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Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

Saejae Bike Path
Learn about Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park and the history of its fortified gates.

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park (문경새재도립공원; map) covers 5.5-square kilometers on top of Mungyeong Saejae Pass, the highest point on the Great Yeongnam Road which connected Seoul to Busan during the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1897; 대조선국).

Three fortified gates are the provincial park’s centerpiece. Korea erected them after a brutal invasion by Japan in the late-1500s.

Let’s get some quick history, then explore the park.

The Imjin Wars

In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyosh, who unified Japan, got that imperial itch. He assembled an army and invaded Korea, starting the Imjin Wars (1592 ~ 1598)

Toyotomi’s goal? Conquer the Korean peninsula. Then chip away at the Ming Dynasty’s territory in China.

The Invasion

Toyotomi first conquered Dongnae (Busan) on the southeastern tip of the peninsula, killing every two and four-legged creature in sight. Then he marched his 7,000-strong army north along the Great Yeongnam Road to Hanseong (Seoul), the Joseon Dynasty’s capital.

By June, the Japanese soldiers scorched every town in their path, hopped over the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, and arrived in Chungju.

There, the famed General Sin Rip (신립), mustered his weakened Korean troops and fought valiantly near Tangeumdae Park. The battle didn’t last long. Japanese archers wiped out Korea’s troops from afar. The defeated Sin Rip drowned himself in the South Han River.

Japan conquered the capital and continued towards China’s border until the Ming Empire sent troops to aid Korea and a Korean insurgency rose. After years of stalemate, Japan retreated to their home islands.

Three Gates Too Late

Some in the Joseon Dynasty believed that if Sin Rip attacked the Japanese invaders at the treacherous Mungyeong Saejae Pass, he could have slowed their advance and given time for Ming Dynasty troops to make their way south and defend the capital.

Once the Imjin Wars ended, the next Joseon kings installed three fortified gates along the Saejae Pass, known as the Mungyeong Gateways (문경관문; map).

  • 1st: Juheul Gate (주흘관; map; 1708)
  • 2nd: Jogok Gate (조곡관; map; 1594)
  • 3rd: Joryeong Gate (조령관; map; 1708)

The gates never saw battle, however. When Japan again occupied Korea (1910 ~ 1945), they used coercion and assassinations. No invasion.

The Provincial Park

The Mungyeong Gateways in Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park sit along hiking trails which weave 6.2 kilometers under treetops, by waterfalls and temples, and along Chogok Stream (초곡천; map; directions).

Near the south end of the park, find a complex of highlights, including:

  • Mungyeong Saejae Open Set Studio (문경새재 오픈 세트장; map) is Korea’s largest TV and film set. Completed in 2000 behind the first ancient Mungyeong gate, it features recreations of Goryeo Dynasty architecture (918 ~ 1392), including two palaces, eighty houses, and more. It provided the backdrop for several period dramas.
  • Museum of Old Roads (옛길박물관; map) is dedicated to the Great Yeongnam and other ancient Korean roads.