During the last week before the new academic year, my family and I visited Ganghwado for a much-needed “refresher” vacation. Ganghwado is well known as the site of many important events in Korean history, from ancient to modern times, as evident from its famous Buddhist temples and churches. In 2019 alone, Ganghwado had 1,138,137 visitors, which includes 294,365 students and 4,465 foreigners. My family was planning to have some good food and enjoy the beach rather than an educational experience, but the trip, to our surprise, ended up being more than just an enjoyable one. It was full of meaningful and educational historical sites. We visited two places that encapsulate important events in Korean history in two drastically different time periods.
|[The Oegyujanggak replica. Photo courtesy of the author.]|
Of the numerous historical sites scattered around the island, Goryeo Gung Palace Site was the first place we visited. With 87,821 visitors in 2019 alone, Goryeo Gung Palace Site is one of the most iconic landmarks of Ganghwa Island. The site, which is the only remaining piece of Korea’s premodern history among the newly-constructed buildings and roads of the downtown area, is home to the Oegyujanggak (Ancient Korean Royal Texts) and also served as a temporary residence for the royal family. During the Goryeo dynasty, when Korea was invaded by the Mongols in 1232, the capital city and main palace were both moved to this location for 39 years until Korea was able to come to friendly terms with the Mongols. The palace site, the result of a combined effort of 2000 soldiers under the command of General Choi U for three years, is unfortunately mostly in ruins after it was destroyed as part of the peace treaty made with the Mongols. Today, visitors are only able to see replicas of the original buildings and are left to imagine their beauty.
|[Entrance of the Oegyujanggak replica. Photo courtesy of the author.]|
The reason I found Goryeo Gung Palace Site fascinating, however, was not because of the preserved historical artifacts. Rather it was the history behind the construction process. Because the Mongols were particularly limited in naval battles ability, the Koreans chose this island for the temporary palace’s construction, as it would grant them convenient access to the city of Gaegyeong while also providing ample protection from the fierce Mongols. This palace is also located on a steep hill which would have protected it from easy access by the enemy. The real significance of this site lies not only in the carefully-preserved ancient manuscripts but the intelligence of the Korean officials to place such an important building on a strategically advantageous location. After looking around, I was genuinely impressed by the degree to which such a beautiful and functional palace was replicated within a relatively short period with limited resources. I was also inspired by the ability of ancient Koreans to respond and act on burdensome and urgent situations.
|[The Yongdudondae monument. Photo courtesy of the author.]|
The second place that we visited was Gwangseongbo Fort, and its famous battleground: Yongdudondae. Although this fort was built in the coastal area of Ganghwa in 1658, it is more widely recognized as the location of a battle during the American Expedition in 1871, a conflict that was fueled by American troops entering Korean naval territory with heavily-armed warships, which ultimately was seen by the Koreans as an ignorant and overly-aggressive approach that ignored repeated diplomatic requests to respect Korea’s sovereignty. Moreover, although the United States did have intentions of establishing trade routes and surveying unfamiliar territory, many Korean records note that the provocative move on the fort was in fact fueled by the desire of the Americans to demonstrate their superiority over what they considered to be a weaker nation (rather than achieving practical objectives). Today, visitors are able to see the various cannons and artillery platforms on display along with the impressive traditional Korean-style gate that serves as the entrance to the fort.
|[The Gwangseongbo Fort gate. Photo courtesy of the author.]|
Because Gwangseongbo Fort is no longer needed for military purposes, it now serves as a symbolic monument that commemorates the efforts of General Eo Jae-yeon and approximately 350 soldiers who bravely sacrificed their lives for Korea. As I walked around the graves and battlegrounds located within the fort’s walls, I was able to feel the courage and determination of the men who died while defending it. Although now forgotten and thrown into the shadows of many other prominent Korean generals and soldiers, the sheer patriotism and persistence of the Korean soldiers to protect their dignity and motherland are lessons well worth learning.
Although we were slightly disappointed by the fact that many of the original structures and artifacts are not available to the public or have been completely ruined, my family and I nevertheless enjoyed learning more about the rich and interesting history of Korea through the historical sites of Ganghwado.
Junior (Grade 11)
Seoul Foreign School
Hanseung Cho email@example.com