Exploring Seoul Walls: Unveiling the Beauty of Naksan in South Korea

Seoul City Wall (Hangul: 서울성곽, Seoul Seonggwak), also known as Hanyang Doseong (Hangul: 한양도성, Hanja: 漢陽都城), is a boundary wall built by King Taejo in 1396 around the city of Hanyang, now known as Seoul. The wall spans 18 kilometers and features eight gates: four main gates, namely Sukjeongmun, Donuimun, Sungnyemun, and Heunginjimun, as well as four secondary gates. Currently, 12 kilometers of the wall and six out of the eight gates remain intact.

These ramparts hold significant historical value in the context of Seoul. In 1392, Yi Seong-gye overthrew the Goryeo Kingdom and ascended to the throne as King Taejo, the inaugural ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897). He decided to establish Hanyang (한양/漢陽), which is now Seoul (서울), as the new capital of the kingdom. The city, situated to the north of the Han River, was planned in accordance with the principles of Feng Shui.

With the aim of safeguarding the new capital and its palace, King Taejo issued an order for the construction of a surrounding wall. The massive undertaking commenced in 1396, mobilizing a workforce of nearly two hundred thousand men and spanning a duration of 98 days. Stretching across a total circumference of 18 km, the wall extends from Mount Bugaksan in the north to Mount Namsan in the south.

Suseonjeondo, a map of Seoul dating from 1840.

The wall consists of four main gates and four secondary gates strategically placed in different directions. The four main gates are Sukjeongmun in the North, Sungnyemun in the South, Heunginjimun in the East, and Donuimun in the West. The four smaller gates are Hyehwamun in the northeast, Gwanghuimun in the southeast, Souimun in the southwest, and Changuimun in the northwest.

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In 1422, King Sejong the Great initiated a significant renovation project for the fortress.

During the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945, the South-West, West, and North-East gates were destroyed in 1914, 1915, and 1928, respectively. Only the North-East gate was restored in 1975.

On January 21, 1963, the site was designated as South Korean Historic Site No. 10.

On February 10, 2008, the Great South Gate of Sungnyemun was tragically destroyed by an arsonist. Subsequently, a major reconstruction project commenced in February 2010. After three years of extensive work, the gate was reopened to the public in April 2013.

In December 2012, UNESCO accepted the South Korean government’s request to consider the inscription of the wall as a world heritage site.

The original walls, constructed in the late 14th century, were made of medium-sized round stones held together by mud. In the mid-15th century, during King Sejong the Great’s reign, a large-scale refurbishment project was undertaken, which involved replacing sections of the earthen wall with rectangular stone sections. A significant restoration was carried out in 1704 by King Sukjong, utilizing large, uniform stone slabs, which became the final distinguishing feature of Hanyangdoseong.

The eastern section of Seoul, being situated on lower ground compared to the other sections, was more vulnerable to external attacks. To strengthen its defense, a lookout was added to the outside of the gate. Additionally, a rectangular extension was constructed outside the walls between Heunginjimun and Gwanghuimun for this purpose.

Signal fire mounds were an integral part of the defense system. They were initially established in 1394 and remained operational until 1894. These mounds served as communication points, with signals transmitted across the country from one mound to another. During the day, smoke signals were used, while fire signals were employed at night. These signals would be received by the beacon located at the top of Namsan and then conveyed to the Royal Palace.

Sungnyemun Gate, Seoul
Hanyangdoseong, which shows restoration efforts made by the Seoul government
A snowy view of Fortress Wall of Seoul
A night view from Naksan Mountain

The Eight Gates of Seoul

The Eight Gates of Seoul refer to eight historical gates that were situated in the Fortress Wall surrounding the city during the Joseon Dynasty in South Korea. These gates were constructed between 1396 and 1398, marking their significance in the early establishment of Seoul. As of 2018, six out of the original eight gates still remain standing today, preserving their historical value and serving as landmarks of the city’s past.

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Heunginjimun, Seoul, South Korea

The Eight Gates of Seoul were strategically positioned based on the four cardinal directions and the four intermediate directions of the compass. Among the eight gates, the North, South, East, and West gates were referred to as the “Four Great Gates” (사대문), while the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest gates were known as the “Four Small Gates” (사소문).

However, two of the original gates, the West Gate and the Southwest Gate, no longer exist. Memorials now stand in the approximate locations where these gates once stood as of July 2012. There have been discussions and announcements regarding the reconstruction of the West Gate, but as of July 2012, no construction had commenced.

On February 10, 2008, the South Gate suffered severe damage in a fire intentionally set by an arsonist. The gate underwent reconstruction for over five years and was reopened to the public on May 4, 2013. The South Gate holds the distinction of being designated as National Treasure No. 1 of South Korea. Among the eight gates, the South and East gates are the largest and are situated in bustling market areas, namely Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market, respectively.

In addition to the Eight Gates, Seoul boasts numerous other gates with significant historical importance. Examples include Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace; Daehanmun, the main gate of Deoksugung Palace; Dongnimmun, also known as Independence Gate; and the remnants of Yeongeunmun, located adjacent to Dongnimmun in Seoul’s Seodaemun Independence Park.

Sukjeongmun Gate, Seoul, Korea
Sukjeongmun Gate, rear view, Seoul, Korea
Hyehwamun Gate, Seoul, Korea

List of doors 

Great Gates / 대문 / 大門
HeunginjimunHeunginjimunHeungin’s GateEast
Small doors / 소문 / 小門
GwanghuimunGwanghuimunKwangheemunSouth East
SouimunSouimunAkiyoshimonSouth West
Changuimuncreative doorChanguimun GateNorth West

Notes and references

  1. Return higher by:a and b The Fortresses of Korea  [ archive ] , french.korea.net
  2. Return higher by:a et b The Magnificent Gates of Seoul [archive], readinform.com
  3. Return higher by:a and b Seoul Fortress: A living historical testimony in the heart of the capital  [ archive ] , koreana.or.kr
  4. ↑ Gwanghuimun Gate (Gwanghuimun)  [ archive ] , visitkorea.or.kr
  5.  Remembering Sungnyemun [archive], english.hani.co.kr
  6. ↑ South Korea: Sungnyemun Gate restored  [ archive ] , rfi.fr
  7. ↑ Seoul Fortress added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List  [ archive ] , koreatimes.co.kr
  8.  Seoul City Wall [archive], whc.unesco.org
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Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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