1744, but was demolished in 1928 due deterioration from age, leaving only the arched entrance.  The whole gate was destroyed during the Japanese Colonial Period to allow for the construction of tram tracks. The current gate, restored in 1992, is slightly north of the original site due to the road that passes it.

The wall continues for about 2 km more.  Most of the distance it is adjacent to school playgrounds, parks, greenbelts and low-rise residential areas, so it is a pleasant walk and used by local residents for recreation.

  City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea City Fortress Wall, Seoul, Korea
  Dongdaemun (the east gate), City Fortress Wall, Seoul Dongdaemun (the east gate), City Fortress Wall, SeoulIf you continue to the end of the wall a couple hundred meters through streets that join boulevards you will come to the ancient Dongdaemun (the east gate).  Once part of the City Fortress Wall that encircled the city, it is now tucked into and engulfed by the city.

This brings us a full half-circle around the city.


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