This weekend was only the second time since my return to Korea that I’ve made it outside of Pohang. Along with some friends, I made the journey down to the city of Jinju on Friday night, arriving a little before midnight. We met some friends of my friend for a lackluster get-together, then crashed at a cheap motel on the riverfront. Sounds like a great time, right? Yeah, nothing special so far. It was the next day, however, which made the trip to Jinju so memorable.
While my friends slept the day away, I got up bright and early and set out to explore the town. Jinju straddles the Nam River (남강), with most of the hotels/things to do on the north bank. After going about a few essential errands–money from the bank, coffee injection–I headed to the main attraction in Jinju: Jinjuseong (진주성). Called the Jinju Fortress by waygooks such as myself, this massive walled complex is a reconstruction of a Three Kingdoms era fortress which was instrumental in the Korean defense against the 1592-93 invasion of Japan.
Jinju Fortress is a pretty hard thing to miss. Anyone walking along the north shore of the river is bound to run into it at some point. Visitors approach the east gate, which looms over the cobble-stoned pathway leading up to it. There is a ticketing office, where a paltry 2000 won will get a curious visitor an entrance ticket, guide to the grounds, and city map. Not a bad deal!
After passing through the east gate, the interior of the fortress opened up before me. I’d had the misconception that this would be a massive castle-like building. It’s not. It’s a massive military complex set atop a strategic location overlooking the Nam River. Despite the interior being different from what I expected, the Fortress was far from a disappointment. If anything, it exceeded my expectations.
The first large structure I saw after walking into Jinjuseong is Chokseongnu (촉성누), the pavilion of the Fortress; built in 1241, it is nearly eight centuries old! Used alternately as a command post and a place of learning in times of war and peace, respectively, Chokseongnu has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times–the most recent construction being in 1960. Nowadays, it sits atop the bluff and accommodates a steady stream of locals and tourists, some there to gawk at the beautiful woodwork and paintings while others are there to meditate and study.
A good reading spot
Uiam, which means ‘The Rock of Righteousness’
I meandered through the rest of the fortress, which is impressively large considering its location: in the middle of Jinju. At the far western end, the trail arches up to a lookout tower, which gives visitors a wonderful view of the western part of the city and the popular fountain below. Sadly, when I enjoyed the view, the fountain was not functional.
The path to the lookout loops down and brings visitors to the footsteps of the temple Hoguksa (호국사). Formerly the home of a group of warrior monks, it is now a peaceful place dedicated to honoring their memory. This picturesque temple is nestled into the folds of the hillside and girded in a shawl of trees; it is one of the most serene and beautiful settings I have encountered. I briefly entered the temple grounds, but the monks were conducting some sort of ceremony and I didn’t want to cause a distraction by taking a bunch of pictures.
Shortly after I left the temple grounds, I found myself sitting on a bench yet again looking out over the park green. There was an elderly fellow off to my left who was doing the same; we sat there in silence for a good amount of time before my phone started buzzing. It was my friends.
I met up with them a few minutes later and explored the park a bit more, taking in the exterior of the Jinju National Museum–which is inside the Fortress grounds. We didn’t go inside, however, opting instead to leave the Fortress and go stuff our grumbling stomachs with some delicious river and saltwater eels–a Jinju specialty. The eel restaurants line the street along the river just before the east gate of the Fortress. The marinated and salted eel we were served was the perfect end to a refreshing day of exploring. Success!
Our eel restaurant of choice.
Marinated saltwater eel on the left, salted river eel on the right.