Episode 5: Hwaseong Fortress

Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, a striking illustration of excellent scientific technology and political philosophy, was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. Being highly praised as wise, practical and beautiful, this structure has a unique construction background, unlike other castles that were built mostly with military purpose.

In 1762, Crown Prince Sado was locked in a rice chest and left to die by his father, King Yeongjo, as a result of a conspiracy by his political opponents. Prince Sado’s son, who lost his father due to the tragedy, came to the throne in 1776 to become King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. The king began to re-instate his ill-fated father. First, he changed his father’s name from “Sado” which means “thinking of with sorrow” to “Jangheon.” Then he moved his father’s tomb to Mt. Hwasan in Suwon, one of the most promising areas.
In the process, local residents had to be relocated, and the fortress was built for the construction of a new town for them. But, if the fortress had been all about the king’s filial devotion, it would not have made the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

Welcome, Your Majesty.
Hmm… Haven’t you completed the assignment yet? I believe you are the greatest genius in Joseon. But you still keep your nose buried in this book. I’m guessing it is pretty challenging to construct Hwaseong Fortress.
It is a very tough issue. The purpose of the fortress is not only to show your filial duty, but to root out factional strife that will shake the future of the nation and to establish king-led politics based on strong royal authority. I’m just wondering how to design the fortress to achieve that purpose…
Since it is a difficult problem, I entrusted the task to an outstanding scholar like you. If you build a strong castle and create a practical and comfortable home inside, people will certainly trust and follow me. So, please think harder.

Fortresses in the Joseon era were divided into two types: a town fortress surrounding a village where residents lived and a mountain fortress where people were evacuated in case of war. Hwaseong Fortress was a castle city that had both functions. King Jeongjo sought to strengthen royal power to establish ideal politics. And he envisioned Hwaseong Fortress as a center for new politics and as a new town equipped with military, agricultural and commercial functions.
The fortress containing the king’s wish was designed by prominent scholar Jeong Yak-yong. He drew up a plan, referring to the architecture of Joseon and China and even Western science and technology.

Your Majesty, I have thought about the fortress walls, the size of the fortress, construction of the walls, digging a moat, laying the foundations, securing stones, paving the transportation route and making a new type of cart. Now I have a concrete plan.
Hard stones should be used to build the walls. They come in three sizes: large, medium and small. Large stones will be placed at the bottom and smaller stones at the top. With the stones piled up to fit together, the walls will be more solid.
But the thing is stones are heavy. To lift and carry the heavy stones, I invented a new machine called Geojunggi. Please take a look.

Based on Jeong’s creative design, construction of Hwaseong Fortress began in February 1794.
Measuring 5,744 meters in circumference and standing 4 to 6 meters high, the fortress surrounds the 130-hectare area where a new town and farmland were arranged. The four gates face each in the direction of north, south, east and west. The fortress originally had 48 facilities, including command posts called Jangdae and cannon posts known as Poru. It was a massive construction project that required a considerable amount of time and money, as well as a lot of manpower.

All the structures inside the fortress were designed precisely and laid out efficiently, making the most of the natural features. The structures include the temporary palace of Haenggung located at the center of the fortress, secondary walls called Ongseong designed to protect the main gates, and Hyeonan, where soldiers monitored the movement of the enemy.
Advanced machines used for the construction included Yuhyeonggeo, a two-wheeled cart designed to carry stones, and Nokro, which is an 11-meter high tool capable of moving big stones to a desired location. Initially, construction of the fortress had been expected to last for ten years. But, thanks to the scientific equipment, the fortress was completed within two years and nine months.
Hwaseong Fortress is a masterpiece that stands out even in the history of world architecture.

Hwaseong Fortress is a compilation of Joseon’s science and technology and contains King Jeongjo’s ideals and ambitions. Meaning “Flower Castle,” Hwaseong cherished the dream of a new age. It is the flower of construction culture in the late Joseon period.