Since 1996, the Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony at Deoksugung Palace has taken place three times a day except on Mondays and has become a popular cultural event among international tourists in Seoul. Starting on May 1, 2012, the Seoul Metropolitan Government started a special event where foreign tourists can take part in the ceremony by becoming a royal guard. This event allows tourists to go beyond simply watching the ceremony, by taking part in it, which helps tourists to have a better understanding of Korean traditions.
During the Joseon Dynasty, there was an army called Sumungun (Royal Guard Army) that belonged to the royal palace. The royal guards were in charge of opening and shutting the gates of the royal palace, performing sentry duty, and patrolling the area. Since 1996, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has sponsored a reenactment of the changing of the royal guards ceremony of the Joseon Dynasty based on historical research. The event is held three times a day, every day (except Mondays) at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. at Deoksugung Palace.
The royal guard-changing ceremony experience begins in the staff waiting room in the Seoul City Hall annex building. Mark (United States) and Felipe (Spain) arrived an hour before the 2 p.m. start time of the event. They arrived early to become orientated on the rituals of the royal guards as well as to get dressed-up. About four performance staff including an interpreter taught Mark and Felipe how to bow and hold a baton like a proper member of the royal guard.
Then, Mark and Felipe got dressed. A royal guard has to put on 20 different articles of clothing and accessories. After putting on a mustache, the guards put on 5 or 6 items on top of the basic costume. The costume is fastened at the wrists and ankles, and the guards then put on a money pouch, a horsehair-woven headband, and guard hat. After strapping on their sword and bow, the royal guards are ready to perform their duty.
It is finally time for the Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony. Mark and Felipe made their appearance with the royal guard contingent to relieve the old guard of duty. Under the order of the vice commander, the royal guards shout in unison to announce the start of the changing ceremony.
Following the beating drum played by an honorary guard, the ceremony follows several traditional rituals. The old and new royal guard commanders exchange a box containing the key to the royal palace gate. The drum is beaten six times, and the commanders confirm the necessary details for opening or closing the royal palace gate and show their personal tablet to verify their position. After the drum is beaten three times, the old and new royal guards exchange their places. Then, the vice commander shouts "Yepil" and the guards shout the word in unison to announce the end of the changing ceremony.
The ceremony takes about 20 minutes. Afterwards, there is a 10-minute photo period to allow visitors to take pictures with the royal guards.
To participate in the 'I Am a Royal Guard' program, visit the official site of the royal guard-changing ceremony (www.royalguard.or.kr) and apply.
Organization of Royal Guards
• Sumunjang: A military officer and the head of the Royal Guards Office responsible for overseeing the royal guard contingents
• Chamha: A vice commander responsible for supervising the royal guards changing ceremony
• Sumungun:A soldier in charge of guarding the royal palace gates
• Seungjeongwon juseo A civil official supervising the royal guards changing ceremony
• Sekjeongseo sayak: A eunuch who hands over the box containing the key to the royal guards and supervises the royal guards changing ceremony
• Chwiracheok: performing music during the changing ceremony and royal guard parade
• Eomgosu: Drummer announcing the royal guards changing ceremony protocol
''I Am a Royal Guard' Program
☞ Dates: Year round except Mondays / Limited to two people a day
☞ Place: Daehanmun Gate in Deoksugung Palace
☞ Official site: http://royalguard.or.kr/ (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
☞ To participate: Make a reservation through the official site
☞ Free of charge
☞ Event period
Guard changing ceremony
First ceremony (11:00)/ Second ceremony (14:00) / Third ceremony (15:30)
Sulla Ceremony (Royal Guard Patrol)
*11:25-12:25 (Daehanmun Gate in Deoksugung Palace->Cheonggyecheon Stream->Bosingak Bell)
*15:40-16:10 (Daehanmun Gate in Deoksugung Palace->Sejongro Street->Gwanghwamun Square)
☞ To get there: City Hall Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 2; City Hall Station(Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 12 in the direction of Deoksugung Palace
☞ Korea Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)