Seoul City Wall
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Korea to UNESCO
San 1-3, Nusang-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul and other areas
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Summary of the proposed heritage
The Seoul City Wall surrounds Hanyang (now Seoul), formerly the capital of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). King Taejo, the founder of Joseon, designated Hanyang as the capital of the newly established dynasty in 1394. At his behest, the following buildings were constructed in 1395: Royal Palace; Jongmyo (Royal Ancestral Shrine); and Sajikdan (Altars for Earth and Grains). The Seoul City Wall was built for more efficient operation and the defense of the newly designated capital. The first portion of the work was finished in 1396. For more efficient management of the capital, the area within the walls was distinguished from the areas lying outside them. To reinforce the defense of the capital, Bukhansanseong Fortress was built to the north of the Wall and Namhansanseong Fortress to the south of the Han River in the 17th century.
The 18.627 km-long Seoul City Wall was built along the ridge of Seoul’s four inner mountains (i.e., Baegaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan). At present, a 12-km section (563,882m2) of the wall is designated as Historic Site No. 10 (1963) and is protected accordingly, along with the gates, water gates, and signal fire mounds. Certain sections of the walls have undergone extensive restoration work, having sustained damage or been entirely destroyed at various times in the city’s past. The walls comprise the following main components.
When the walls were first built in 1395 (or the 4th year of King Taejo’s reign), stones were used in the sections lying in mountainous areas while soil was heaped up to form walls in flatland areas. In 1421 (or the 3rd year of King Sejong’s reign), large-scale refurbishment work was carried out on the Wall, including the replacement of earthen wall sections with stone sections.
Further large-scale refurbishment work was carried out in 1704 (or the 30th year of King Sukjong’s reign), and similar refurbishment and repair works were carried out on several occasions until 1869 (or the 7th year of King Gojong’s reign). We can see the difference in the types of stones and construction methods used in different sections of the walls.
Four main gates and four auxiliary gates were built around Seoul. The four main gates were Heunginjimun (East Gate), Donuimun (West Gate), Sungnyemun (South Gate), and Sukjeongmun (North Gate). The four auxiliary gates were placed in areas between the four main gates, i.e. Souimun (in the southwest), Changuimun (in the northwest), Hyehwamun (in the northeast), and Gwanghuimun (in the southeast). At present, the following gates are either preserved in their original form or have undergone restoration work: Sungnyemun, which was built towards the end of the 14th century, and Heunginjimun, Sukjeongmun, Changuimun and Gwanghuimun, which were built in the 19th century. Sungnyemun (South Gate) and Heunginjimun (East Gate) are designated as National Treasure No.1 and Treasure No.1, respectively.
3. Bastions and signal fire mounds
The eastern section of the capital was situated on lower ground than the other sections and was more vulnerable to external attack. Thus, a bastion was added to the outside of the gate to reinforce its defense. A part of the walls in the section between Heunginjimun and Gwanghuimun was extended outside in a rectangular shape for such a purpose. According to The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty and various old maps, reinforced defense positions such as that one were installed in five places. Separate reinforced defense positions were also added to the ridge protruding westward from the top of Inwangsan Mountain and the ridge extending northward between Baegak and Eungbong.
Signal fire mounds, another component of the defense system, were first established in 1394 and remained in operation until 1894. Signals sent across the country from one mound to another, using smoke by day and fire at night, were finally received by the beacon at the top of Mongmyeoksan (Namsan) and conveyed to the Royal Palace. According to literary sources, there were originally five signal fire mounds in Seoul, of which the Mongmyeoksan Signal Fire Mound has been restored based on archaeological verification and designated as Seoul Monument No. 14.
4. Water gates
Ogansumun (5-hole sluice gate) was installed for the streams flowing eastward from the four inner mountains in Seoul. To its south, Igansumun (2-hole sluice gate) was installed for the streams flowing from the eastern foot of Mongmyeoksan. A rainbow-shaped stone structure was built above the water gates and linked to the stone walls. Ogansumun, along with relics unearthed from the Cheonggyecheon Stream, was designated as Historic Site No. 461. Igansumun was found in a partially damaged state in 2008 and restored the following year.
Features of Seoul City Wall
The main features of the Seoul City Wall can be summarized as follows in connection with the local topography and the status of the area as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty for over 500 years.
First, the Wall served as an essential element of the capital, along with the Royal Palace, Jongmyo and Sajikdan lying within them. They symbolized Seoul’s status as the dynastic capital.
