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Hiking through history on Namhan Mountain : Five courses to hike through history

Five courses to hike through history

There are five hiking courses established by the Namhansanseong Cultural & Tourism Initiatives. For first-time visitors, it is best to follow the fixed hiking courses, but once you get to know the site well, you can map your own paths based on the culture sites you wish to see.

Namhansanseong is located in a basin that is surrounded by fortress walls, meaning visitors have less of a risk of getting lost in the mountains. For those who need maps, visit the office of Namhansanseong Cultural & Tourism Initiatives that is located near the Sanseongjongno Rotary. It also has a guide service for those who wish to hear stories about each cultural site. For more information visit www.ggnhss.or.kr or call 031-746-1088.

Course 1
Sanseongjongno -> The North Gate -> The West Gate -> Sueojangdae -> Yeongchunjeong -> The South Gate -> Sanseongjongno (3.8 kilometers, about 80 minutes)

Course 1 is the most popular course for hikers. Most walk on the paved roads, but if you move alongside the fortress wall you can have a more rustic journey.

Starting from Sanseonjongno, visitors will first reach the North Gate, also known as Jeonseung Gate. The gate is believed to have been built during the King Injo era. Its name Jeongseung means “All Victories” in Korean, reminding visitors of the successful defenses against previous Manchu invasions. At the North Gate, visitors can see the entire city of Hanam.

Moving from the North Gate to the West Gate will also provide a beautiful view of the Han River and pass by one of the hidden gates that provided secret access to the fortress.

The West Gate is only about two meters tall. It was through this passage that King Injo went to surrender during the second Manchu Invasion. The area allows visitors to view nearby Seokchon Lake.

After the West Gate, visitors will reach Sueojangdae, the oldest structure in Namhansanseong. The word “jangdae” means a commanding office where generals gave order to soldiers. There used to a jangdae at each fortress, but this is the only one that now remains.

The final stop of the course is the South Gate, the main entrance of the Namhansanseong and a beautiful hiking area. It is also the easiest way to get inside Namhansanseong.

Sanseongjongno -> Yeongwoljeong -> Sungyeoljeon -> Sueojangdae -> The West Gate -> Gukcheongsa Temple -> Sanseongjongno (2.9 kilometers, around 60 minutes)

The hiking course 2 is the shortest of the five courses. Its pathway is within the course 1, but instead visitors can see more historical buildings and shrines.

About a five- to 10-minute walk from Sanseongjongno, visitors will first encounter a small pavilion named Yeongwoljeong. From the pavilion, visitors can see the site of Haenggung. Just 200 meters away is the small shrine of King Onjo, now called Sungyeoljeon.

Built in 1625, the Gukcheongsa Temple is a place where not only monks resided, but also military weapons, gun powder and food was stored. The original temple was damaged during the Japanese colonial era and reconstructed in 1968.

There are benches, mineral springs and restrooms around this pathway, allowing visitors to stroll casually and take rests along the way.

Administration Office -> Hyeonjeolsa Temple -> Beolbong Peak -> Janggyeongsa Temple -> Mangwonsa Temple -> Jisudang -> Administration Office (5.7 kilometers, around 120 minutes)

This course is the second longest course because it navigates through the far Northeastern part of Namhansanseong.

There are three temples included in this course and each has different characteristics. Janggyeongsa Temple is the only temple that has a unique appearance among the nine temples within the fortress and draws many history lovers.

Mangwonsa Temple is the oldest temple, but was burnt down during the Japanese colonial era and restored in 1990. It is also deep inside the fortress, which provides a peaceful atmosphere.

But the highlight of this course is visiting Beolbong Peak, the highest point of Namhansanseong. It is 512 meters above sea level, about 15 meters higher than Sueojangdae. From here, visitors will be able to view the west side of Namhanseong and look over the eastern walls.

In the old days, this was a place where soliders of the Qing Dynasty could look inside and spy on the fortress. To solve this problem, King Sukjong ordered the construction of the Bongam Castle and Hanbong Castle in 1686 to connect with Namhansanseong’s main castle.

But while other castles and fortress walls have been reconstructed over the years, Bongam has remained untouched. This is the perfect opportunity to experience what a fortress looked like in the 17th century.

Hikers will then reach Jisudang, a site used as a fishing spot for high government officials. It was written that the pavilion had stood in the center of three ponds, but only two ponds remain.

Sanseongjongno -> The South Gate -> Namjangdaeteo -> The East Gate -> Gaewonsa Temple -> Sanseongjongno (3.8 kilometers, around 80 minutes)

This course goes through the southern part of the Namhansanseong and is the best course to look around structure of ongseong, a crescent-shaped defensive structure created to prevent the enemy from attacking. There are a total of five ongseongs in Namhansanseong, but three of them are located in the south.

Visitors will not see gaudy pavilions or other cultural properties, but walking alongside the onseong will provoke your imagination when thinking about how the ancestors fought against enemies here. After passing through the South Gate, the biggest gate among the four, visitors will meet the three ongseongs and catch views of Seongnam and Geomdan Mountain.

Between the ongseongs, visitors will also have fun finding hidden gates as well. This course is an easy hike since the slope of the southern area is not steep. This is also the reason why there are three ongseongs in this part of the fortress because it was easiest area for enemies to attack.

Administration Office -> The East Gate -> Dongjangdaeteo -> The North Gate -> The West Gate -> Sueojangdae -> Yeongchunjeong -> The South Gate -> The East Gate (7.7 kilometers, around 200 minutes)

This course is the longest, but probably the best for those looking for to hike and catch all the sites. After all, it’s the only one that passes through all four gates.

If visitors want to extend the length of their hike based on this course, they should begin to go northeast from Dongjangdaeteo, as it links to Beolbong Peak and will be similar to course 3.

For those who follow this course, it is recommended they prepare their gear and make ready to test their stamina. But if it proves too difficult of a hike, visitors can always find an alternate route to leave the mountain. The signs at Namhansanseong are well organized and clearly demarcated to guide visitors safely.

Getting to Namhansanseong from Seoul
- Get off at Sanseong Station (subway line No. 8) and go out exit No. 2. Take city bus No. 9 and get off at the Namhansanseong bus stop. (Travel time: 20 minutes; interval of buses: 20 minutes)

- Get off at Macheon Station (Subway line No. 5) and go out exit No 1. The hiking pathways to the West Gate of Namhansanseong starts and will take about an hour.

- Take the 13 or 13-2 bus near Gangbeun Station (subway line No. 2) and transfer to the 15-1 bus at the entrance of Namhansanseong. Get off at the last stop.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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