Located southeast of Seosan near Hanseo University, Haemiupseong fortress is easily one of the most tourist-worthy sights in the Seosan area. Although we have visited countless Buddhist temples and many palaces in Korea, this was our first fortress and it did not disappoint! Built during the Joseon dynasty in 1421, this fortress housed the commander of military forces in this province, as well as the Admiral of maritime forces. There was a prison where captured Japanese invaders were kept in the 1500s. It is the best preserved fortress in Korea! This fortress had some dark history as well, like in the mid-1800s when 1,000 Catholics were jailed, tortured and killed here for their beliefs. More on that later!
Entrance to the fortress is free, and parking is located beside the fortress, next to the tourist information booth. When we walked by the info booth, I usually look for a brochure to tell us more about the site. There were only Korean brochures, but I still grabbed one for a souvenir. As we were walking away, a lady came out from the booth and said, “English?” I said, “Yes!” She came back with a brochure AND a whole booklet in English with all of the tourist attractions in the Seosan area. Although it was a few years old (and some of the attractions were no longer in business), this guide has been invaluable to us! Travel tip #143: Always go to the tourist information booth. It usually pays off! As we entered the fortress, Landon was a little freaked out by the guard, but this guard was smiling and much friendlier-looking than, say, the guards at the main palaces in Seoul. Landon still did not want a picture with him though!
Turns out, this fortress is a major field trip location. There were so many school groups there, and when we went in it was easy to see why. Inside the fortress walls there were open grassy fields, just ready for running and playing. After spending the summer at beaches and in the dirt/gravel/rocks/sand of Samgilpo, it was exciting to see so much grass! Landon followed a school group around as they learned about the different weapons used to protect the fortress. After this trip, I told Austin we needed to get Landon a camera for Christmas, because he brought this soft book that looks like a camera and took lots of fake pictures. I can’t wait to see what he decides to capture when he gets his camera for Christmas!
This was my favorite weapon- the flaming arrow launcher. I imagine that could do some damage! I guess I should mention how cute little Korean school children are. We are obviously foreigners, so all the kids love to say “ANYO!” “HI!” “CUTE!” to us. They are fearless in trying out whatever English they know. It is great. We visited the fortress right before Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, when everybody wears their fancy Hanbok traditional silk outfits. Some of the kids came to the fortress dressed in their Hanbok, and it was so CUTE to see these kids running around playing traditional games in their traditional dress. I’m not sure if the games are always out, or if we lucked out because we visited on the same day as many school groups, but it was fun to watch and try the games. There was a ring toss, an arrow toss (trying to get the arrow into a tall, skinny vase), and a metal hoop, kind of like a hoola hoop, that we tried to keep rolling using a metal hooked stick. This game would not go well with kids in America, as I suspect the metal stick would be used for poking out eyes or other dangerous things.
Along with the weapons and games, there were several clusters of buildings that showed traditional Korean farmer’s homes. All of the signs were in Korean, so it was hard at times to figure out what we were supposed to appreciate at each home, but it was cool to see their kitchens and bedrooms and gardens outside their homes. There were extremely elderly volunteers sitting in some of the houses, showing traditional methods of making shoes, cloth and baskets. Landon was very intrigued by the live demonstrations.
Right in the middle of the fortress was the jail. Although not heavily fortified, the walk to the outside of the fortress was long enough that I imagine not many people managed to escape. In the jail area, there were statues in the cells that were shackled in all the various mean ways the Koreans devised to shackle people. There were men and women represented because these cells were well-used during the mid-1800’s when the leaders of this area decided to round up all the Catholics and kill them if they would not renounce their faith. The wooden benches in the foreground of the picture below were flogging boards, where prisoners were beaten with wooden paddles. Learning about terrible atrocities committed against people of faith who remained true to their beliefs always leads me to self reflection. Would I be strong enough to endure beatings, torture and death for my Savior, Jesus Christ? I hope so!
Right outside the prison area of the fortress was this big tree. Catholics were hung by their hair from this tree until they died. There are still marks on the tree from where the steel cable was placed. I had to look up a little on why the government wanted to kill all the Catholic Christians. I guess the ruling dynasty favored Confucianism with definite hierarchy, where different classes of people did not mix. Catholics worshiped all together, and so it was considered subversive to Confucianism and the government. Whatever way you explain it, the persecution seemed unwarranted, and some of the martyrs have been canonized, beautified and become saints. More on the martyrs can be found in my post regarding the Catholic Martyrs Shrine, coming soon!
Next up we had a lovely picnic lunch under some trees, on grass! Yay, grass! When I put Owen down to crawl around, I realized that this was the first time since he learned how to crawl that he had been put down on grass to roam around. Sad, but true. Owen loved it, especially finding leaves and other outdoor delicacies to sample. Next to our picnic spot was a meeting hall building with an old decorated carriage under the eaves (red thing in the photo above).
After lunch we headed to the army headquarters and soldier training area of the fortress. This was inside another wall with a really cool gate! We saw some displays of a Joseon era military meeting, and wandered around looking through all the buildings. Landon ran away behind what I thought was the last building, so I followed him to round him up.
Way in the back of the military complex we found a building that had been set up for trying on period costumes. FOR FREE! The best part is that since we were there in the early afternoon, mid-week, there was no one there in line, so we walked right in and tried on costumes. First, the cute lady inside put Landon in a Hanbok complete with boots and hat. Then I decided that I had to do it too- if I didn’t I would regret it forever. I am so glad I did. The skirt and robe she gave me were gorgeous! The skirt has little spaghetti straps that went over my shoulders, then the robe, and the medallion sash goes high up on the chest to tie it all together. There were several hair pieces to choose from, all super heavy and made of metal. Once I had my hair piece on, Owen freaked out because he did not recognize me and was stuck in the stroller. My costume did not have openings at the end of the sleeves, so I was powerless to help. Thank goodness our friend Meryl and the lady who dressed us helped take care of him so Landon and I could get some pictures together! The costume lady was adorable, and did not even reach my shoulder in height. She was so gracious and helpful! It was so fun to dress up, although it was a little hot with all those layers!
After costumes we checked out other areas of the fortress, including the archery range and another gate. Unfortunately, the archery range was closed, but I was surprised how much was up and running on a random weekday in September. On weekends, and on festival days, there are cultural performances and many other period activities going on at the fortress.
Along one side of the fortress is a beautiful flower and vegetable garden. As part of the garden is a gourd tunnel. This was the first gourd tunnel I had ever seen, but I have been through several since then at parks and other attractions in Korea, so I think they are pretty popular. I love that the gourds take on a more elongated shape as they are pulled by gravity from the top of the arch.
All too soon, it was time to leave. Haemi fortress was a fun place with activities that appealed to the whole family. With free admission and ample space to run around, it is also a great picnic spot situated close to the Seohaean expressway for easy access from the north or south. This is a must-see attraction for the Seosan area!