|There are many reasons why people are drawn
to Gyeongbokgung Palace. On a warm and sunny weekday afternoon, there’s
a diverse mix of groups meandering through the palace grounds. Tourists
and middle school students attentively listen to their guides in learning
about the history of the palace, while the elderly and other local Seoulites
experience the quietness of the impressive environs on leisurely strolls.
Gyeongbokgung offers a different experience for different people. Originally
contructed in 1395 under the reign of King Taejo, the architectural plans
were supervised by Korean architect Jeong Do-jeung and his assistant, Sim
Dokpu, and the site itself occupies approximately 410,000 square meters.
Also called Northern Palace because of its location, Gyeongbokgung is Seoul's
most prominent palace. Although situated in the middle of the city, once
inside the gates of the palace, you quickly forget the hustle and bustle
of city life. What is particularly appealing about walking through the site
is that there’s lots of greenery, a sight becoming an increasing rarity
in downtown Seoul.
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- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- The Opening and Closing of the Royal Palace Gates and Royal Guard Changing Ceremonies
The Gyeongbokgung Palace served at various times as the main palace
of the Joseon kingdom. With Mt. Bugaksan to its rear and the Street
of Six Ministries to its front, it become the center of urban planning
in the royal capital. Built originally in 1395, it was destroyed by
fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and reconstructed in 1868.
During the Japanese colonial period, however, the palace was large
dismantled, with only a few important structures left standing. Since
the 1990s,however, there has been a concerted effort to return the
palace to its former glory.
Entering the Palace from the East — the Folk Museum of Korea
There are four entrances to the palace grounds: Sinmumun, Gwanghwamun, East
Entrance and the National Folk Gallery entrance. It actually doesn't make
a big difference where you begin your walk, as once you are in, you’ll realize
that there’s so much to discover at one's pace. For this excursion, I decide
to enter the palace through the National Folk Museum entrance (which is
on the way to Samcheongdong and opposite the Polish Embassy headquarters
and Seoul Selection Bookshop). Walking along the lined palace walls, I arrive
at the booth and pay the minimal 3,000 won entrance fee. For those who decide
to wear their hanbok (Korean traditional attire), entrance is free.
The first sights after passing by Jangseung Plaza is a group of timber totem
poles of female and male faces that served as guard posts in ancient Korean
villages, sottae and dolharubang (volcanic stone sculptures), all of which
were used as worship pieces in Korean folklore. As you approach the museum, you’ll see on the right, three examples of traditional Korean architecture
on the rooftops, which are the highest points on the palace grounds and
can be easily seen from almost anywhere. The buildings of the museum have
followed traditional Korean architectural styles. The five-story main building
took its inspiration from Palsangjeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple, while the
three-story building to the east was modeled after Mireukjeon Hall at Geumsansa
Temple, and the two-story building to the west was modeled after Gakhwangjeon
Hall at Hwaeomsa Temple. Particularly noteworthy is the middle facade of
the main building, which takes the form of the beautiful “Cloud Bridge Stairway”
leading up to the entrance of Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, which has a lower
flight, the “Bridge of White Clouds,” and an upper flight, the “Bridge of
Azure Clouds.” One cannot miss the sight and beauty of this structure that
stands majestically over the museum.
The National Folk Museum is a good place to obtain an overview and introduction
of Korean history, focusing on the Joseon Dynasty. The three main exhibition
halls showcase the History of Korean Lifestyles, Livelihood, Arts &
Crafts, Living Essentials and the Korean Life Cycle. From traditional Korean
food to different types of houses (shingle, Jeju-do and Andong style), you’ll
be introduced to the breadth of Korean history from a prosaic erspective.
Also fairly new to the museum in Gallery 3 is the Gallery of Donations,
which exhibits different private collections from donors. Ongoing until
July is a special exhibit of Dr. Yeong Seong- chang's Korean coins and objects
collection, including the Geonwon Jungbo, the first coin ever issued in
Korea's history. There’s also a small Children's Folk Museum located in
the main building that features games, activities and a playroom.
The Most Photographed Site in Korea?
| After a stroll through the museum, my walk
continues to the main sites of the palace. Passing by more open-air exhibitions,
I arrive at the exquisite sight of Hyangwonjeong and Geongcheonggung, perhaps
one of the most photographed sites in Seoul. Built to the north of the beautiful
pond, Geoncheonggun, which is currently undergoing restoration works, served
as a separate palace for King Gojong and his consort, and is considered
a palace within a palace. It is here that the Empress Myeongsong was assassinatedin1895.
Hyangwonji Pond & Chuihyanggyo Bridge
in 1456, Hyangwonji pond belongs to the rear garden of Gyeongbokgung palace.
It can be also found in an ancient Korean chronicle. According records,
the pond was built along with the Chuirojeong pavilion, and lotus flowers
were planted. The existing pond was reconstructed in 1873, and the hexagonal
pavilion of Hyangwonjeong and Chuihyanggyo bridge were built then. The area
of the pond is 4605 square meters. Waterweeds can be found there, along
with carp swimming in the pond; a variety of trees, including zelkova, Chinese
juniper, maple, pine, oak and pear also surround it. The pond is at its
most spectacular when Mt.Bugaksan, the pavilion and the wooden bridge are
reflected on the pond’s surface.
With palace guards keeping careful watch over school children taking their
photos at the side of the pond, I take a stroll further north and arrive
at the Jibokjae — an assemblage of two buildings, Hyeopgildang Pavilion
and Parujeong Pavilion, that were originally built in the precincts of Changdeokgung
and then moved to Gyeongbokgung in 1888, when King Gojong relocated his
official residence. Jibokgae was used as
“Passing by Taewonjeon, the buildings used for royal
funerals and ancestral rites, you will see the modern Seoul in the background
with skyscrapers lining the horizon. It’s a nice contrast to the historical
palace buildings and a reminder that you haven't quite gone back in time.”
library and a reception hall to receive foreign envoys, and all three buildings
are connected by a raised corridor. If looks closely, Chinese elements in
After a quick browse through can be detected the buildings, my stroll then
starts to head southwards. Passing by Taewonjeon, the buildings used for
royal funerals and ancestral rites, you’ll see the modern Seoul in the background
with skyscrapers lining the horizon. It’s a nice contrast to the historical
palace buildings and a reminder that you haven't quite gone back in time.
Another area which you’ll pass is the Soy Sauce Jar Terrace, currently undergoing
restoration and scheduled to re-open in late June. Another area which is
under going restoration is Hamhwadong and Jipgyeongdang, located right next
to the Soy Sauce Jar Terrace. Hamhwadong was the living quarters for the
queen and included several more buildings. Only two buildings remain today.
A Labyrinth of a Palace
|Walking further south, I've seen about half
of Gyeonbokgung and discover that there are so many pockets and hidden courtyards
and buildings, it almost feels like a maze. There are splendid trees planted
throughout the grounds and large areas of grass, a nice addition and much
needed source of green in the city. And on a weekday, it’s relatively quiet,
so it's a perfect occasion to take a relaxing walk. The loudest noises you'll
hear are the schoolchildren but even so, their voices don't carry very far
in the vast space of the palace grounds. After a few more minutes, I arrive
at Heumgyeonggak and Hamwonjeon, where King Sejong invented numerous scientific
devices such as the rain gauge, sundial, water clock and celestial globes.
These buildings were restored in 1995.
Next to Hamwonjeon is Saejeongjeong and vicinity, where the king met with
his officials and presided over meetings. To the east and west are two more
halls (Manchunjeon and Cheonchujeon) which are supposed to represent the
king and his two subjects. Further to the left is where Donggung and vicinity
are located. This is where the crown prince and princess lived, and the
excavated site includes a site where meals for the kings were prepared.
The grand finale of the walk ends with Geunjeongjeon, the main throne hall
of Gyeongbokgung, which should be recognizable to most local Koreans. During
the year, re-enactments of coronations are performed here in the main throne
hall and stand as a symbol the king's presence. Facing the throne hall,majestic
views of Mt. Bugaksan can be seen. Rebuilt in 1867, the main hall of Gyeongbokgung
was the venue where the king attended to affairs of the state or grand celebrations.
There are 12 pairs of stone markers situated in front of the main hall,
each bearing the rank of court officials. From the steps of Geunjeongjeon,
don't forget to look out towards Gwanghwamun gate to get a final look at
the scene of modern day Seoul juxtaposed to the grandness of Gyeongbokgung.
Located to the south of Gwanghwamun gate is the National Palace Museum of
Korea. Currently undergoing renovations, the museum is scheduled to re-open
later this year on Nov 28.
|Written by Irene Lam
Photos by Ryu Seunghoo
English-language guided tours of Gyeongbokgung Palace:
9:30am, 12:00pm, 1:30pm, 3:00pm
Tours last approximately one hour and begin outside the information
office inside Heungryemun Gate.
Hours of Gyeongbokgung:
March through October 9am—6pm
November through February 9am—5pm
Open until 7pm Saturdays and Sundays and national holidays in May,
June, July and August.
Ticket booth closes one hour before closing of palace, Museum closed
Adults 19 to 64 yrs: 3,000 won per person/ 2,400 won for groups of
20 or more
Minors 7 to 18 yrs: 1,500 won per child or teen/1,200 won for groups
of 10 or more
Location & Info
Gyeongbokgung Station, line 3, exit 5
Tel: (02) 732-1931-2
|The article courtesy of SEOUL magazine