Heunginjimun. Fortress in Seoul, South Korea


Fortress in Seoul, South Korea

Heunginjimun or the Gate of Rising Benevolence Photo © C. Rich Imagery

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Heunginjimun. Photo by TeachAgPSU
Heunginjimun, or the “Gate of Rising Benevolence,” sits at the northern end of the Dongdaemun Shopping District and is a favorite for locals and tourists who visit the area. In fact the entire district of Dongdaemun, which roughly translates to the “great eastern gate,” is named after Heunginjimun. It was one of eight gates connected by fortress walls, populated by warriors, and tasked with protecting the royal palace.

Today it is one of six surviving gates in Seoul, now no longer protecting the citizens but acting as guardians to the city's history. On a good day, visitors can enter the outer fortress walls and walk through the gate itself. It’s surrounded by marketplaces, outdoor food stalls, and 24 hour shopping malls. As long as you’ve got the energy, there’s always going to be something to do but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't take a minute to enjoy a piece of Seoul’s history.

	Heunginjimun (13) - Heunginjimun
Co-Seoul-Porte Heunginjimun (13). Photo by Jacques Beaulieu

The Three Doomed Kings

Heunginjimun. Photo by riNux
The gate was originally constructed in 1398 by the first king of the Joseon dynasty. It was renovated twice, under two other kings. All three kings are considered to be three of the most ill-fated kings in Korean history.
King Taejo (Wikipedia Article) built the Joseon dynasty on the ashes and blood of the Goryeo kingdom that once dominated Korea. After establishing his reign, he ordered the construction of eight fortress gates around Seoul along with connecting walls to protect the palace of Gyeongbokgung. After naming a son as his heir, one of his other sons went on to murder the crown prince along with a host of followers and other brothers.
The next fifty years saw new reigns including that of King Sejong (Wikipedia Article) who went on to create the Korean language. Time took its toll on the structures and many of the walls and gates. The first renovation of Heunginjimun came in 1453 under the reign of King Danjong (Wikipedia Article). King Danjong succeeded his father at the young age of 12 and only reigned from 1452 to 1455. He was eventually overthrown in a coup and exiled from the capital. Not long after being exiled into the countryside, his uncle had him executed in his home.
It would be over 400 years before Heunginjimun would see itself repaired again. During this time there was political infighting, wars, and invasions which left the royal palace and surrounding grounds in ruins. The gate was rebuilt in 1869 by the last king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong. Among other things, his reign was marked by internal turmoil in the royal family as well as the assassination of his wife, Empress Myeongseong (Wikipedia Article), by Japanese forces.

Tower Defense

Originally, the gate was designed with an arching gateway as well as battlements for guard forces. Later renovations added a two story gate house topped with statues of animals designed to ward off evil spirits; an ancient symbol of Korea’s link to shamanism.
The most recent renovation saw the gate rebuilt to represent the architectural styles of the period. This includes the round wall which protects the gate from invaders and acted as the primary defense for the soldiers stationed within. More examples of this defensive wall structure can be seen at other gates in Seoul as well as those at the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.

Heunginjimun: The Other Gate

Many Korean and English websites incorrectly mistake Heunginjimun as the No. 1 National Treasure of Korea. While Heunginjimun is an important part of Korean history, it is not considered a national treasure. Rather the great southern gate, or Namdaemun, is classified as the No. 1 National Treasure of Korea.
A distinguishing characteristic of Namdaemun is that it was devastated by arson in 2008. This fire was widely reported across international media due and led to the placement of fire extinguishers at all historic sites. Namdaemun was reopened to the public 2013 after construction workers rebuilt the entire structure from the ground up. Heunginjimun, on the other hand, was damaged due to heavy rains in 1998 but has not suffered any major damage since.

Seoul: Dongdaemun / Heunginjimun -
Seoul: Dongdaemun / Heunginjimun. Photo by Matt_Weibo

So Much To Do, So Much To See, So Much To Eat

Heunginjimun is located at the northern end of Dongdaemun, just past the major shopping malls and clothing shops. For anyone looking to do some shopping at all hours of the day and night, the Migliore and Designer malls are probably the best bet.
Culinary enthusiasts have more than enough places to choose from. To the east is Gwangjang Market where countless stalls serve up plates of rice cake slathered in spicy sauces, Korean sausages, and a bevy of tempura fried foods.
To the west there are several interesting markets but the most interesting might be Dongmyo Pet Market. The vendors there have everything from parakeets to ferrets along with the supplies to take care of them.
If shopping isn’t your interest, the Cheonggyecheon River is a great place to take a break and enjoy the sounds of the river in a sanctuary away from the bustling city. The river is also the site of numerous festivities throughout the year including a lantern festival in the fall and lotus blossoms on Buddha’s Birthday.
For those with an interest in Seoul’s history, it’s only a five to ten minute taxi ride to the historic district. That includes Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, the Insadong tourist street, and more than enough museums and exhibits to populate anyone’s day. While the taxi is the quickest route, walking west along the bank of the Cheonggyecheon River to its origin is definitely a more scenic route.

Getting There

The easiest way to Heunginjimun is by subway, specifically Dongdaemun Station on Line No. 4. From Dongdaemun Station, just take exit 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. The gate is impossible to miss for anyone leaving through any of the four exits.
Heunginjimun is only one and a half hours from Incheon International Airport and thirty minutes or less from most parts of Seoul via subway.

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Author: bludreamers. Last updated: Apr 07, 2015


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