The Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival was selected as one of 2013’s ten “Outstanding Festivals of Korea” by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Originally a regional festival in Suwon that started half a century ago, the festival became established as one of the major historical and cultural festivals in Korea.
In order to fully appreciate the festival, visitors are advised to understand a few historical facts before visiting to help better understand the meaning of King Jeongjo’s Royal Parade to his father’s tomb and the 24 martial arts performances, both of which are important festival programs. A famous scholar during the reign of King Jeongjo wrote that “one only sees as much as one knows.” The more you know about these related historical events, the more you will be able to enjoy the festival.
Before you learn more about the historical events through this column, let us first learn more about King Jeongjo (1752-1800). At the heart of the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival is King Jeongjo because the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress would not have existed were it not for this king. He was the 22nd King of the Joseon Dynasty, a dynasty that ran between 1392 and 1910. He truly loved the common people (as opposed to the royalty or noble class at the time) and tried to enact true political, social and economic reform for his people’s interest. One result of his efforts is the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
If you are planning to make a trip to the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, read on to learn more about what the festival programs mean and their related historical facts.
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress & Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
▲ Janganmun is the main gate to the fortress. It is the largest of the eleven fortress gates.
▲ The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress features an interesting blend of the past and the present. The road is easy to walk on and gives a nice view of downtown Suwon.
▲ During the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace is the venue for various performances and events.
The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress represents the pinnacle of 18th century architecture during the late Joseon Dynasty and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. King Jeongjo mourned his father Sado Seja’s death (Sado Seja was the crown prince at the time of his death) and set out to move his tomb to a noted myeongdang* site. That site is now the City of Suwon. As the Joseon Dynasty had been marred in factional strife and corruption at the time, King Jeongjo wanted to move the capital as part of political reform. With the intention of making the site the new capital of Korea, the king began the construction of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
The fortress was elaborately designed to be both effective in defense and on the attack. It represents outstanding originality and beauty, and is considered among the finest works of Korea’s ancient architecture. The king frequently visited the site and a royal villa was built where he and his subjects stayed during visits. This is the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, which is larger and more impressive than any other royal villa.
* What is a myeongdang site?
According to Feng shui, it is the belief that the direction or topographical feature of a tomb (or a house) can affect one’s life. A myeongdang is an auspicious site that is believed to be a favorable location for a tomb or a house.
☞ Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (UNESCO World Heritage site)
☞ Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
Visitor information: Hwaseong Train
☞ Hwaseong Train
While you are visiting Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, make sure to take the Hwaseong Train. While it is great to walk along the fortress, looking at it from a train will allow you to appreciate it from a new perspective. The train runs between Yeonmudae and Mount Paldalsan and takes about 30 minutes. The fare is 1,500 won.
• Yeonmudae → Mount Paldalsan (10:00-17:10), 12 departures a day
• Mount Paldalsan → Yeonmudae (09:50-17:20), 12 departures a day
※ There are 11 departures a day from November to February.
Suwon Hwaseong Museum
▲ Model on display showing the construction of the fortress.
The Suwon Hwaseong Museum has exhibits on the construction of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, the historical events and cultural background at the time of the construction, and modern fortress-related artwork. Relics, realistic models, photos, and videos help visitors better understand the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The museum is well organized and features some very helpful displays.
Part of the fortress was destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953). Despite the fact that the fortress has been restored, it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to a completion report entitled Hwaseong Seongyeok Uigwe (1794-1796). The report provided the details and particulars about the design and construction process for the fortress and includes the number of people involved in the construction, the materials used, and construction method with pictures.
☞ Suwon Hwaseong Museum
Major ProgramsRoyal Parade and Martial Arts Performances▼ Photo courtesy: Suwon Cultural Foundation
▲ The Royal Parade of King Jeongjo is passing by Janganmun Gate.
▲The Royal Parade features various performances.
▲The Total Performance of Martial Arts is a reenactment of a nighttime military drill of the time (bottom left).
The Royal Parade of King Jeongjo is the highlight of the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival. The royal procession is a reenactment of King Jeongjo’s visit to the tomb of his father Sado Seja after moving it to Suwon. To reenact the royal parade in its full grandeur, approximately 2,000 people and 100 horses are mobilized for the event. This large-scale procession starts at the Suwon Main Stadium and passes by Janganmun Gate, Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, and Paldalmun Gate before ending at Jidong Elementary School. The procession lasts for about four hours and offers various performances along the way.
