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Cultural Heritage Sites print

Jeongjeon Hall in Jongmyo Photo: Jeongjeon Hall in Jongmyo

Jongmyo Shrine (Designated 1995)

  • Location: Jongno-gu, Seoul
  • Description:
    Jongmyo Shrine in Jongno-gu, Seoul, is the royal shrine interred with tablets of royal family of the Joseon Dynasty and the place where the memorial services for the kings and queens were performed. The place itself has the greatest religious implications from a Confucian perspective and it is a sacred site that has the legitimacy of political principal of the time. It is also a great representation of the culture and legacy in the royal history.

    The shrine was first built around the end of 14th century by King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. Unfortunately, it had to undergo reconstruction around 17th century after the complete destruction due to Japanese invasion in 1592. Fortunately enough, it was suggested that the shrine’s originality and structures are well maintained, preserving the spiritual beliefs valued by generations of Korean. Therefore, the unique atmosphere found from the ground and entire compound in sum are considered to be a one-of-a-kind historical monument nowhere to be found, encompassing all the other Asian and Western nations.

    Especially in the Jongmyo Shrine’s main building, Jeongjeon, shows the impressive façade of a courtyard of 150 meters long and 100 meters wide, but at the same it is placed in a good harmony with other auxiliary buildings. This testifies the greatest example in aesthetical background and indigenous views on ‘balance’, a concept that the Koreans have long treasured. Along with this cultural acknowledgement, a ceremony held for the kings and queens of the Joseon Period (also known as Jongmyo Jerye in Korean), is regularly held within the site, adding more significance to the reasons for preserving the area.

Major Attractions

Hamabi Monument at Jongmyo (left) / Pillars of Jeongjeon building Photo: Hamabi Monument at Jongmyo (left) / Pillars of Jeongjeon building

As a living heirloom, Jongmyo Shine is hidden with many interesting details and facts. First of all, there is a hamabi, which is a commandment stone indicating that anyone who passes by Jongmyo should get off his horse as a form of respect to the ancestors (‘ha’ means to descend and ‘ma’ means horse in Chinese character). Even the kings and queens of the post-era are not exempted from this protocol as they too had to get off from their palanquins in order to pay the righteous respect to former thrones.

Aforementioned, Jeongjeon Hall, which is credited to be the largest wooden structure among all contemporary architectures of the world, is elaborately decorated inside where mortuary tablets are placed, unlike what is observed from the outside. Visitors cannot see this in person, but instead see the replica of Hyangdaecheong, a storage room that held important supplies such as ritual paper, incense, and offerings used during ancestral rituals and sacrifices.

There are three main gates to Jeongjeon, and these brick-covered walkways run through the horizontal stone platform at the east, west and south direction respectively. The narrow path located in the south, is reserved for the royal spirits and thus, so no living soul is allowed to tread on or cross it. The two other gates are for mortals: the east gate was for the king and the west gate was for musicians and dancers. Even the king was no more than a humble mortal in this palace of deceased royal ancestors.

Yeongnyeongjeon Hall (left) / Tablet Stone indicating Yeongnyeongjeon (right) Photo: Yeongnyeongjeon Hall (left) / Tablet Stone indicating Yeongnyeongjeon (right)

The main hall of the Jeongjeon complex has only rooms for twenty tablets, therefore an expansion was required. Henceforth, Yeongnyeongjeon Hall, meaning ‘Hall of Eternal Comfort’ was built and it follows the same designs and model of Jeongjeon but only the scale differs. One distinctive feature is that this annex has four larger chambers covered with a taller roof at the center, while the Jeongjeon has an uninterrupted roofline with chambers of the same size. As a result, the annex has a more comfortable feeling though not as majestic as the main hall, which is submerged in a stern atmosphere.

Another fact known about Yeongnyeongjeon is that the place is enshrined with kings and queens whose reign period was either overly too short, recorded with no notable achievements or the dethroned. Besides, tablets of Yeonsangun (r. 1495~1506) nor Gwanghaegun (r. 1575-1641) are not housed here, as they are judged to be disrespectful figures who did not practice filial duties and portrayed mischievous behaviors. Thus, this reemphasizes Jongmyo’s deep connection to Confucianism, the belief that established Joseon and the ancestors’ careful decision making in managing the royal ground.

More Info

* This column was last updated in September 2015, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official websites before visiting.

<Last updated on September 25, 2015>

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