The weather is finally warming up – albeit rather slowly – and it’s almost time to come out of winter hibernation. For Seoul’s hiking enthusiasts, start stretching your hamstrings, dust off the visors and walking sticks and prepare for new courses to rejuvenate your spirit for the outdoors.
Namhan Mountain’s Namhansanseong Provincial Park may be the best spot to start the hiking season, with its stunning vistas, 17th-century architecture and hidden gates and ancient fortifications.
Namhansanseong (literally “South Han Mountain Castle”) is administratively located in the city of Gwangju, Gyeonggi, about 24 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Seoul, but the fortress area stretches to Hanam and Seongnam. Today, Namhansanseong refers to not just one fortress, but four fortresses on the mountain.
According to park officials, more than 2.8 million people visit Namhansanseong every year.
A place where history resides
In the winter of 1636, King Injo of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) took refuge in Namhansanseong during the second Manchu Invasion of China’s Qing Dynasty. He stayed inside the fortress for 47 days, but eventually surrendered to the Manchus.
Throughout history, Namhansanseong never fell to enemy hands. However, King Injo’s bitter moment during the second Manchu Invasion still stigmatizes the image of Namhansanseong to this day. Despite being an impregnable fortress, Namhansanseong was unable to save the king from his fate. But from the Baekje (18 B.C. to 660) to the Unified Silla (668 to 935) and Goryeo (918-1392) periods, the fortress protected the people of Seoul and stands to this day.
After defending against two attacks from Mongol forces in the Goryeo Dynasty, Namhansanseong was renovated during the reign of King Injo of Joseon, starting from 1623. He decided to establish a village with military and administrative functions inside the fortified area. The king built the Haenggung (temporary palace), Jongmyo (royal ancestral shrine) and Sajik (altar for state guardian deities and the land and grain gods), including 10 temples.
The fortress still has 12 cultural assets, although the Buddhist system was abolished in 1894 and such valuable heritage structures were burnt to ashes by the Japanese army in 1907 during the colonial era.
To promote and introduce the fortress to the world, the Cultural Heritage Administration last February decided to file Namhansanseong in the tentative Unesco world heritage list. The government agency is planning to submit its official application next January. The result is expected to come out in June 2014.
In a related move, the renovation and repair work of Haenggung is almost close to the final stage, opening to the public six times on the weekends only. The full-time opening is scheduled for May.
“It will be fun to just hike and stroll near Namhansanseong, but I think it is also important for visitors to appreciate the history and cultural heritages in Namhansanseong,” said Choi Dong-wook from the Namhansanseong Cultural & Tourism Initiatives.