King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty built Seoul City Wall to protect the city of Seoul against invaders. The wall stretches approximately 18.2km and its area encompasses 467,922㎡. The wall has the four great gates (Heunginjimun Gate of the east, Donuimun Gate of the west, Sungnyemun Gate of the south, and Sukjeongmun Gate of the north) and the four small gates (Honghwamun Gate of the northeast, Gwanghuimun Gate of the southeast, Changuimun Gate of the northwest, and Sodeongmun Gate of the southwest). During King Sejong the Great and King Sukjong's reign, refurbishment efforts were carried out on the wall. Construction period and methods can be identified by the stone bricks of different shapes.
King Taejo stated that citizens were obligated to protect the inside and outside of the city wall and defend the country. Seoul City Wall surrounded Seoul along the ridges of Naksan Mountain, Namsan Mountain, and Inwangsan Mountain with Bugaksan
It only took 98 days to complete 18-kilometer-long Seoul City Wall. Furthermore, records show that the planned construction period was from January 9, 1396 to February 28, 1396. A tremendous amount of manpower was mobilized for Seoul City Wall in order to finish construction work before the busy farming season. The wall was divided into 97 sections and assigned to each region. You can easily find stone bricks engraved with lettering when walking along the wall. The name of the personnel in charge of each section was engraved in stone bricks for responsible construction.
Take a look at the shapes of stone bricks. You may think that all stone bricks have the same shape, but they don't. They have different shapes and are made of different materials. The time of construction can be divided into three: King Taejo who first constructed Seoul City Wall, King Sejong, and King Sukjong. During King Taejo's reign, rough and natural stone bricks were mainly used and small stones were inserted between stone bricks. In King Sejo's refurbishment efforts, properly sized stones were chiseled. Big stone bricks were laid at the bottom and small stone bricks were situated at the top. Roughly 300 years later, King Sukjong carried out five-year refurbishment efforts. During this work, stone bricks were chiseled into a rectangular shape to allow for substantial structures. Therefore, the time of construction can be estimated on the basis of the shapes of stone bricks.
You can look down both inside and outside the castle town from the city wall. Although numerous buildings are standing outside the castle town now, the outside mostly consisted of farmland and had a small population during the Joseon Dynasty. During King Sejong's reign, the population inside the castle town was estimated to be 103,328 and the population outside the castle town (within 10-ri) was 6044.
Seoul City Wall consists of four great gates and four small gates. The four great gates are now called Dongdaemun Gate, Seodaemun Gate, and Namdaemun Gate, respectively, according to their location, but they were referred to as something different at that time. The four great gates were named after in-ui-ye-ji (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom), adhering to the principles of Confucianism that Joseon Dynasty was founded on. Heunginjimun Gate (Dongdaemun Gate) means "Rising Benevolence" and Donuimun Gate (Seodaemun Gate) refers to "Loyalty Gate". Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate) literally means "Respecting Propriety". Bukdaemun Gate, also known as Sukjeongmun Gate, was intended to be called Hongjimun Gate, literally meaning "Widening Wisdom". However, high-ranking officials thought that they might find difficulties in ruling over the wise subjects. As a result, it was named Sukjeongmun Gate, meaning "Solemnly Ruling the People". Among the four great gates, Donuimun Gate, also known as Seodaemun Gate, no longer exists now. During the Japanese colonial era, imperial Japan destroyed some parts of Seoul City Wall by reason of modernization. During this period, Japan sold off Donuimun Gate for 205 Korean Won at auction and the gate was subsequently demolished. Even its traces no longer remain.
