Circles and Squares

Insights into Korea's Sudden Rise

A Revolution in Seoul! The Return of the Fortress Wall

For the last sixty years, Seoul has been trying to forget its past and establish a new image, both at home and abroad, as a truly international city. Those bits of old Seoul, whether the palaces or old hanok houses, strike the observer as incongruous traces of a completely different world that somehow avoided the wreckers ball. Moreover, a key aspect of Seoul’s project for modernization has been the integration of the northern and southern banks of the Hangang River into one modern global city connected by freeways. It seems that the old streets crowded with grocery stores and dry goods had to be completely replaced with large-scale towers of glass and steel. That part is not uniquely Korean–it is the plague that swept the United States in the 1970s and only started to be turned around with the demolition of Penn Station in New York City.

But now a new image for the northern bank of the Han River is emerging and becoming very powerful. The new vision focuses on the fortress wall that has survived in part around old Seoul The new posters, such as this one below, make the fortress wall a defining element for Seoul and go so far as to sketch in the parts that have been razed.

The city of Seoul has put together a very impressive walking tour based around the fortress wall for tourists (and residents). I am delighted as someone who has often walked around the city wall and found it quite beautiful.

The second poster offers stamps for a cultural passport for those who visit each of four designated city gates in the fortress wall. In good Zhu Xi style, each wall is associated with a virtue–as the poster explains.

Even three years ago it would have been hard to imagine the city of Seoul making the fortress wall so central to its own

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image. I suspect that the benchmarking of other foreign capitals may have played a role in this policy. I am tempted to be the first to suggest that we should rebuild the entire wall again.

The effort has been in part inspired by Jeju Island’s famed Olle Trails (올레길), a set of carefully planned trails along the Southern coast of the island that have become immensely popular in Korea, and around the world.

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One response to “A Revolution in Seoul! The Return of the Fortress Wall

  1. Pingback: Seoul Fortress Wall Walk and Other Walking Trails | The Marmot's Hole

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