Namhansanseong is a former fort-turned-park in Gyeonggi Province in South Korea .

Located in a mountainous region dominated by the Namhansan , a few dozen kilometers from Seoul , the fort served as a “refuge capital” during the Joseon 1 period . Built by Buddhist soldier-monks, it houses many temples and is a “symbol of Korean sovereignty” 1 .

Namhansanseong was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List inJune 20141 .

Namhansanseong is a historical mountain fortress city 25 km southeast of Seoul, South Korea. It sits approximately 480 m above sea level and is aligned with the ridges of the mountain for maximum defensibility. The fortress, stretching 12 km in length, protects a vast area used as an emergency capital city during the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (1392–1910). The design is based on fortress architecture of East Asia, embodying aspects of four historical cultural styles: the Joseon of Korea, the Azuchi-Momoyama Period of Japan, and Ming and Qing China. It was extensively developed during the 16th to 18th centuries, a period of continuous warfare.

The fortress indicates how Buddhism played an influential role in protecting the state, and it became a symbol of sovereignty in Korea. It stands on the Namhansan (South Han Mountain), containing fortifications that date back to the 17th century and a number of temples.

Introducing Namhansanseong 

Located 25  km southeast of the center of Korea’s capital, Seoul, the mountain fortress city of Namhansanseong sits 480  m above sea level aligning itself with the mountain ridges in order to maximize its defensive capacity. The 12 km long fortress  protected a large area used as an emergency capital during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Based on the architecture of fortresses in East Asia, the fortress embodies the vast exchanges between four countries (Korea in the Joseon period, Japan in the Azuchi Momoyama period, Ming (China) and Qing (China)), particularly from the 16th to the 18th century on the occasion of continual wars. 

The technical development of weapons and armament during this period, which saw the use of gunpowder imported from Europe and used during the wars, thus influenced the architecture and layout of the fortress in a way important. Namhansanseong depicts how various theories of Korea’s defense mechanism have been put into practice by considering the daily lives of citizens and the goals of national defense. In addition, Namhansanseong concretely demonstrates the instrumental role played by Buddhism in protecting the state, and the fortress has become the symbol of Korea’s sovereignty.


The most obvious characteristic of Namhansanseong lies in its topographical advantage; there is a spacious, flat top called Gorobong, with a low center and high sides over 480 m above sea level, as well as being a high mountain over flat lands for easy observation of the surrounding area. Due to these traits, Namhansanseong had served as a command post since the Unified Silla era in the 7th century. Unified Silla constructed the Jujangseong fortress where Namhansanseong sits today to house men and to stock supplies when it was fighting the Tang dynasty in the 7th century.

In the 13th century, during the Goryeo dynasty, Namhansanseong was a stronghold against the Mongol Invasion. Since the 17th century, Namhansanseong, near the capital city of Seoul, grew greatly in size as a mountain fortress, serving as an emergency capital for the King of Joseon.

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Furthermore, Namhansanseong had been systematically managed and operated for over 300 years since its construction in 1624. Specifically, it was a battlefield during the Qing invasion to acquire hegemony in East Asia during the Ming-Qing transition in China. It was the spiritual symbol of the Joseon dynasty for sovereignty, as well as a place for military security until the 20th century. The rich history of Namhansanseong shows the exchange of Buddhist, Confucian, folk religion and Christian values from the time the fortress was constructed to the present day.Namhansanseong West Gate

The 17th century mountain fortress Namhansanseong was constructed as a planned city both to serve as an emergency capital city during war and an administrative center in peace. Traditional villages were typically located on flat lands adjacent to mountain fortresses built for shelter in emergencies. Namhansanseong was a self-sufficient defensive fortress where the local administrative town was placed within the fortress together with the Emergency Palace. Thus, it performed various functions such as defense, administration, business and royal ancestral rites. Unlike those seen in Europe and Japan that were intended to defend only the ruling class, Namhansanseong was a defensive structure within which both the ruling class and commoners alike could shelter.

Since the 17th century, Namhansanseong has been inhabited by over 4,000 people and has been managed and preserved by the residents for generations. Most fortress towns in Korea underwent severe deformation and change during Japanese colonial times and the period of industrialization and urbanization, resulting in losing their original layout and forms. However, Namhansanseong retained its original layout because the Japanese colonial government relocated the administrative functions and demolished its military functions in the earlier stage of colonization, leaving it as an isolated mountain village thereafter.

The characteristics of Namhansanseong have changed a lot throughout its history. It served as a military and administrative center with the Emergency Palace and administrative offices from 1627 to 1917. It was the center of the civil resistance movement (Uibyeong) centering on Buddhist monk soldier temples (Seungyeong) when the Joseon Dynasty fell and the Japanese colonial period was approaching in the early 20th century. However, the fortress was demolished and the temples were forced into closure by the Japanese in 1907.

The fortress lost its function as the town center due to the relocation of the Gwangju County Office in 1917, resulting in a downgrade to a remote mountain village. Then, the fortress suffered population loss and material loss during the Korean War. Nowadays, Namhansanseong is a tourist attraction, after undergoing large-scale wall restorations and being designated as a provincial park since the 1970s. It has seen a dramatic increase in the number of restaurants and various visitor facilities since the 1980s. The Emergency Palace and the Royal Ancestral Shrine within the fortress have been actively restored based on various studies on Namhansanseong since the 1990s, and it was listed on the World Heritage tentative list in 2010.

