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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Sueojangdae (command post)

Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 1439
UNESCO region Asia and the Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2014 (38th Session)
Revised Romanization Namhansanseong
McCune–Reischauer Namhansansŏng

Situated 25km southeast from the center of the capital city of Seoul, the mountain fortress city of Namhansanseong sits approximately 480m above sea level aligning itself with the ridges of the mountain to maximize its defensive capacity. The fortress encompassing 12km in length protects a vast area utilized as an emergency capital city of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (1392~1910). With the basis of fortress architecture of East Asia, the fortress embodies the broad exchange between the four countries\ (Joseon of Korea, Azuchi-Momoyama Period of Japan, Ming and Qing China) especially in the 16th~18th centuries through the continuous wars. The technical development of weaponry and armaments during this period which saw the use of gun powder in military warfare imported from Europe also greatly influenced the architecture and layout of the fortress. Namhansanseong portrays how the various theories of defense mechanisms in Korea were put to form by combining the everyday living environment with defense objectives, embodies the evidence of how Buddhism played an influential role in protecting the State and the fortress became a symbol of sovereignty in Korea.[1] It stands on the Namhansan ("South Han Mountain"), containing fortifications that date back to the 17th century, and a number of temples. It can be accessed easily from Seoul through Namhansanseong Station of Seoul Subway Line 8.

Overview of the History of Namhansanseong[edit]

The most obvious characteristic of Namhansanseong lies in its topographical advantage; a spacious flat top called Gorobong, with a low center and high sides over 480m above sea level, as well as being a high mountain over flat lands to easily observe around. Due to such a topographical advantage, Namhansanseong served as a commanding post since the Unified Silla era in the 7th century. Unified Silla constructed Jujangseong fortress where Namhansanseong sits today, to raise men and to stock supplies when it was carrying out the war against the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. In the 13th century during Goryeo Dynasty, Namhansanseong was a stronghold against the Mongol Invasion. Since the 17th century, Namhansanseong, near the capital city of Seoul, evolved greatly in its size as a mountain fortress, serving as an emergency capital for the King of Joseon to take refuge in emergencies. Consequently, it became a super-sized mountain fortress, the likeness of which is rarely found anywhere else in the world.

Furthermore, Namhansanseong had been systematically managed and operated for over 300 years since its construction in 1624. Specifically, it was the historical battlefield of the second Manchu Invasion to acquire hegemony in East Asia during the Ming-Qing dynasty transition in 1636. It was the spiritual symbol of the Joseon dynasty for sovereignty, as well as a place for military security until the 20th century. The rich history of Namhansanseong shows the exchange of Buddhist, Confucian, folk religion and Christian values from the time the fortress was constructed to the present day.

The 17th century mountain fortress Namhansanseong was constructed as a planned city both to serve as an emergency capital city during wartimes and an administrative center in normal times. Common traditional villages are typically located on flat lands adjacent to mountain fortress built for shelter in emergencies. Namhansanseong was a self-sufficient defensive fortress where the local administrative town was placed within the fortress together with the Emergency Palace. Thus, it performed various functions such as defense, administration, business and royal ancestral rites. Unlike those seen in Europe and Japan that were intended to defend only the ruling class, Namhansanseong was a defensive structure within which both the ruling class and the commoners alike could take shelter.

Since the 17th century, Namhansanseong has been dominantly inhabited with over 4,000 in population and has been managed and preserved by the residents for generations. Most fortress towns in Korea underwent severe deformation and change from the Japanese colonial times and the period going through the process of industrialization and urbanization, resulting in losing their original layout and forms, but Namhansanseong retained its original layout because the Japanese colonial government relocated the administrative functions and demolished its military functions in the earlier stage of colonization, leaving it as an isolated mountain village thereafter.

The characteristics of Namhansanseong have changed a lot throughout the course of history. The fortress served as a military and administrative center with the Emergency Palace and administrative office from 1627 to 1917. It was the center of the civil resistance movement (Uibyeong) centering on Buddhist monk soldiers temples (Seungyeong) when the Joseon Dynasty fell and the Japanese colonial period was approaching in the early 20th century. However, the fortress experienced demolition and the temples were forced into closure by the Japanese in 1907. The fortress lost its function as the town center due to the relocation of the Gwangju County Office in 1917, resulting in a downgrade to a remote mountain village. Then, the fortress suffered population loss and material loss during the Korean War. Nowadays Namhansanseong has become a tourist attraction point in the vicinity of Seoul, after undergoing large-scale wall restorations and being designated as a provincial park since the 1970s. It has seen a dramatic increase in the number of restaurants and various visitor facilities since the 1980s. The Emergency Palace and the Royal Ancestral Shrine within the fortress have been actively restored based on various studies on Namhansanseong since the 1990s, and it was enlisted on the World Heritage tentative list in 2010. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2014.[2]

Criteria under which inscription is proposed (and justification for inscription under these criteria)[edit]

(ii) exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design • Namhansanseong is an excellent example embodying the interchange of technological advances in fortress construction and weaponry in East Asia going through international wars. • Namhansanseong is a unique fortress city with the purpose of functioning as an emergency capital for the protection of sovereignty and independence of Joseon.