The four small gates were built between the four great gates: Gwanghuimun Gate between Heunginjimun Gate and Sungnyemun Gate, Souimun Gate between Sungnyemun Gate and Donuimun Gate, Changuimun Gate between Donuimun Gate and Sukjeongmun Gate, and Hyehwamun Gate between Sukjeongmun Gate and Heunginjimun Gate. Among the four small gates, Souimun Gate, also known as Seodaemun Gate, no longer exists now. Souimun Gate, just like Gwanghuimun Gate, was a gate where funeral processions passed through. As with Donuimun Gate, Souimun Gate was destroyed by imperial Japan and only its memorial stone is still standing in the site. Walking along Seoul City Wall, visitors feel a sense of sadness from the lost cultural assets and realize the wisdom of our ancestors.
The Seoul City Wall Guide Program consists of the four sections: the Changuimun Gate-Hyehwamun Gate section, the Hyehwamun Gate-Gwanghuimun Gate section, the Gwanghuimun Gate-Sungnyemun Gate section, and the Sungnyemun Gate-Changuimun Gate section. Visitors can choose one of the sections to walk along. I walked the Gwanghuimun Gate-Sungnyemun Gate section that passes Namsan Mountain, the center of Seoul. The tour started among a sea of buildings, but I soon found myself amid the past and nature during the tour.
Gwanghuimun Gate, one of the four small gates, is the start of the tour. It is located between Heunginjimun Gate and Sungnyemun Gate. As Gwanghuimun Gate was located near Ogansumun Water Gate and Igansumun Water Gate, it was also known as Sugumun Gate, literally meaning the "Gate of Water". It was also referred to as Sigumun Gate because all dead bodies inside the castle town were brought outside through the gate. It was surprising that the gate for the living and the gate for the dead were separated. After listening to the explanation about Gwanghuimun Gate, I felt a sad atmosphere that I had never realized before.
After passing Gwanghuimun Gate and the Sindang-dong residential area, we came across Korea's first gymnasium, Jangchung Gymnasium. The wall is connected from Jangchung Gymnasium to Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul. In this section, you can walk both inside and outside of the city wall. The slope becomes steeper here, so do not hurry but walk along the trail slowly. Looking down at Seoul from the city wall, you will feel the coexistence of the past and the present.
The Gwanghuimun Gate-Sungnyemun Gate section is quite long. To reduce inconvenience, people of Joseon built a gate called Namsomun Gate. You can see its remnants here. City Wall Trail eventually disappears at Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul. Do not worry and instead walk towards the National Theater of Korea. You will also come across the Freedom Center, a unique and splendid structure designed by Kim Swoo-geun. Now it's time to head to the top of Namsan Mountain along City Wall Trail. This section is like an architectural museum of Joseon. It contains stone bricks in different shapes that reflect the history of the city wall.
At the end of the wooded trail, you will find N Seoul Tower. On the observation deck, you can stop by the Octagonal Pavilion and the Namsan Beacons and look down at Seoul.
Near the Octagonal Pavilion, you will find the memorial stone of the site of Guksadang Shrine. Namsan Mountain was originally called Mongmyeoksan Mountain. At this location, King Taejo installed a shrine for Mokmyeon the Great, the god of Mongmyeoksan Mountain, and named it Guksadang Shrine. However, imperial Japan tore down Guksadang Shrine and built Joseon Shrine. This place represents a painful history of Joseon. While walking down the trail, you will come across Baekbeom Plaza and Ahn Jung Geun Memorial Museum. Visit here to remember their noble life. Soon after, you will arrive at Sungnyemun Gate.
Many people still remember a certain incident. 500-year-old Sungnyemun Gate, the first National Treasure of South Korea, was severely damaged over the course of five hours due to arson. After a five-year renovation effort, the gate was reopened in 2013. We should always protect our precious cultural assets, keeping in mind their values.
Seoul City Wall is our precious national heritage that has witnessed the history of Joseon for over 500 years and has stood by us for over 600 years. It is known that Joseon citizens used to take a walk around Seoul City Wall and enjoy the beautiful scenery on sunny spring days. Let's take a walk along Seoul City Wall and listen to the stories of the past and the present. You will surely be fascinated with all the beautiful nature and hidden history.