Namhansanseong Fortress: Royal Shelter on the Mountains

Located just outside of Seoul on the Namhansan Mountain, the Namhansanseong Fortress was a royal shelter for the Joseon Dynasty. It was built as an emergency capital for the royal family in the case of a war or an invasion. The Namhansanseong Fortress stands 480 meters above sea level.

namhansanseong fortress temple
Lee Jae Hyeoung

The edges of the city perfectly align with the ridges of the mountain for maximum defensive capabilities. The complex stretches for 12 kilometres and its style is a combination of East Asia architectures. It is possible to see remnants of Japanese and Chinese styles in the city buildings.

namhansanseong fortress temple motifs
Mostroito Moñeco

The Joseon Dynasty ruled over Korea for nearly 600 years. During their reign, they had extensive and continuous battles with Japan, China, and even with European countries. In order to provide the royal members with the utmost protection while giving them the space to rule the country, they wanted to build a shelter in a highly safe place.

the staircase in the complex
Georg Fernandez

Especially during the 17th century when China invaded Korea, the fortress proved itself very valuable. Moreover, the Namhansanseong Fortress was not a desolate place during peace either. When it was not an emergency capital, the fortress was home to at least 4,000 people. Warrior monks also resided in the city and served as its protectors.

the inside structures of the complex
Andrew Eungchul Kim

The administrators of the city made sure that the villages were ready for turbulent times. Aside from being a royal shelter, the fortress was also a place of religious rituals and cultural importance. Many buildings in the fortress were built traditionally to keep the Korean identity intact.

namhansanseong fortress temple

While the fortress served the Joseon Dynasty well for centuries, it did not save the country from invasion. Towards the 20th century, Japan invaded Korea and dethroned the royalty. When the colonization started, the monks in the fortress closed themselves inside and used the complex as a place of defense.

buddhist ritual place on the complex

However, the Japanese quickly won the battle and demolished the fortress. They also closed the temples and moved the local office to another place. This resulted in the fortress’ partial abandonment and downgrade. Although the Japanese moved out of the country, the fortress’ ordeal was not over.

traditional sculpture
Cheong Jiyoun

During the Korean Civil War, the fortress took considerable damage. People started leaving and taking their belongings and as a result the complex nearly became a ghost town. This was of course decades ago. After extensive renovations, the Namhansanseong Fortress today is a really popular tourist attraction. It is also on the UNESCO heritage list and an icon of Seoul and South Korea.

the road to the fortress
Marc Salemink