October 4, 2012

South Korea : The Great Palaces of Seoul - Gyeongbokgung

Seoul is a mega-city with a population of more than 10 million and consistently being one of the world's top ten financial and commercial centers. But despite the status, the city still preserves its traditional and historical value. You can witness this if you visit the 'Five Grand Palaces'. No visit to Seoul would be complete without a stroll through the royal walkways of Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung or Gyonghuigung Palace.

Built by Joseon kings, these palaces all remain remarkably well preserved. I didn't go to all five cos obviously I don't have all the time in the world. My friend even suggested I go to only one palace as they more or less look the same. She said, "You better spend your time shopping in Myeongdong." Pfttt...

I went to three palaces eventually. 


Gyeongbokgung was originally constructed in 1394 by King Taejo, the first king and the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. It served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and is often considered to be the grandest of all five palaces. The name of the palace, Gyeongbokgung, translates in English as the "Palace of Shining Happiness."

The palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasions and its site was left in ruins for the next three centuries. Only in 1867, the palace buildings were reconstructed and Gyeongbokgung again became an iconic symbol for the Korean nation and the Korean royal family.

The buildings were destroyed once again in 1911 during the Japanese occupation of Korea. To restore Gyeongbokgung to its former glory, the government has decided to start a 40-year initiative to rebuild the structures that were destroyed beginning from 1989. Such a long period. Let's see how the palace will look like in 17 years time then.

For the time being, let's see how it looks!

Gwanghwamun Gate, the Main and South Gate of Gyeongbokgung

Entering Geunjeongmun (the Third Inner Gate), you will see Geunjeongjeon standing grandly in front of you. Geunjeongjeon Hall is the throne hall where the king conducted state affairs, held official functions, and received foreign envoys. It was designated as Korea's National Treasure #223 in 1985.

inside the hall

the decoration detail

Inside the compound, you can see these stone pillars leading up towards Geunjeongjeon with numbers engraved on them. They are known as the rank stones. When official events were held, the officials would line up according to their rank behind those stones.

This is Gyeonghoeru, the pavilion which held special banquets during Joseon Dynasty. It has also been designated as Korea's National Treasure #224 in 1985.

Supported by 48 stone pillars and set in a lotus pond, the pavilion was a favored place for the King to entertain visiting dignitaries.

Other parts of the palace...

Sujeongjeon and Gwolnaegaksa, buildings for government units engaged in royal family affairs

Gangnyeongjeon (King's Quarters)

gate to the quarters

Gyotaejeon (Queen's Quarters)

Jibokjae (Private Royal Library)

Geoncheonggung Residence, a private royal residence built by King Gojong in 1873

palace courtyard

Further walk around the compound brought me to Hyangwonji Lake. There is a small hexagonal pavilion, Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, in the middle of the lake.

I spent my time just sitting at the bench facing the lake. Quite a nice way to relax after walking for hours touring the palace. 

At the end of Gyeongbokgung up north is the North Gate. 

I just went out from there to have a look around the area. It was quieter here, and not many people were seen walking around. Prolly because it's too far behind. Or because there is a lot of police monitoring the area. Just in front of the North Gate, with Mount Bukhansan as the backdrop, is Cheongwadae, or also known as The Blue House. It is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea.

One of the highlights of Gyeongbokgung is the change of guards ceremony. It takes place every hour from 10 am to 4 pm in front of Gwanghwamun Gate and Heungnyemun Gate (the Second Inner Gate). It was  very interesting to watch it as it is a reenactment of the original ceremony, which first took place in 1469.

Watch the video...

Gyeongbokgung is open daily except Tuesday.
 Visiting hours are from 9 am to 6 pm (March ~ October) and 9 am to 5 pm (November ~ February).
Entrance fee is KRW 3000.
Direction: Take subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station and proceed to Exit 5.

The entrance ticket to Gyeongbokgung includes entrance to the National Folk Museum. So just enter it la to maximize the money I spent. haha...

The museum presents historical artifacts that were used in daily lives of ordinary Korean people. Here you can learn about Korea's cultural beliefs. There weren't many people inside the museum unlike the palace compound. Well I guess people are not that interested with museums.

Jangseung and Sotdae, the village guardian pole

Korean traditional wedding

the bride

the groom

Bier (Sang-yeo), used for conveying corpse to burial site

The museum has three main exhibition halls; highlighting History of Korean People, Korean Way of Life, and Life Cycle of the Koreans.

I love Korean food!

Done exploring the palace and the museum, I went out from the Main Gate. Right in front of the main gate of Gyeongbokgung is Gwanghwamun Square, where you can see the statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.

I spent half a day touring the palace and the museum. Definitely time well spent.

The second palace I went to, Changdeokgung, is located in the same area but I didn't go there on the same day to avoid sightseeing overload.

Shall blog about it in my next post... 


BibiErr Karim said...

Bestnya! I didn't get to visit any palaces aritu sebab jadual sangat pack. Envy u!

rara said...

BibiErr: takpe.. next trip! hehe..