Seoul is preparing for inclusion of its 4th WHS in the city proper in 2017. ‘Hanyangdoseong’ covers its City Wall, originally constructed in the late 14th century. ‘Hanyang’ is a reference to the old name for Seoul, while ‘Doseong’ is a “walled city where a ruler lives”. The over 18 km-long wall was built along the ridge of Seoul’s four inner mountains. The site seems well on track for receiving foreign visitors, it already has an elaborate website in English and its own Seoul City Wall Museum.
12 km of the wall has been preserved, as well have the South Gate and the East Gate. The official website has extensive information about hiking trails on and alongside stretches of the wall. I choose the shortest and most accessible route, the Naksan Mountain Trail. I started from the southern end at Dongdaemun (East Gate) – the site of one of the best remaining gates, plus the location of the City Wall Museum. Dongdaemun has its own subway stop, and from there I took exit number 1. The way to the museum and the start of the hike is signposted by arrows on the street tarmac.
The museum is located in what looks like an enormous office building. It is solely used however for exhibitions on the City Wall. Entrance to its 3 floors is free. Lots of money has gone into restoring the wall over the past years, and the museum seems costly too. All has been done with future WH status in mind – I believe that there are very few countries nowadays willing to invest that much into self-promotion. The exhibits contain some interesting displays about how the wall was built (with help of lots of conscript labour from people outside the city).
The Naksan Trail starts right behind the museum. The track is easy to follow. It had been snowing lightly overnight (daytime temperature was still below zero), so I had to be somewhat careful on the steep slopes. For the first part of this trail one walks on top of the wall itself. There are good views on the inner city of Seoul and also the narrow streets of the old neighbourhoods close to the wall. The nomination will also include cultural sites close to the wall, but the ones that I passed on this trail (such as the Naksan Pavillion) I didn’t find too interesting. Other stretches of the wall may have more things to see.
I did enjoy my short hike though. The weather couldn’t have been better for a winter’s day – a little snow on the ground, bright blue skies and a strong sun. There were some other people (locals from the look of it) hiking as well. It took me about an hour to get to the smaller Hyehwamun gate, which lies within close reach of another subway station.
The builders of this wall had the local topography in mind. After having walked a stretch of it, I left with a different feel for this city. Downtown it is very crowded and people live in tiny spaces, but there are magnificent mountains around Seoul. The Wall also is a testimony to the city’s long history. And with all the effort put into it (then and now), I can't see why it wouldn't become a WHS next year.
Published 29 December 2016Leave a comment
Responses to Hanyangdoseong
Kyle (winterkjm) (30 December 2016)
I think Durian's point is an interesting one. Bukhansanseong seems to be on the path toward an extension of Namhansanseong. These would be mountain fortresses designed to protect the capital during an emergency, with Namhan fortress being a place of refuge if Seoul was in danger. Seoul City Wall protects the entire city of Seoul, but also was part of the daily routine of the capital, with gates being opened and closed during specific times. The Cultural Heritage Administration would argue there is enough distinction in function, purpose, events, and design that would warrant a separation of these fortress designs. Yet, how much fortification-related world heritage sites should one country have? Even if Korea is sometimes called the "nation of fortresses".
As far as authenticity, sure there are restored sections. Yet, I would caution any visitor to not be deceived by historic repairs during the 15th and 18th centuries. There are several sections that are relatively untouched by modern restoration. Specifically, the Bugaksan Area is a well-preserved portion. Nevertheless, nearly 6km of fortress wall sections have been lost, mostly during the last 100 years.
nan (30 December 2016)
I think the wall was heavily reconstructed. Like many sites in Korea. That to me would speak against inscription.
Durian (29 December 2016)
I also think that Seoul City Wall should be WHS, but in my opinion it should combined with Namhansanseoung and Bukhansanseong as single site of "Seoul Fortification System"