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Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace

The article courtesy of Seoul magazine

Of all Seoul’s palaces, Deoksugung Palace sometimes seems the most unassuming, despite being in the heart of the city center. However, though it lacks the grand scale of some of Seoul’s other palaces, it makes up for this with architectural reminders of its turbulent history. Built in the late 1400s as the residence of a royal prince, it survived the destruction which befell the other palaces during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and was used as a temporary palace until 1615. By the late 1800s, however, its importance had so dwindled that parts of it were sold off to the Westerners who began to trickle into the country during the 1880s, and soon the palace was surrounded by the legations of the U.S., Britain, France and Russia as they vied with Japan and China for influence in Korea.

After King Gojong, who was held as a virtual prisoner in Gyeongbokgung Palace after the China’s defeat by Japan during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), managed to escape to and rule the country from the Russian legation in 1896, the area took on greater importance. Due to its proximity to the Western legations, Deoksugung (then called Gyeonggunggung) was chosen as the new ruling palace in 1897 as King Gojong declared the advent of the Great Daehan Empire. While most of the grounds took on the appearance of a typical Korean palace, with its great gates and throne hall, the influence of the surrounding Westernized neighborhood was also manifested in a number of buildings. Most obvious are the two wings of the neo-classical Seokjojeon Hall and the Western style garden (the first in Seoul), but other buildings such as the Jeonggwanheon Pavilion and Renaissance style Jungmyeongjeon Hall (the latter being on a separate plot of land behind the palace) offer visual treats as well.

Unfortunately, King Gojong’s attempts to stave off a Japanese takeover of Korea failed and he was deposed in 1907. When he died in the palace in 1919, the occasion of his funeral was used to set off the independence protests of March 1, 1919, and the space in front of Daehanmun, the palace’s front gate, served as the location of protests against Japanese rule.

Visit the palace today, however, and you’ll sense little of this turbulence. This is especially true in the evenings, as it is the only palace regularly open after 6pm, and it is common to see couples and families relaxing on benches, taking photos in front of the magisterial buildings, or leisurely ambling through the wooded parts of the grounds. Though it is most certainly an attraction for tourists, it also serves Seoul’s residents as a quiet place to relax. “It’s a nice place to bring the family,” says Seoul resident Gang Cheol-gyu. “I sometimes forget I’m in the middle of the city.”

The palace grounds also include the National Museum of Art and Royal Museum housed in Seokjojeon Hall (currently closed for renovation), Doldamgil Café, which overlooks a picturesque pond, and ample bathroom facilities, all of which encourage visitors to kick back and take their time—in stark contrast to the bustling city surrounding them.

If Deoksugung Palace is where Eastern and Western architectural styles meet, Jeonggwanheon Pavilion, designed by Afanasii Ivanovich Seredin-Sabatan, a Russian who designed many turn of the century buildings in Seoul, exemplifies this collision within a single building. This open, airy pavilion, which is a peculiar blend of Korean and Romanesque architectural styles, is where King Gojong held banquets and enjoyed coffee, another novelty introduced by Westerners.


Photograph courtesy of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea

The palace is hosting the Deoksugung Project, which features sculpture, installation art, sound art and other forms of contemporary art by twelve local artists. Exhibits are held throughout the palace and the National Art Museum, Deoksugung (located on the grounds of Deoksugung itself). Period: Thru Dec 2. Admission: Free (but you still need to pay entrance to Deoksugung).


Photograph courtesy of San Damiano

Behind Deoksugung Palace the tree-lined streets of the Jeong-dong neighborhood offer plenty of eating options nestled among architectural reminders of the area’s western influence. Le Pul Sandwich Bar (T. (02) 3789-0400, open 8am—9pm) offers sandwiches, panini, cakes, and coffee. Further up the street, you can enjoy coffee and snacks surrounded by books at San Damiano (T. (02) 6364-2233, 10am—10pm), which also occasionally hosts musical performances. If you turn left at Chungdong First Methodist Church, at the end of the street you’ll find Goryeo Samgyetang (T. (02) 752-9376, 10am—9:30pm), which has been serving samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) since 1960.


Deoksugung is a short walk from Exit 2 of City Hall Station (Lines 1 and 2)


Hours: 9am to 9pm (closed Mondays).
Admission: 1,000 won for adults, 500 won for children
Jungmyeongjeon Hall is separate from the palace (behind Chongdong Theater) and offers tours every hour on the hour between 10am and 4pm (except at noon, closed Mondays).

The article courtesy of Seoul magazine

Date 10/16/2012

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