The “Total Performance of Martial Art” is another major event of the festival held in Yeonmudae. It is a reenactment of a night-time military drill during the reign of King Jeongjo. This action packed and entertaining performance is just as fun as the Royal Parade of King Jeongjo.
24 Martial Arts Trial Performance
▲ A performance of twenty-four martial arts techniques accompanied by traditional Korean music and dance.
King Jeongjo considered that having a strong army was just as important for a new start as moving the capital. He formed an elite contingent comprised of the best men and they were instructed through a combat book entitled Muyedobotongji. The elite unit practiced these combat skills, which are known as Muye 24 Gi, or the 24 martial art skills. The techniques incorporate the use of various weapons, including a bow, sword, and spear. In compiling these techniques, all ground combat skills and horseback combat skills of the time were collected, and the top techniques were selected and refined.
▲ Landscapes vary by time during the lamp festival.
A lamp festival is organized along the Suwoncheon Stream that runs between Suwon Haenggung Palace and Suwon Hwaseong Museum. The lamps represent the fortress’ construction work, King Jeongjo’s royal parade to his father’s tomb, and the 24 martial art techniques. The lamp parade continues down to the traditional market near the Paldalmun Gate. The parade lasts about 20 minutes. Visitors are recommended to watch the festival during the day, attend the lamp festival around sunset, and visit the traditional markets afterwards.
Get Hands-on with Korea’s Traditional Crafts
Various hands-on programs are organized at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace like trying on royal clothes and trying out the tools that were employed during the construction of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The most engaging hands-on program is making traditional Korean crafts. Visitors can make hanji paper craft, sotdae*, or pottery. Interestingly, the program fee is paid with ancient money called yeopjeon. The programs are available not only during the festival period, but also on weekends from March to November.
* What’s sotdae?
A sotdae is a tall wooden pole or stone pillar with a carved bird on top. It was usually built near entrances to villages to represent the villagers’ wishes for prosperity and well-being or to celebrate good news.
Other EventsA variety of other events are organized, including walking around the fortress on traditional straw shoes (shoes of the commoners during the Joseon Dynasty), a reenactment of a royal function during the Joseon Dynasty, a fireworks show, a music concert, and food market.
Nearby Tourist Sites and Regional Food Nearby Tourist Sites Paldalmun Gate
• Photo courtesy:
Suwon Cultural Foundation
The Paldalmun Gate is situated on the south side of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The gate was frequently used by King Jeongjo during his visit to Suwon. Part of the gate underwent repair from 2010 to May of this year (2013).
Unlike the other buildings in the fortress, the Paldalmun Gate was built based on the model of Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate), showing King Jeongjo’s intention to make Suwon the new capital of the nation.
☞ Paldalmun Gate
Suwon’s Traditional Markets
Around the Paldalmun Gate, there are nine various sized traditional markets including the Paldalmun Market formed under instruction by King Jeongjo, Jidong Market, Motgol Market, Yeongdong Market, and Minarigwang Market. In between Paldalmun Market and Jidong Market, visitors can find a bronze statue of King Jeongjo having a drink on a plain table just like any ordinary citizens would have during the Joseon Dynasty.
Regional foodSuwon Wang Galbi
To build a fully self-sufficient city, King Jeongjo encouraged the development of the livestock industry. Even into modern times, interest in the livestock industry has continued, and in 1940 Suwon Wang Galbi (lit. king ribs) first appeared in Yeongdong Market. This juicy cut of meat was originally served in the form of beef rib soup, but it soon evolved into the grilled variety we know today. Compared to ribs in other regions, Suwon Wang Galbi has bigger ribs and more tender meat.
The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress would gradually become the city that King Jeongjo’s had planned to be the new capital. However, the king did not succeed in executing his plan fully as he died suddenly before being able to move the capital. Many do not believe in the historical records’ explanation of his death because the king was too young and healthy to just suddenly die.
King Jeongjo was a nuisance for corrupted officials and nobility because he stood by the people’s side and tried to move ahead with reform. He had many political foes and his life was often threatened. So, many people believe that he must have been assassinated. s
What is clear is that now we can walk around the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and learn about King Jeongjo’s aspirations and be inspired by it.
☞ 2013 Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival
☞ Location: Area around the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival https://shfes.suwon.go.kr (Korean, English)
Suwon Cultural Foundation http://www.swcf.or.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Suwon City http://www.suwon.go.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
☞ Inquiries: +82-31-290-3562 (Korean), +82-31-290-3523 (English), +82-31-290-3625 (Japanese), +82-31-290-3524 (Chinese)
☞ 1330 Korea Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese,