Deoksugung-gil is the road that starts from the side of Daehanmun, the main gate into Deoksugung Palace, and stretches along the wall around Deoksugung. Where Deoksugung-gil curves to the right along the Deoksugung wall, Nokhwa Street starts to run straight up to the point where it meets Saemunan-gil Road which runs in front of Gyeonghuigung Park.
Deoksugung-gil is one of five particularly nice courses for a walk in Seoul. In between the wide sidewalk and the time-honored wall of Deoksugung Palace stands a row of trees, providing fresh green scenery in spring and summer, a yellow carpet of fallen gingko leaves in the autumn, or a nest of white branches after a winter snow. Cars on the one-way adjacent vehicle lane pass by slowly, making for no-stress strolling.
It has been said that if one walks along Deoksugung-gil with a lover, the two will eventually part. Since this rumor came about, many couples have avoided walking along this road. No one knows how it started, but perhaps it was some lonely person, jealous at the sight of lovers sauntering hand in hand along this romantic course.
On the Nokhwa Street stands Jeongdong Theater which holds regular traditional Korean dances and music concerts, the time-honored building of Jeongdong First Methodist Church, Yewon School which could be called "Korea''s Juilliard." Also here are several other schools including Ewha Girl''s High School founded in 1886 and Changdeok Girls'' Middle School. On Nokwha Street is a flea market which stretches for about 50 meters from the front of Jeongdong First Methodist Church, selling trinkets and used clothing.
On the sidewalk in front of the Jeongdong First Methodist Church are drawn four maps depicting the area around Deoksugung in the mid-19th century, in 1900 at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, in 1947 after liberation from Japanese colonial rule, and in 1998. One can also find a 500-year-old tree 15 meters tall and 4.9 meters around. Deoksugung-gil and Nokhwa Street houses many nearby historic sites and cultural spaces where casual strollers can drop by.
In addition to Deoksugung, Gyeonghuigung and the site of the old Russian legation, there are the Deoksugung Art Museum, the Royal Museum, Jeongdong Theater, Nanta Theater, Madang Cecil Theater, the Chosun-Ilbo Art Gallery, the Munwha-Ilbo Hall, the Agricultural Museum and Sungkok Art Museum. Many beautiful church buildings can be appreciated including an Anglican Church.
What always goes with the scenery of any walking path is the street vendors selling something to eat. The most prevailing street snacks tempting winter strollers are toasted cuttlefish and chestnuts, sweet-filled fish-shaped cakes baked right on the street along with the stiff-fried julienne of sweet potatos, cooked silkworm pupae which taste much better than they smell, dried fish of various types, rice rolled in seaweed, vegetable or cuttlefish tempura, boiling hot fish sausage, and taffy. One comes across quite a few food vendors especially on the narrow alley running upward from Yewon School toward Kyunghyang Daily News and the old Russian legation.
Deoksugung was originally the private residence of Prince Wolsan-daegun (1454 to 1488), the elder brother of King Seongjong who was the ninth ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). King Seonjo, however, began to use this place as a palace from 1593 after escaping from the capital after all the palaces in Seoul had been burned during the war against invading Japanese forces in 1592.
Gwanghaegun, the successor to King Seonjo, ascended the throne here in 1608 and named Gyeongungung Palace in 1611. He used it as his royal palace. When he moved to Changdeokgung Palace in 1615 he had his step-mother Inmok-daebi reside here.
In 1618, he deprived her of her honorary title of Great Queen and began to call the palace Seogung (the West Palace) as a political gesture.
After King Injo ascended the throne here in 1623 and moved to Changdeokgung Palace, it was used as a subsidiary palace for 270 years.
In 1897 King Gojong, after a one year long sojourn at the Russian legation, took it as his royal palace and called it Gyeong-un-gung once again. The scale of the palace was expanded at this time.
Gojong remained here after being forced to abdicate the throne by the Japanese in 1907. His successor King Sunjong, upon moving to Changdeokgung Palace, gave the old palace the new name of Deoksugung (meaning Palace of Virtuous Longevity), hoping that his father Gojong would live long at this palace.
Several buildings still remain in Deoksugung Palace: Junghwajeon, the main hall; Jeukjodang where the 15th King Gwanghaegun ruled from 1608 to 1623 and the 16th King Injo ( 1623-1649) ascended the throne and Jeonggwanheon where King Gojong used to rest while enjoying refreshments and listening to music. Seogeodang, the only two-story hall in the palace, was built by King Sunjo in memory of preceding kings. This location was where Queen Inmokdaebi lived under house arrest and where Gwanghaegun was reprimanded after he was dethroned. Seokjojeon, a three-story building of the neoclassical mode, was constructed in 1909 and used as a reception hall to meet foreign ambassadors during the Daehan Empire (1897-1910). Hamnyeongjeon, built in 1897 was used by King Gojong as his sleeping quarters until he passed away here on January 21, 1919. In Hamnyeongjeon the bedrooms of the King and the Queen and a large wooden floor have been restored to the state similar to that of King Gojong's days.
Seokjojeon presently houses the Royal Museum, which displays cultural assets of the royal courts of the Joseon Dynasty, and Deoksugung Art Museum, a branch of the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Deoksugung Art Museum opened on December 1, 1998.
In front of Daehanmun, the main gate into Deoksugung, a
ceremony for changing the royal guards of the gate is reenacted three times at 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30 for 30 minutes
each time except Mondays from March through November.
Gyeonghuigung was built from 1617 to 1620 during the Gwanghaegun regime and used for over 290 years as a detached palace. It lost its function as a palace when the Japanese tore down many of the halls inside the palace in 1910 in order to build the Japanese Gyeongseong Middle School immediately after their forced occupation of Korea. The site has now been formed into a park and is called Gyeonghuigung Park. At the entrance of the park stands Heunghwamun which used to be the main gate of Gyeonghuigung Palace. Sungjeongjeon which has been the main hall has been restored at the innermost part of the park. Seoul Museum of History is just next door to the park.