Destination Nagan Fortress (AKA Naganeupseong, Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

Take the tourist friendliness of Jinju Fortress, the size of Suwon’s Hwaseong, and a bit of the remoteness required for the Andong Hahoe Village. Put them together and you get Naganeupseong (낙안읍성) – a fortress with several hundred citizens still living within the fortress walls. It’s remote, so it’s a stretch to call it a day trip from Seoul; it would be pretty easy from Gwangju, Daegu, or Busan.

Two of the many jangseung, or Korean totem poles typically placed near a village entrance to ward off evil spirits. Dozens more are scattered around the fortress, but the biggest grouping is along the sidewalk, by the main entrance.

The area has been populated since the time of Korea’s tribal states, but has been called Nagan since the 10th century. A sign explains the earthen fortress was built in 1397 to guard against Japanese pirates, and upgraded to stone a couple decades later. Even after it became a part of Suncheon city proper, the area’s name remained the same. After the fortress began to crumble, it was made a historical site (#302) in 1983, and the restoration of nine houses began.  A couple of prominent buildings, including a guest house and the magistrate’s office, were also restored (and probably made a bit fancier in the process).

With over 135,000 square meters inside the fortress and a few hundred or so residents, you’d think there would be plenty of space to stretch out. You’d be right – at a frenetic pace, you could see it all in an hour and a half; if you enjoy taking photos and learning about the history give it at least a half-day.

Everyone’s gotta drink water – even the magistrate, which is why it’s called a 우물 (oo-mul, literally ‘great water’). The nearby sign explains that the residents weren’t allowed to drill holes for wells because the topographical shape of the fortress was likened to a sailing ship. Heaven forbid you drill a hole in the bottom of the boat! Instead, they made shallow wells, as though drawing water from the ‘ship’ itself.

Being such a close recreation, some houses in the village have been used as parts of a TV set called 대장금 (Dae-jang-geum, literally ‘the great Jang Geum). The signs have some dialogue and pictures, showing which specific parts were filmed here. The Wikipedia page has the synopsis if you’re interested, and looks to have been pretty popular at the time.

What’s nice about it is the amount of legitimately old stuff on display. It’ll vary by house, but a fair amount of it is at least as old as the owners (which are getting up there in years themselves). That you can stay overnight in some of them like a minbak is nice.

One respite from any oppressive weather is the museum, built to house an array of traditional scenes:

A look at the summer scene (each season was adequately represented, showing a rose-colored view of the farming life).

Ancestral and memorial rites – on a happier note, the tables for a baby’s first birthday and a couple getting married were also on display.

Enough stuff to make work of a field – I’d be curious to know how many people would be able to use this stuff properly today!

In the center of a room is the most epic tug-of-war you’ve ever seen. Not sure where they stored it between uses, or if it had another practical purpose – still, that’s a huge rope.

The magistrate (presumably) giving dictation, or the servant reading him some notes…? Not pictured in the front lawn is a statue facing chest-down on a cross with his pants hanging down – the saying ‘don’t flog the messenger’ might not have translated into ancient Korean…

Some janggi (Korean chess), anyone? It’s actually quite similar to the chess you grew up playing – check out this older post on the rules and how the pieces move.

A monument to General Im Gyeong Eop (임경업), originally constructed in 1628. This particular general / magistrate ruled well, and “showed his bravery in many battles” the previous year. A memorial service is held in the middle of the first month of the lunar calendar.

The main draws here are the houses and the overall look and feel of the place. It’s only slightly more authentic than any other restored area across the country, and there are still plenty of modern elements (including the slurpee-like machines mixing ice with fruit juice). It’s a romantic, if sanitized, view of a small town from centuries past – that said, it’s well worth the effort to reach, and there’s plenty to see. Wear some comfortable shoes – your feet will thank you later.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks – How do I rate destinations?):

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Name: Naganeupseong Folk Village (낙안읍성 민속마을)
Address: Jeollanam-do Suncheon-si Nak-an-myeon Nam-nae-ri
Korean address: 전라남도 순천시 낙안면남내리
Directions: get to Suncheon first and foremost. From the train station or the Suncheon Bus Terminal, catch bus 63 or 68 (from the bus terminal, exit left, walk to the main road, turn right, and walk 100 meters to the bus stop. These buses only come 9 or 10 times a day – best times to arrive would be about 9:30am, 10am,11:30am, 12:40pm, 1:10pm, 1:30pm, or 2:10pm

Alternatively, get to Beolgyo station along the southern coast. Head out the exit, then walk about 350 meters along the right side of the street to the bus stop. Catch a bus to 낙안 (Nak-an) – it’s about a 25-30 minute bus ride. Walk the last 200 meters.

Hours: 9am-5pm (during February, March, April, and November – open until 6pm; from May to October – open from 8:30am-6:30pm)
Admission: 2,000 won.
Phone: 061-749-3347