The Complete Guide: The 8 Gates of The Seoul Fortress Wall
The Seoul Fortress Wall runs 18.6 kilometers around the center of the city of Seoul and sits up high on the mountains of Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan and Inwangsan and sits down low running through Dongdaemun too. Initially built in 1396, it took 98 days and just over 197,000 people helped in the construction.
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The wall was divided into 97 sections and people from different prefectures were assigned to each section so that everyone helped out. The parts of the wall built on the mountains were formed with stones and the parts on lower ground were formed with earth though in 1402, the earthen sections were reconstructed with stone as well. The wall stood for the next 300 years before another reconstruction took place in 1704 to rebuild parts of the wall that had collapsed over time.
During the Japanese colonization period in Korea, Japanese overseers deliberately dismantled a number of gates including Donuimun and Souimun and Gwanghuimun and Hyehwamun Gates were damaged. Work to restore the gates was purposefully neglected until after the Japanese left and the Korean government could once again reconstruct the wall. As of 2014, 70%, or 12.8 kilometers of the Seoul Fortress Wall had been restored or reconstructed and Sukjeongmun, Gwanghuimun, and Hyehwamun were rebuilt. While the wall is interesting to walk along and provides a great walking path that is easily navigable for anyone that wants to take a walk or hike but doesn’t want to get lost, the gates are what provide the truly beautiful sights along the way.
Along the wall were four main gates and four auxiliary gates. The gates were opened and closed each day to let people in and out. In the morning, the Bosingak Belfry bell was rung thirty-three times to signify that the gates were opening and in the evening, the bell was run twenty-eight times to announce the closing. Below is information on each of the gates, their history and what they look like today.
Sungnyemun Gate (숭례문) (Namdaemun)
Also known as Namdaemun, this is the South Main Gate of the wall. It was rebuilt in 1448 and 1479 after the original build in 1395 but most recently, after an arson attack by an unhappy citizen, it was rebuilt in 2013 after a five year restoration project. The rebuild actually allowed for the gate to be built closer to its original form and connected sections of the Fortress Wall on either side.
Translated, the name of this gate means “Exalted Ceremonies Gate” which makes sense as it served as the location where the King would greet and send off envoys to China. This gate also represents fire as it is the southern most and during times of drought, the gate would be closed while the northernmost, representing water, would be opened so that the water would (hopefully) come. The southern gate wouldn’t be reopened again until the water came. During the Japanese colonization, streetcar tracks were placed through the gate so that all of the traditional functions of the gate ceased and the public wasn’t even allowed to go near the gate for some time as well. Now however, it has been opened to the public once again and a nice little park sits on the grounds. It’s a great photo-op in the center of the city.
Souimun Gate (소의문)
Meaning “Promotion of Justice Gate”, Souimun, also known as Seosomun, was once the southwest auxiliary gate, it was demolished in 1914 during the Japanese colonial period and was never restored. Now only a stone tablet sits where the gate once stood. While most of the gates have been restored to their former glory this one never saw that day. The plaque is a stark reminder that this city has seen wars numerous times in its long history.
Donuimun Gate (돈의문)
Donuimun Gate, translated to mean “Loyalty Gate” is now known as the “Invisible Gate”. Originally built in 1396, this was the West Main Gate however during the Japanese Occupation, a streetcar was installed and the gate dismantled and the pieces sold off. Now, a public art piece entitled “Invisible Gate” takes up the space where Donuimun Gate once stood though there are plans to resurrect the gate starting in 2022.
Changuimun Gate (창의문)
The northwest gate and one of the smaller ones, Changuimun sits between Inwangsan and Baegak Mountains. Meaning “Showing The Correct Thing Gate”, this is the only auxiliary gate that still has the tower intact and survived until present day, the oldest gatehouse of the small gates. The gate tower was destroyed in 1592 but was reconstructed in 1741. This gate became known as the north gate because for a time Sukjeongmun Gate wasn’t used and so this auxiliary gate effectively became the gate through which everyone had to traverse back and forth. A wooden chicken sits in the rafters of this gate and it is said to sit there because a chicken is the nemesis of the centipede and the chicken would keep the evil spirits of the centipede at bay.
