The Great South Gate of Jeonju: Pungnammun Remembers

The Prosperous South Gate they named me, and I have borne that name with pride for centuries. I have been a rampart against attackers and a conduit of prosperity to my people within; the First Fortress of the Honam region, I was the first, the greatest, and now I am the last. I am Pungnammun.

Pungnammun sign

I do not track the passage of time itself beyond remarking the change from the bitter cold that grips at my mortar to the sweltering heat that bakes my stones and slate roof. Still, I remember. I remember the people, the little ones that have walked over and through me and I feel for them in their brief little lives, so full of tragedy and desire.

I remember the day when they passed judgment on three of their kind for worshipping a deity from a faraway land. They beheaded them and hung the heads from my walls. That night the skies poured down rain and soaked my stones with tears that I was unable to cry, washing the martyrs’ blood from my walls and into the eternal soil for burial. I remember an endless stream of peasants and goods entering in to sell at my markets; I remember the bodies being carried out for interment on the mountain slopes. I remember each and every one of them.

Pungnammun in the 19th century. Source.

Pungnammun in the 19th century. Source.

What I remember most happened long ago, back when my walls were intact and people and animals passed through me every day. Invaders were attacking the country from the east and a young lieutenant of the city guard left to aid in the defense. The night before he left, he met his beloved in my gatehouse and pledged to return to her, if he could. Her name was Seon-Mi; I know because he said it over and over as they held each other. I did not know his name, for she called him only “my lord”.

I never saw him again, or felt his feet on my stones and planks. Seon-Mi came every day to sit in my gatehouse and watch for his return. The tears that she shed soaked into my planks and I kept them for her, pledging silently to hold and guard her until her lord could return. I kept the rain and snow off her as she sat and waited through the years and then, one windy night, I held her body as her soul flew at last beyond the reach of my protection and help.

I am alone now. The wall has been demolished and my sisters and brothers, the North, East, and West Gates of the city, have been torn down to make way for the insatiable step of progress. Their places are forgotten, but I remain. And I remember.

Pungnammun at night

The above account is a mixture of fact and fiction concerning the iconic south gate of the city of Jeonju, South Korea, written in part for the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge, whose theme this week is “Iconic”.

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About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

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