(iv) be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage (s) in human history; . The walls and facilities utilizing the rugged terrain embody the technological developments of fortress architecture that has been accumulated in Korea from the 7th century to the 19th century.[3]

Conservation Management[edit]

It is necessary to monitor the management system in Namhansanseong. For this evaluation indicators are prepared which include the size of personnel with management organizations such as council, disaster prevention, environment management, budget, promotion and records on village events. The Namhansanseong World Heritage Centre regularly conducts monitoring by sector, as well as establishing ordinance and determining ways to autonomously conduct monitoring. The Namhansanseong World Heritage Centre is responsible for managing and monitoring cultural heritage of Namhansanseong. Namhansanseong Provincial Park Office is responsible for managing and monitoring visitor facilities within Namhansanseong and the provincial park area. According to 2012 Basic Plan on Comprehensive Improvement of Namhansanseong, the World Heritage Centre is taking charge of managing cultural heritage of Namhansanseong. Namhansanseong Provincial Park Office is responsible for managing facilities within Namhansanseong.[4]

Protection and Management requirements[edit]

The legal basis of protection of Namhansanseong lies on the Cultural Heritage Protection Act (CHP Act) and the Natural Park Act on the national level. There are also specific ordinances and regulations at the province and city levels. On the basis of the CHP Act the entire property is designated as a historic site and has a buffer zone surrounding the area that have limitations and regulations regarding development and construction. The entire heritage and buffer zone is protected once more as a Provincial Park on a wider area. Under these frameworks a Conservation Management Plan has been established to ensure the long term protection of the fortress and the town within. A special independent entity called the ‘Namhansanseong World Heritage Centre’ has been set up to be responsible for the overall management of the heritage. This entity works together with the Namhansanseong Provincial Park Office, the residents, local governments, experts and the central government to protect the heritage.

Financial support comes from the national and provincial governments, and the projects are managed and operated by the Namhansanseong World Heritage Centre. A monitoring system is set up to control the appropriate use and execution of financial resources and proposed plans.

The current status of conservation can be evaluated in three components called the military component, the governing component, and the folk component. The military component includes the fortress walls and structures, outer walls, Chimgwaejeong Arsenal, and Buddhist temples. The governing component comprises Jwajeon Shrine, Usil Shrine site, the Emergency Palace, Jwaseungdang Hall and the site of Inhwagwan Guest house. The folk component includes steles, pavilions, and intangible heritage such as rituals and rites. All these subcomponents are recorded and are managed appropriately in compliance to the form and type of heritage.

Several factors affect the protection of the heritage and these are developmental pressures, environmental pressures, natural disasters, risk preparedness, visitor pressure and land use. Development pressures are relatively low for Namhansanseong as the property area and buffer zones are effectively controlled by the CHP Act and the Natural Park Act, and Urban Management Planning. Visitor pressure is perhaps the highest risk factor in Namhansanseong. For the sustainable conservation of the fortress areas, preventive measures are activated including studies on carrying capacity, regular estimation of expected visitors, and utilizing planning mechanisms with legal instruments.[5]

View of downtown Seoul from the fortress wall - you need to zoom in to see hundreds of office- and apartment blocks.

In literature[edit]

  • 2009: musical, Namhansanseong, based on the novel of the same name, but focuses on the lives of common people and their spirit of survival during harsh situations. It stars Yesung of boy band Super Junior as villain "Jung Myung-soo", a servant-turned-interpreter. It was showed from 9 October to 14 November at Seongnam Arts Center Opera House.[7]

See also[edit]

Dramatic representations[edit]


  1. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  2. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  3. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  4. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  5. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  6. ^ Koh Young-aah "Musicals hope for seasonal bounce" Korea Herald. 30 March 2010. Retrieved 2012-03-30
  7. ^ "2 Super Junior members cast for musical" Asiae. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 2012-04-17

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°28′N 127°11′E / 37.467°N 127.183°E / 37.467; 127.183