For many years, the Ganghwa Island served as both a gatekeeper and getaway of Korea. The Gangwa or Kanghwa Island is but an hour away from the capital city and attracts a huge number of visitors on a daily basis. Nature enthusiasts will indeed love what the island has to offer with its natural scenery that provides a different atmosphere to urban residents needing a break from the city center. To the surprise of many, the island is truly more than just a small piece of land.
Back during the 13 Century, the royal court of Korea fled to the island as the Mongols invaded the country. With the leadership of King Gojong of the Goryeo Dynasty, the royal court evacuated the capital and headed to Gangwa for safety. Although the Mongols absolutely loved land, their fear of water was so severe that most of them could not even cross the narrow strait that separated the island from the mainland. The strategy was an impressive undertaking that let the royal court in Ganghwa rule for many years after.
Unfortunately, most of the structures that the royal court made use of were destroyed after the court returned to the mainland. Although a new palace complex was completed during the Joseon era in 1636, this too was destroyed by the French marines in 1866. Despite such a long history, an old gate of the Joseon era, three buildings, and the old palace grounds were the only ones left of the court palace.
The Ganghwa Island then became a getaway of the country from the West by the turn of the 19th Century. Not all interactions with the West were peaceful, with one of them being an engagement with the French marines in 1866. By 1871, American marines attacked the island as well. The attack was retaliation for Koreans bursting a U.S ship along with efforts of persuading the country to sign a trade treaty with the Americans. In 1875, it was the Japanese turn to attack the island that forced the country to sign the Ganghwa Treaty. This treaty then marked the country’s opening to the imperial power of Japan and the West.
Many old fortifications are still in place, especially along the west coast of the island. The most impressive of these include the Gwangseongbo Citadel, historic coastal batteries, gun emplacements, Korean command posts and a series of defense walls. Aside from old remnants of Korea’s past, the island is also home to a number of beautiful Buddhist temples such as the Jeondeungsa and the Bomunsa. Oddly enough, the island is also home to several hanok churches built in traditional Korean styles. Two of these are the Ganghwa Anglican Church and the Seodo Central Methodist Church.
Hiking is a common activity done on the island as hikers head up to Mount Manisan to see spectacular views of the Yellow Sea. Many tourists of the island also look forward to going to the Ganghwa Market to taste sumptuous seafood items that the island is especially known for. Horse crab, horse crab stew and roasted eel are but some local delicacies you shouldn’t leave the island without trying.
With such a rich history and wide array of seafood delicacies to choose from, the Ganghwa Island surely does not disappoint tourists visiting the island. Although Ganghwa is but a narrow strait away from the mainland, what the island offers is far more than what most people expect.