When visiting Seoul, one thing that's not to be missed is a walk around one of the city's ancient palaces (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon). These architectural gems were not only residences of kings and queens, but were also the center of politics and city life during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
Changgyeonggung Palace, in particular, is the perfect destination for any who are interested in seeing Korean palaces. Designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997, Changdeokgung Palace is said to be the most traditional and authentic of Seoul's five palaces. It has been praised for its architectural sensitivity to its natural surroundings and lauded as a representative masterpiece of East Asian Palace Architecture. The palace is also believed to have the perfect geographical location according to ancient philosophies like that of Feng Shui.
As amazing as the palace is in the daylight, it's even more magical when you stroll through the grounds under the light of the full moon. If you like to know more on how this would feel like, join in the annual moonlit journey through Changdeokgung Palace!
The Moonlight Tour at Changdeokgung Palace is the only chance you can walk around in the palace at night. The tour takes place on the days of full moon and only allows a limited number of people per night. Thus, it is best to make reservations in advance because spots fill up fast.
* Changdeokgung Moonlight Tour Route
① Donhwamun (Main Gate) (돈화문); tour meeting point → ② Jinseonmun Gate (진선문) → ③ Injeongjeon Hall (인정전) → ④ Nakseonjae (낙선재); viewing the fullmoon → ⑤ Buyongji Pond (부용지); viewing the fullmoon → ⑥ Bullomun Gate (불로문) → ⑦ Yeongyeongdang Hall (연경당); watching performance and sampling refreshments → ⑧ Forest trail of Huwon (후원); end of tour
(Total program takes about 2 hours.)
Donhwamun Gate is the oldest of Changdeokgung Palace's gates. First built in 1412, it was burnt down during a period of conflict and later restored in 1608. The gate is two stories high, and its name Donhwa means "benevolently teaching and loving the citizens." This is the landmark from which your Moonlight Tour officially begins with a cheongsachorong in your hand (a candle lantern from the Joseon Dynasty made with red and blue silk cloth).
Injeongjeon Hall, located at the center of the palace, had been used as a reception room for foreign diplomats and was also the place where the King's coronation was carried out. Inside this prestigious room, visitors will be able to see the King's throne and folding screen behind, called Ilwoloakdo byeongpung*, which is embroidered with the sun, moon, and five mountain peaks. Around this historic building, one can see Seoul's modern cityscape looming in the background.
* Byeongpung: a partition used to keep out strong winds from outside, though mostly served as an interior element as it is decorated with traditional drawings or calligraphies.
Nakseonjae was built as the study and sarangchae (living quarters of the head of a household) of King Heonjong (24th king of Joseon, 1827-1849). Literally meaning “to enjoy virtue,” Nakseonjae implies that the king should serve his people with virtue so that both the people and the king himself will be happy. After King Heonjong passed away, the compound was used by King Gojong (26th king of Joseon, 1852-1919) and King Sunjong (27th king of Joseon, 1874-1926) to carry out state affairs.
Buyongji is the most beautiful and tranquil area inside Changdeokgung Palace and is one of the finest examples of landscapes designed during the Joseon era. The kings would take leisure walks around the small pond located in the backyard of the palace called Buyongji. The striking building jutting out over the pond is the Buyongjeong Pavilion. The area is surrounded by trees that are hundreds of years old. Next to the pond is Yeonghwadang, the venue for gwageo exams (the highest-level state examination to recruit ranking officials) during the Joseon Dynasty.
Yeongyeongdang is a wooden building built in the same style as the houses of the noblemen during the Joseon Dynasty. The building was built in the 19th century and had been used as a venue for ceremonies and performances by the best performers of that era. During your moonlit journey, Yeongyeongdang will serve as the venue for an array of traditional Korean performances, including pansori (traditional Korean opera), a style of music that has been honored by UNESCO as an official Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The building's expansive yard and temporary stage are complete with plenty of seating for the audience. Korean tea and traditional snacks are served as well.
After the performance, visitors will be led into the forest of Changdeokgung Palace, which for centuries its access was restricted for the common people and reserved exclusively for the use of the royal family. Now open to the public, guides dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) lead visitors through the trees using the light of the cheongsachorong. Guided by the delicate glow of this traditional lantern and the gentle light of the full moon, visitors are guaranteed a unique and unforgettable evening.
Photo courtesy of Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation (Exception: Main cut of ‘Yeongyeongdang’ was photographed by KTO)
* This column was last updated in July 2015, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official websites before visiting.