Hwarangdae Station (화랑대역) Line 6 – Station #646

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For the most part, Hwarangdae is a rather bland part of town.  It’s pretty much as middle-class as you can get, the better part of the neighborhood being a shuffle of schools, churches, and businesses, many of them chain stores, that provide for the residents of the several apartment tower complexes both north and south of the station.  And like other neighborhoods on the edge of the city, the presence of a highway, in this case the Bukbu Expressway (북부간선도로), also limits how much walking around one can do.  Heading east there’s a car park and apartments before you soon arrive at Bonghwasan Station, and heading west I went parallel to the Taerung Stream, past some disabled-assistance facilities, a fire station, and a recycling yard behind a metal fence, brightly painted with green hills and singing kids.  Walking back to the station on the opposite side of Hwarang-ro (화랑로) I passed Marksman House, a shooting supplies store, something I’d never before seen in Korea.  Targets of wild boar and ammo vests were on display in the window, but I didn’t see any actual guns or ammunition anywhere.

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Though the neighborhood may not be particularly vibrant, Hwarangdae isn’t without its attractions.

Close to the station are two small green areas.  Just outside Exit 5, a slope leads down to the Taerung Stream (태릉천), which eventually empties into the Jungnang Stream (중랑천).  Here there are walking and bike paths, stepping stone bridges, and small artificial cascades.  A lone duck groomed itself and then paddled upstream, past banks of tan winter reeds and snow.  Though quite pleasant here, just several dozen meters downstream the watercourse is interrupted by the giant pillars supporting the elevated highway that are planted in the middle of the stream.

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The second is Gongneung Neighborhood Park (공릉근린공원), which you can get to by walking out of Exit 4 and crossing Hwarang-ro at the first intersection.  Gongneung is like pretty much any other neighborhood park: benches, exercise equipment, pavilions, a net-less basketball hoop.  Its one distinguishing feature is ‘Infinite Meditation’ (무한사색), a sculpture by Lee ilho of bronze and silver arches above a head resting atop two fists.

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Hwarangdae’s most interesting features are also accessible via Exit 4, but they all require one to hoof it down Hwarang-ro a ways.

On the south side of the road I spotted a stone plaque that said ‘화랑로 걷고 싶은 거리’ (Hwarang-ro Street You Want to Walk), though nothing about the six-lane, heavily trafficked road made me feel that way.  Immediately to my left was an abandoned rail track, and on the sidewalk were black and yellow wheeled metal barricades, sings of what gives the station its name: Hwarangdae (화랑대), or, as it’s more formally known, the Korean Military Academy (육군사관학교), where officer cadets are trained.

As you go east on Hwarang-ro the road eventually forks.  Traffic veers off to the left, onto a smaller road, while the main six lanes, traffic-less, continue straight, up to the academy gates.  The distance between the fork and the gates is a few hundred meters and aside from some cars parked along the shoulder it was empty, leaving me with a very exposed feeling that was slightly intimidating.

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Hwarangdae’s campus is huge and spread out, with lots of open space for training and athletics.  A sentry tower rises up in the middle, its lookout room doughnutted around a tall stone column.  Following the Hwarang-ro traffic on the left fork took me along the campus’ edge, and when the traffic died down for a moment I could hear a drill sergeant calling out from somewhere far off.  Two cadets in dress grays crossed the street from the opposite side on their way back to the academy.

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Where they’d crossed from was Seoul Women’s University (서울여자대학교), which must have one of the quietest locations of any university in Seoul – great if you’re super serious about your studying, not so much if you’re looking to have a little fun too; I didn’t see any sign of any kind of nightlife district nearby.

SWU’s campus is pleasant enough, if not particularly intriguing.  The university was founded by the Presbyterian Church of Korea, so there are churches both on and near campus, and a large modern building near the main gate houses cafes and restaurants.

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If you pass SWU you’ll soon arrive at the Taereung International Shooting Range (태릉국제종합사격장) and further on is an Olympic training facility, but in between these are Taereung and the Royal Tombs Museum of the Joseon Dynasty (태릉 조선왕릉전시관).

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Historical Site No. 201, Taereung (and nearby Gangneung) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, collectively with the other Joseon royal tombs scattered in and around Seoul.  This particular location also features the aforementioned museum, which is rather lovely: all ivories and grays inside, which together with its recessed lighting gives it a very peaceful atmosphere. The displays begin with an exhibition on Joseon state funerals and all the pomp and ceremony that went into them.  It wasn’t until five months after the royal’s death that he or she was actually entombed, but when they were it was quite a show, with hundreds of attendants in the official procession, including dozens that bore the palanquin atop their shoulders via a rope yoke.  Next is an overview of the tombs, which shows both their internal and external structure and features life-size replicas of the stone statues of civilian and military officials that watch over the tombs.  Lastly there are small sections on tomb maintenance and Taereung and Gangneung.  Unfortunately, English information is minimal, though if your Korean isn’t great there are still enough displays to look at to make a brief visit worthwhile.