Second, the Wall inherited the country’s traditional and unique layout of the capital city, following the pattern of Pyongyang Fortress and Kaegyong (now Kaesong) Fortress, which were the capitals of Goguryeo (Koguryo) and Goryeo (Koryo), respectively.
Third, various periods of history are showed in relics related with construction and repair works carried out on the Wall in different periods of the Joseon Dynasty’s 500-year history.
Fourth, the City Wall is a stone structure that utilized the local topography well. The capital was located in a place where Hanbuk Jeongmaek (the main backbone to the north of the Han River) meets the Han River in accordance with the principles of pungsu (風水). The City Wall includes sections built in mountainous areas and in flatland areas. They were built along ridges, their inner sides filled with soil, forming a unified structure with the local topography.
Fifth, the City Wall has both outward and symbolic significance as a structure united with the four inner mountains, serving as the boundary between the inside and the outside of the capital. It was built in accordance with the natural topography and thus is in a position that clearly displays the contours of the four inner mountains and both the inside and outside of the capital.
Sixth, the topography of the four inner mountains has been preserved well in connection with the need to preserve the Wall. The native tree and plant species inhabiting the four inner mountains have also been preserved well.
Seventh, the City Wall and the four inner mountains were closely associated with the everyday life (i.e. religion, ancestral rite, literature, arts, and play) of the people, as is apparent in many of the literary works and paintings produced during the 500 years of the Joseon Period.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The location of the Seoul City Wall was determined based upon an understanding of the topography of the entire Korean Peninsula. The City Wall is located in a place where Baekdu-Daegan (the chain of mountains forming the backbone of the Korean Peninsula) meets the streams that flow into the Han River. The City Wall has considerable value as a stone structure that marries the local topography well, as well as embodying the skills of builders and the labor of the many people who took part in their construction and repair throughout the Joseon Dynasty. It surrounds the capital, in which many historic architectures including Royal Palaces, Jongmyo and Sajikdan are located, while being in a position that clearly displays the contours of the four inner mountains and both the inside and the outside of the capital.
Criterion (ii): The Seoul City Wall inherited the traditional and unique schema concerning the layout of the country's capital, which originated in Goguryeo, following the pattern of Pyongyang Fortress and Kaegyong Fortress, which were the capitals of Goguryeo and Goryeo, respectively. It comprises sections built in mountainous areas and in flatland areas.
Criterion (iii): The gates and walls have been preserved well, making it possible to ascertain the schema used in the construction of such a structure during the Joseon Period. The 18.6 km-long Wall boasts being the longest in the world among those surrounding the capitals of countries. Certain sections amounting to 10.8 km in total have been well maintained or restored, while parts of the other sections remain buried underground. Hanyang was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty, the most enduring of all the dynasties that once ruled in East Asia. Different sections of the City Wall display construction or repair skills unique to their respective periods.
Criterion (iv): The location of the City Wall was fixed in consideration of the topography of the Korean Peninsula according to the principles of pungsu. Built along the ridges of the four inner mountains of the capital, it appears united with the local topography, by forming layers of soil their inside. Furthermore, it is united with the four inner mountains in Seoul both outwardly and symbolically speaking, serving as the boundary between the inside and the outside of the capital. It was built in accordance with the natural topography and thus is in a position that displays the contours of the four inner mountains and both the inside and outside of the capital.
Criterion (vi): The names of the builders responsible for the work are inscribed on certain sections of the City Wall. The topography of the four inner mountains has been well preserved in connection with the need to preserve the City Wall. The native tree and plant species inhabiting the four inner mountains have also been preserved well. Many literary works and paintings which allude to or directly concern the City Wall has been handed down from the 500-year Joseon Period to the present day.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The Seoul City Wall was managed well and underwent regular repairs throughout the 500-year Joseon Period. Sections that were built or repaired in different periods yield evidence of the different skills and materials used, thereby serving as valuable historical materials. Their unity with the local topography also forms part of their uniqueness.
The City Wall, which is designated as a National Cultural Heritage, tells us many things concerning the relevant location, system, and skills.
The proposed heritage was constructed, following the unique schema used for the country's capitals. The City Wall is also longer than any others found throughout the country. About 70% of the walls have been well preserved as historic sites. Gates, water gates, and signal fire mounds also remain part of the City Wall. Within the Seoul City Wall are important, well-preserved landmark architectures such as Royal Palaces, Jongmyo, and Sajikdan.
