Mungyeong-saejae Pass Area
with Juheul-san, Shinseon-bong, Jo-ryeong Pass,
Bu-bong, the Historic Gates and Hyeguk-sa
a Key Point along the Baekdu-daegan
The summit of Joryeong-san is 1026m high, tallest of the peaks in this central sector of the Baekdu-
daegan Mountain-system. It is the only mountain in Korea that I know of that is named after the pass
beside it -- probably because this used to be the single most important alpine pass in all of Korea.
Jo-ryeong Pass, also known as the Mungyeong-Saejae, is 642m high. Both "Jo-ryeong" (based on
Chinese characters) and "Sae-jae" (pure Korean) mean “Bird Pass”, and are the result of people
saying hundreds of years ago that "this pass is so high that even birds can’t cross it without taking a
rest". In fact Jo-ryeong is higher than the neighboring Haneul-jae and Ewha-ryeong passes which
were popular crossings before the "Yeongnam Great-Road" was constructed through here during
the Joseon Dynasty. Records state that its original name was Cho-jeom, meaning a grassy pass.
"Saejae" can also be understood to mean "New Pass", as this became the most popular route to
cross the central Baekdu-daegan Range starting around 500 years ago.
This Yeongnam roadway then became the main one between Gyeongsang Province (Yeongdong
Region, the entire Nakdong River Watershed, originally the Shilla Kingdom) and Chungcheong Province
(originally a Baekje Kingdom region) -- leading on towards crucial Gyeonggi Province, for the past
1000 years containing the national capitals Gaeseong (Goryeo Dynasty) and Seoul (Joseon
Dynasty to present). It became a key point of national defense from Japan, whose raiders had
previously landed at Busan City or elsewhere on the southeast coast, crossing the Baekdu-daegan
at one of these passes on their way to plunder the best of Korea's treasures. The first two gates
and their fortress-walls were built in the 1400s, and the Third Gate at the top of the Pass in 1708.
In addition to the defense-of-nation theme, so many Seonbi scholars travelled this route on their way
to take the official examinations and/or assume government posts -- and returned back in academic
triumph after passing, in honored aristocratic retirement or in shame after being dismissed -- that
this pass and its three great gates came to have special resonant meaning for Koreans -- it could
be called a sacred area for Korean Neo-Confucian culture.
This aerial shot shows the Joryeong Pass's twisting route through the mountains, with
Joryeong-san itself on the left, Juheul-san's Shinseon-bong and Bu-bong peaks on the right,
and the lower developed facilities of the Mungyeong-Saejae Provincial Park (in Mungyeong
City, North Gyeongsang Province) at the bottom and center.