The northernmost gate, translated to mean “Rule Solemnly Gate” is the only gate that still has both sides connected to the fortress wall. This gate sits on the mountain just behind Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Blue House, or the President’s house so to view this gate requires valid identification. Originally, due to the location behind the palace, this gate was rarely used except for formal occasions or during times of drought. According to the five elements, this gate represents water and would be left open during droughts during the rule of the Joseon Dynasty in the hopes that water would come. Some scholars also say however, that “if women were to visit the gate three times before the first full moon, then all of the misfortune of the year could be avoided” and yet other scholars say that if the gate were left open, women in the fortress would succumb to lustful feelings so the gate should be left shut at all times. Currently, the gate is left open…
The section of the wall that this gate sits along was actually closed for 38 years due to an assassination attempt on the then president and wasn’t reopened to the public until 2006. Military personnel are still ever watchful on this section of the wall, though don’t be afraid to ask them to take pictures of you and your group. The guys on duty are always helpful and kind and just want everyone to stick to the path and have a good time.
Hyehwamun Gate (혜화문)
Originally called Dongbukmun and translated to mean “Distribution of Wisdom Gate”, this was one of the four auxiliary gate built in the wall in 1396. The gate was renamed to it’s current name in 1511. The entire gate was destroyed in 1928 and wasn’t rebuilt, just a bit further north than the original position, until 1994.
Heunginjimun Gate (흥인지문) (Dongdaemun)
This is National Treasure No. 1 for anyone trying to get all of those crossed off their bucket list. This is the East Main Gate of the wall and translates to mean “Rising Benevolence Gate” and like many of the gates, had to be rebuilt. It was rebuilt in 1896 but what is most interesting about this gate is the exterior wall, known as the Ongseong, that surrounds it. While most of the gates were built on higher ground, this gate is set on low ground and thus needed extra protection. This is the only gate of the eight to have an Ongseong making this the most unique feature of this entrance.
Gwanghuimun Gate (광희문)
One of the auxiliary gates, this sits on the southeast portion of the wall. It was destroyed during the Imjin War from 1592-1598 and was rebuilt in 1711 but was once again destroyed during the Korean War and was left to disrepair for some time before finally being rebuilt in 1975. This gate translates to mean “Bright Light Gate” but was also known as Sigumun or the “corpse gate” because funeral processions passed through this gate taking bodies to the east. The wall that surrounded Seoul effectively became the boundary between life and death due to the fact that all bodies of the deceased, including kings and commoners, had to be buried outside of the wall.
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Map of the entire wall hike, if you should choose to try.
While some gates are free to see any time of the day or night, some have specific directions to follow in order to get up and personal. Check out the info below to be in the know:
Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun)
Directions: Seoul Subway Station, exit 4 OR Hoehyeon Subway Station, exit 5
Days: Closed Mondays
Hours: March – May & September – November: 9:00am ~ 6:00pm; June – August: 9:00am ~ 6:30pm; December – February: 9:00am ~ 5:30pm
Directions: Gyeongbokgung Station, exit 3. Walk straight 146m to the second bus stop. Take Bus No. 1020, 7022 or 7212 and get off at Jahamun Pass.Yoon Dongju Literary Hall Bus Stop (5 bus stops).
Changuimun Gate will be on the right up the short walkway.
Days/Hours: Open all year round every day, 24 hours a day
Days: Closed Mondays (In case of national holiday, it will be closed on Tuesday)
Hours: March – October: 9:00am ~ 4:00pm; November – February: 10:00am ~ 3:00pm
Other: Visitors must present a valid ID (Passport or Korean ARC Card recommended) in order to visit this gate.
Directions: Hyehwa Station, exit 4. Cross the street and walk straight for 300m
Days: Open all year round
Hours: 9:00am ~ 6:00pm
Directions: Dongdaemun station, exit 6.
Days/Hours: Open all year round every day, 24 hours a day
Directions: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Seoul Subway Line 2 or 4), Exit 2.
– After exiting from the station, walk 76 m to cross the road.
– Cross the two roads looking at CU Sindang branch in front.
– Continue walking straight for 16m.