Monday, October 5, 2015

Hike Behind the Blue House

As part of our Chuseok celebration, Bob and I decided to hike the portion of the Seoul City Wall that extends east to west on Mt. Bugaksan.  Because this trail traverses the mountain in close proximity to the Blue House, (the Korean version of the U.S. White House), a visitor application is required along with appropriate ID.  Seoul was once surrounded by a wall which King Taejo - founder of the Joseon Dynasty - ordered to be built in 1396.  Four main gates and four smaller gates were installed along the wall.  We started our hike at the small northeast gate named Hyehwamun, and walked along the wall past a church, school and missionary center.  We stopped to blow the dirt and rocks out of our sandals and in the far distance could see the 100-story Lotte Apartment building towering above the skyline.  The enormous skyscraper will have 123 floors above ground (and 6 under ground) when completed in 2016, and will be among the top ten tallest buildings in the world.

The wall has been built upon over the centuries as is evidenced by the different patterns of rocks and hewn stones, with the standardized size stones being put into place around 1704.   Along with expansive views of the city, we spotted military outposts hiding in the foliage, and a pavilion which we can actually see from our home near Seoul Tower.  Armed soldiers perched in high towers along the wall protect the area, and barbed wire fences keep intruders away.  The distance peaks of Bukhansan Mountain reveal a temple and pagoda that we had previously hiked to.

Like an enormous snake, the north Seoul City Wall stretches for miles along the peaks and valleys of Bugaksan.   Passing Sukjeongmun, the main northern gate, we reached the Cheongundae Terrace where we enjoyed a drink and and snacks.  From here we could see Gwanghwamun plaza and palace. 

As we descended into the city, we were glad we had hiked from east to west along this trail.  The extremely long wooden stairway that took us to the small northeast gate, Changuimun, would have been torture to climb!  A memorial is erected where we left the trail, in honor of General Choi Gyu-sik, who gave his life defending the Blue House against an attack of thirty North Korean commandos on January 21, 1968.  There is a pine tree riddled with bullet holes from the attack somewhere on the trail, which we apparently missed seeing.  We completed our exploration by walking through Cheongun Park, where we could make a wish upon a stone, (and read instructions on how to walk) before taking in our final views of the city.

 Now it's your turn to take a hike behind the Blue House in Seoul!

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