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Taereung is a short walk from the museum through a thin forest of pines, the trees having had their lower branches lopped off so that the only green is at the top, giving the walk an open, airy feel.  (Paths are dirt and as such can get muddy, so if you go make sure you have appropriate footwear.)

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Well placed, feng-shui-y speaking, in front of Buram Mountain (불암산), Taereung is the tomb of Queen Munjeong (문정왕후) (1501-1565), the third consort of King Jungjong (중종), Joseon’s 11th monarch (1488-1544).  If those names sound familiar you might recall our recent visit to two other royal tombs, Seolleung and Jeongneung, in Samneung Park, in Gangnam-gu.  Jungjong was buried in Jeongneung by Munjeong, who intended to also have herself buried there.  Unfortunately the spot was prone to flooding and she had to resign herself to Taereung, which was created by her son after the Fourth Literati Purge of 1545, the power struggle between relatives of competing princes that followed Jungjong’s death.

Ironically, Munjeong may have gotten the better deal, tomb-wise, in the end.  Taereung is not only in a more peaceful spot than Jeongneung, it’s also grander.  Its stone path from the entrance gate to the ceremonial pavilion is a good three meters wide, approximately twice that of the one at her husband’s tomb, both the pavilion and burial hill are also larger, and the stone figures around the tomb are 1.5 to 2 times larger than those at any other Joseon tomb.

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To the side of the pavilion were the standard guards’ house and stele pavilion, and though I wasn’t able to approach the tomb I could see the burial mound at the top of a two-tiered hill, surrounded by the customary stone guardians, animals, and lanterns.  The pines at the edges of the hill leaned into it ever so slightly, angling for the sun and seeming to direct the visitor’s gaze up to the tomb.

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Officiants come to the ceremonial pavilion for memorial rites every May 16th, but on the mid-December afternoon I visited I was completely alone.  With no one else around the gravesite was rather imposing, but it was also serene.  Somewhere in the distance a magpie was calling, and I could just barely make out the faint purr of traffic, but sitting on the edge of the pavilion’s front porch the loudest sound was the pretty little popping of water from melted snow dripping off the eaves onto the tile floor.

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Munjeong became queen when she was 16, in 1517, and went on to wield significant influence, introducing a state-administered exam for Buddhist monks and ruling on her son’s behalf for the first eight years after he ascended to the throne, at the age of 12.

That son was King Myeongjong (명종), Joseon’s 13th king (r. 1545-1567).  Myeongjong is viewed as a rather unfortunate and ineffectual monarch and died at the young age of 34 without any significant achievements to his credit; together with his wife, Queen Insun (인순왕후) he is buried in the double-mounded tomb of Gangneung, one kilometer away.

I spent a good hour looking for a way to get to Gangneung, both directly from Taereung and the road outside, before concluding that maybe it wasn’t open to the public and giving up.  Turns out I just didn’t walk far enough.  About half a kilometer past the entrance to the Olympic Training facilities, where I’d turned around, is Gangneung’s entrance.  It’s a bit of a hike from the station, so if you prefer not to walk you can grab a bus and get off at the Sahmyook University stop (삼육대앞).  Cross via the pedestrian bridge.

For anyone who does make the trek out, entrance to Gangneung is free; cardboard was placed over the ticket booth window.  Like at Taereung, I was completely alone here.  Another large two-tier path led up to the shrine – the same layout and size of Taereung’s – where memorial rites are performed the fourth Sunday of each April.  To the right was a stele shed but no guardhouse, and directly behind the shrine a steep, smooth hill ran up to the twin burial mounds of Myeongjong and Insun.  His was on the left, hers on the right, and from the base of the hill I could only make out the tops of their grassy curves, poking up above the hill’s plateau like bubbles on a pond’s surface.

[Edit – Merissa: When I visited Gangneung, the ticket booth was open and a 1,000 won ticket gave entry into Gangneung, Taereung, and the Royal Tombs Museum of the Joseon Dynasty. At Gangneung, I was able to approach the tomb. ]

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Taerung Stream (태릉천)

Exit 5

Gongneung Neighborhood Park (공릉근린공원)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Right at first intersection

Korean Military Training Academy (육군사관학교)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로)

Seoul Women’s University (서울여자대학교)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Veer left

Taereung International Shooting Range (태릉국제종합사격장)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Veer left

Taereung and the Royal Tombs Museum of the Joseon Dynasty (태릉조선왕릉전시관)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Veer left

02) 972-0370

Hours | February – May, September – October: 9:00 – 18:00; June – August: 9:00 – 18:30; November – January: 9:00 – 17:30; Closed Mondays

Admission | Adults: 1,000; Kids age 7-18: 500

Gangneung (강릉)

Exit 4

Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Veer left; Alternatively, go out Exit 1 and take a bus to Sahmyook University (삼육대앞)

Hours | February – May, September – October: 9:00 – 18:00; June – August: 9:00 – 18:30; November – January: 9:00 – 17:30; Closed Mondays

Admission | Free

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One thought on “Hwarangdae Station (화랑대역) Line 6 – Station #646

  1. Pingback: SEOUL Weekly: The Flower That Doesn’t Wilt | SEOUL Magazine

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