Full-size Flickr slideshow here.
And in my second photo essay, I bring you Sunday’s hike up Mt. Inwangsan, one of Seoul’s sacred mountains.
Sitting on natural rock, the simple Guksadang Shrine was originally built on Mt. Namsan as a national royal shrine — Mt. Namsan, you see, was considered a protective god during the Joseon era. Later, it became a shamanist shrine attended by the general populace. In 1925, however, the shrine was moved to its present location to make way for the massive Shinto shrine the Japanese built on Mt. Namsan. The unintended consequence of this was that it turned Mt. Inwangsan into something of a sacred peak, with shamans and Buddhists setting up a shop along its valleys.
The hall contains 28 images of shamanist deities and frequently plays host to shamanist ceremonies. David Mason has some great photos taken during April’s Sansinje ceremony at the shrine — be sure to check them out.
Said to resemble two robed monks in meditation, Seonbawi (Zen Rocks) are, in addition to being a great resting place for Seoul’s pigeon population, a favorite object of veneration, especially for women praying for sons.
There’s an interesting story associated with the rocks. When King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon dynasty, was planning the construction of Seoul’s city walls, a disagreement erupted between the Ven. Muhak, a Buddhist monk and one of the king’s closest advisors, and “Sambong” Jeong Do-jeon, a Confucian scholar and another close advisor of the king, over whether to include the rocks within the walls. Muhak wanted them inside the walls, Jeong wanted them without. Ultimately, Jeong carried the day, and so started Buddhism’s troubles under the kings of Joseon.
Mt. Inwangsan provides some nice views of downtown Seoul — from the Guksadang side, you’re looking mostly at the Seodaemun area, while from the fortress side and Inwang Skyway, you’re looking at Mt. Bugaksan and the Gwanghwamun area.
Seoul Fortress and Buam-dong
If you walk along the Inwang Skyway, you’ll eventually reach more of the old city walls, Changhuimun Gate and the neighborhood of Buam-dong.
Seoul’s fortress walls — upon which there has been considerable restoration work in recent years — are actually quite an impressive piece of military engineering, snaking up and around some pretty steep peaks. The original walls were built in 1396; over 110,000 men were mobilized for their construction.
Buam-dong, meanwhile, is like a pleasant little mountain valley town… hidden away in the heart of Seoul. Its coffeehouses and galleries make it a great date place. Hey, if it’s good enough for Sam Hammington, it’s good enough for you.
One coffeehouse I’d particularly recommend is Club Espresso, which is located just past Changuimun Gate. Known for its house-roasted coffees, I’ve heard tell that it provides the beans used for the coffee of a certain Seoul bookshop specializing in English books on Korea. Anyway, it’s an atmospheric little place that is well-known among Seoul’s coffee aficionados.