Hikers experience Korea's history at Seoul Fortress
SEOUL — Today there are many roads that lead here into South Korea's capital, but for more than 500 years, a fortress wall encircled the capital city and residents and visitors entered and left through one of the wall's eight gates.
The fortress wall was originally about 11.3 miles long but today, 6.5 miles remain.
It provides hikers a look back at late 14th Century Seoul, as well as breath-taking views of today's thriving metropolis.
In 1396, King Taejo began construction of the Seoul Fortress Wall linking the Bugak Inwang, Nam and Nak mountains and encircling Seoul, which at the time had approximately 100,00 residents. At the end of 2011, more than 11.5 million people called Seoul home, according the city's Web site.
The majority of the construction on the wall was done during the agricultural off-seasons, with 118,000 people working for 49 days in January and February and, in August and September, 79,400 laboring an additional 49 days to finish the construction.
As technology changed, modifications were made to the wall. The original 1396 wall of "brick-size boulders" was added to in 1422 with rectangular stones. In 1704 hewn stones so heavy it took four workers to lift them, provided a sturdier wall. Along the Bugaksan stretch of the Seoul Fortress Wall the three major renovations can be seen.
Those willing to take on the rigors of the Bugaksan trail along the northern edge of the wall should bring a good pair of walking shoes and identification.
They'll need the shoes to make it up the endless steps to the top of the 1,122 foot mountain, which is also the highest point of the wall. (To start toward that from a distance of, say, 2.8 miles off, takes the average hiker about 2 hours and 20 minutes). They'll need the identification because the presidential palace Cheongwadae, also known as the Blue House, sits at the base of the mountain, and South Korean troops guard that area. It is only open until 5 p.m. and no hiker is allowed the checkpoint after 3 p.m.
From Cheongundae Terrace, at the top of Bugak Mountain, hikers get an aerial view of Gyeongbokgung Place and look down on the Seoul Tower. It also provides striking panoarmic views of the mountains to the north.
The stretch of wall also figured in a more recent of Korea's history.
On Jan. 21, 1968, a group of 30 North Korean commandos attempted to attack the Blue House. They made it to the wall before being confronted by South Korean defense forces. A gun battle broke out and a pine tree next to the trail still bears 15 bullet holes.
The wall is easily reached by taking the Seoul Metro lline 4 and exiting at the Hansung Univesity Station. This puts you at the northeast portion of the wall at Hyehwamum Gate. Turn to the right, you start climbing the Bugaksan foothills. Turn left and heard toward the Han River and Seoul Tower.
Be sure to pick up a map of the Seoul Fortress Wall at one of the four major gates. As you visit each gate, you stamp your map. Those brave enough to get all four stamps are rewarded with a commemmorative badge.