Friday, April 15, 2011

The Seoul Fortress Wall

 On Sunday we decided to hike along the Seoul Fortress Wall that starts from Dongdaemun in the east and ends at Seodaemun in the west. Nearly three years in Seoul now and I can't believe I only just found this gem last weekend. The hike is exciting and diverse. It brings you through poor neighborhoods you'd never think could exist, affluent neighborhoods in which you wish you lived, amazing nature, an actual military controlled area where you need to show an ID to enter along with some breathtaking sights of the mountains and the city alike. It's not a particularly hard hike and from start to finish we probably could have done it in 6 hours if we hadn't taken so many photos and breaks. This is a must do in Seoul. I haven't said that in a long time, but this is officially one of my favorite places in Korea now. The only thing that ruined this day was the terrible air quality on Sunday. Try to get out here on a clear day so you can get the best photos possible!

The wall has a high road and a low road. We took the high road and subsequently the wall looks quite small and not very protective from this angle. Were you to look from the other side on the low road you would realize that this wall is built on the side of a hill and is probably a good 10 meters high.

As you start along the high road from Dongdaemun you'll encounter all sorts of old style houses in various states of (dis)repair.

We were very impressed with this house for rent sign. Translated, it reads: Apt 1: two big rooms, one small room, living room, kitchen, bathroom. 5,000,000 deposit and 400,000 per month. Apt 2: One room, kitchen, bathroom. Deposit 2,000,000 and 200,000 per month. If you know anything about real estate in Seoul, you can imagine what kind of place this must be to be so inexpensive. 

As we aproached the top of the hill we found ourselves in a park called 낙산공원 or Naksan Park. The park boasts impressive views if you make the trek up the hill along the wall from Dongdaemun. We saw lots of folks having picnics and having fun at lunchtime on Sunday.

If you take the time to read the info panels along the trail you can learn a little bit about the history of the wall. As you can see in the photo above, the stones used are vary quite a bit. The smaller stones that are misshapen are the original stones, used when the wall was first constructed in 1396 under the reign of King Taejo. The small but rectangular stones were added in the year 1422 under the reign of King Sejong in order to strengthen the city's protection. Finally, you can see the larger blocks which were added in 1704 under the reign of King Sukjong to repair and reinforce the wall. While much of the wall was damaged during the Japanese colonial period, it's amazing to think that this wall still remains for visitors to see today.

After walking off the path in Hyehwa for a bit and jumping back on a bit further down (there are a few points where the wall does not connect) we soon found ourselves at a checkpoint. Because of the assassination attempt against South Korean president Park Chung Hee in 1968, there has been a strong military presence here on Bugaksan due to it's proximity to the Blue House. This area was completely off limits until a few years ago. Now, to enter, you must show passport or ARC as a foreigner and are only allowed to take photos in a few designated areas.

This was one of the designated areas. It reminds me of a mini version of the Great Wall of China here.

This was another designated photo spot. This tree was caught in a gun fight between the North Korean assassins and South Korean troops. But, it seems to be a resilient tree. It seems to be surviving well despite the trauma of 1968.

While we had planned to walk the entire wall, the knees were starting to hurt and I hadn't eaten a real meal all day. We decided to get off the path at the end of the military zone, which incidentally is right next to Club Expresso in Buam-dong and got some drinks and much needed nourishment. I hope to do the rest of the hike at some point, although the rest of the hike goes through Inwangsan, which I have hiked before, so if I don't make it, it won't be a big loss.

You can walk along the fortress wall for a short stroll or for an all day event. You can start from the end points either at Dongdaemun or Seodaemun near Inwangsan or you can start in the middle from many points. Maps can be found upon entering the military run park for more information.


  1. This is a great gem. I'm looking forward to the time when all four main gates are back to their full glory!

  2. I did a little of the Seoul Fortress Wall with a tour from oneday korea ( and I found it really good!
    I was more than just hiking the fortress, so quite different from what you did but still a great experience. It enables to discover a bit of Seoul I would never thought to see !