Inscription on the UNESCO list 

Namhansanseong satisfies two of the ten selection criteria required to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site (criteria 2 and 4): (ii) Namhansanseong is an excellent example embodying exchanges concerning technological progress in the field of armament construction and fortresses in East Asia, in the context of international wars. Namhansanseong is a city surrounded by a fortress whose purpose was to function as an emergency capital to protect Joseon’s sovereignty and independence. (iv) The walls and facilities using the rugged terrain embody the technological development of fortress architecture that was carried out in Korea from the 7th to the 19th century. 

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Around these values, Gyeonggi Province and Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation carry out various projects and researches in order to add Namhansanseong to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Therefore, inFebruary 2011, the Korea Cultural Heritage Administration has chosen, among the properties included in the Korean Preliminary List, Namhansanseong as a priority site to be encouraged to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Namhansanseong’s dossier for inscription on the World Heritage List has been submittedJanuary 2013, and after evaluation, Namhansanseong was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.

The haenggung (emergency palace) 

A haenggung is a place where the king stayed temporarily when he left his palace to travel outside the capital. In Namhansanseong, this type of palace was built in 1626 so that it could serve as a refuge in case of emergency (ex. war or civil war), thus replacing the palace in Hanyang, the former capital of Korea, until ‘upon the arrival of support forces. In fact, when the Qing invaded Korea in the second year of King Injo (1636), the king took refuge in Namhansanseong to fight for 47 days. Later, other kings such as Sukjong, Yeongjo, Jeongjo, Cheoljong, and Gojong used this palace on their way during their visits to the ancestor tombs located in Yeoju and Icheon. In Korea,

The tales of Namhansanseong

Tombstone of Seo Heun-nam

When the Second Manchu–Qing invasion of Korea broke out (1636), King Injo of the Joseon Dynasty sought refuge at Namhansanseong. On his way to the fortress, almost all of his vassals ran away, leaving only a few. The vassals took turns carrying the king on their backs to Namhansanseong and they all became tired on a cold winter day. At that moment, a woodcutter appeared and carried the king on his back safely to Namhansanseong. Sometime after, King Injo called the woodcutter, named Seo Heun-nam, and asked what he desired. He answered that he wanted to wear the king’s full-dress uniform, and the king gave it to him as a gift. In times after, during war, Seo Heun-nam spied on the enemy’s movements and made many contributions. When he died, he was buried with the king’s full-dress, and all passers-by would bow down to his tomb.

Cheongryangdang Shaman Shrine and Hawk Rock

When Namhansanseong was being constructed, General Yi Hoe took charge of the southeast section and the head of the monk army Beokam took charge of the northwest of the fortress. The construction in the north was completed within the deadline because of its gentle, flat terrain, but the construction in the south was not because of the steep terrain. Seeing that the construction was not completed, the king was going to punish General Yi Hoe, who replied that he had done his best and that a hawk would fly into the sky at his execution, which would demonstrate that he was guiltless. When this came to pass, a review was made that found that the section in question had been properly and strongly constructed. Cheongryangdang Shaman Shrine was built and sacrificial rites are performed to console General Yi Hoe for his unjust death.

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King Onjo at Sungryeoljeon Shrine

As King Injo was sleeping, an old man appeared to him and warned him to be careful as enemies were approaching. Immediately, the king gave an order to investigate and found out that enemies were destroying the fortress walls. Later, it came to be known that the old man was King Onjo, the founder of the Baekje Kingdom. In order to thank King Onjo for averting a national crisis, King Injo constructed Sungryeoljeon Shrine in commemoration of the founder. Sometime after that, in a dream of King Injo, King Onjo appeared again and requested that one of the king’s vassals be sent to Sungryeoljeon Shrine, where King Onjo stayed alone. Next morning, King Injo awoke to find out that General Yi Seo, who was in charge of the construction of Namhansanseong, had died, and he perceived that King Onjo took away the general. This is why King Onjo and General Yi Seo are enshrined together at Sungryeoljeon Shrine, where sacrificial rites are held once a year.

Scholars enshrined at Hyeonjeolsa Shrine

Hyeonjeolsa Shrine was constructed to comfort the souls of the three patriotic scholars, Hong Ik-han, Yun Jip and Oh Dal-je, and to praise their fidelity to the nation for their persistent objections to yielding to the enemy during the Second Manchu invasion of Korea. Later, Kim Sang-heon and Jeong On were enshrined together. The three scholars insisted on fighting to the end against the enemies when Namhansanseong was completely besieged by the Manchus who wanted to subjugate Korea before launching a full scale war to conquer Ming China.

In the end, they were taken prisoner as Joseon finally surrendered. Even when they were taken captive, they would not yield and they were beheaded. Hyeonjeolsa Shrine was constructed and sacrificial rites are held once a year to admire the loyalty of these three patriots.

By car 

south gate

  • Jamsil → Bokjeong Junction(signboard: Namhansanseong) → Yakjin-ro → South Gate → Sanseong Roundabout
  • Suwon → Singal → Bundang → Moran → Taepyeong Intersection → City Hall → Sinheung Jugong Apartments → South Gate → Sanseong Roundabout

east gate

  • Sheraton Grande Hotel Walkerhill → Cheonho Bridge → Gil-dong → Central Expressway Sangil-dong Interchange → Hwangsan Three-way Junction (National Road 43) → Eommi-ri(Eungogae)(signboard: Namhansanseong) → Gwangjiwon → Gate of East → Sanseong Roundabout
  • Central Highway Gyeongan Interchange(Seoul and Hanam National Road 43) → Gwangjiwon(signboard: Namhansanseong) → East Gate → Sanseong Roundabout
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Mohamed SAKHRI

Discover team

On this blog you travel with us around the world and discover beautiful places, stories, cultures but also mysterious places and some are even bizarre.

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