At present, the proposed heritage is managed by the Korean Government, with various components designated as national treasure, treasure, or historic site. We are making continued efforts to manage and restore the destroyed sections of the City Wall through authentic archaeological verification. We are also including areas close to the City Wall in the cultural heritage protection areas in connection with development. Such efforts are also made for the slopes of the four inner mountains in connection with the need to preserve historic/cultural sites.
Comparison with other similar properties
Comparison with other similar heritage objects in the country
Old walls in Korea are divided into those built on mountainous areas purely for defensive purposes, those built on flatland areas (eupseong), and those built for the capital. Out of those (285) registered as historic sites and belonging to the first and second categories mentioned above, only a few are comparable to the Seoul City Wall (i.e. Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon).
The work on Hwaseong, Suwon, which is a semi mountain fortress, was started in 1794 (or the 18th year of King Jeongjo's reign) and completed two years later. The Fortress Walls were built, following the contours of Paldalsan (Mt.), i.e., extending from the top of the mountain down below. They surround the town, forming an oval shape. Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon was built on topography similar to that of the Seoul City Wall, and its total length comes to about 6 km, i.e., about a third of the length of the Seoul City Wall. The main function of Hwaseong was military defense, while Seoul served as an administrative and political center. In Hwaseong, defense facilities, including the four main gates, were built of a mixture of granite and brick, whereas the Seoul City Wall was built entirely of granite.
Comparison with other similar heritages outside the country
Concerning heritages in neighboring countries comparable to the Seoul City Wall, certain examples in China are similar to them, while Japan has only fort-type fortress such as Himeji Castle near Osaka, but no outer walls surrounding a city.
During the old China period, two types of fortified walls were built: one type surrounded a city or facilities for protection similar to that offered by the Seoul City Wall; the other extended across open fields or mountainous areas for defense purposes, like the Great Wall of China. Some Chinese cities were built according to a plan, in which walls were built around them for protection. Chinese cities with surrounding walls comparable to the Seoul City Wall includes those built in Xian (previously Changan), Luoyang, Suzhou (previously Pingjiang), Kaifeng City, Hangzhou (previously Linan), Nanjing, Beijing, and so on. The walls for these old capitals of China are basically similar to the Seoul City Wall in that buildings and facilities were constructed within them pursuant to the Confucian rite system, but they differ from their counterparts in Seoul in the following ways:
First, most of the old Chinese capitals were located in flatland areas with the exception of Nanjing, whereas the Seoul City Wall was located in a place surrounded by mountains. Chinese capitals built in flatland areas are basically surrounded by fortress walls forming a rectangular shape. In contrast, the Seoul City Wall was built in a meandering fashion, following the local topography. Moats were an essential element of old Chinese capitals, which is clearly not the case for the Seoul City Wall, which were built in non-flatland areas.
Second, a typical wall surrounding an old Chinese capital was built with clay-baked bricks. The outer part of the walls was built with clay-baked bricks whereas the interior of the walls was filled with layers of soil. The top layer of the walls and the structures with loopholes were also built with clay-baked bricks. By contrast, the Seoul City Wall was entirely built with stones.
The fortress sites remaining in Pyongyang and Kaegyong in North Korea have a similar appearance to the Seoul City Wall. Pyongyang Fortress, which dates back to the Goguryeo Period, is about 23 km long. It was built to exploit the advantages offered by fortresses typically built in flatland and mountainous areas. It comprises four layers of walls, i.e., inner walls, outer walls, northern walls, and middle walls. People lived in a flatland area surrounded by outer walls. Gaeseong Fortress, which dates back to the Goryeo Period, is a stone-built fortress comprising the Imperial Fortress, Inner Fortress, and Outer Fortress. The Royal Fortress surrounding the Royal Palace was built in 918 after the foundation of the Goryeo Dynasty. The Imperial Fortress Walls were built in 1009 to stave off an invasion by the Khitan tribes. The 16 km-long outer walls, which followed the natural contours of the local topography, were completed in 1029. The 8.5 km-long inner walls were built 1391 as a doubletier defense. The difference between the Seoul City Wall and their counterpart in Gaeseong is that the former forms a single line of defensive wall, while the latter is composed of three layers of walls (Imperial Fortress Walls, Inner Fortress Walls, and Outer Fortress Walls).