October 19, 2012

Seoul, South Korea : Jongmyo Shrine

I've read a lot about Joseon Dynasty since my visit to Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, so it is only natural that I visit Jongmyo Shrine to complement it. Built in 1394 even before that of the main palace, Gyeongbokgung, the shrine house the spirit tablets of the Joseon kings and queens and some of their most loyal government officials.

Apparently, out of all the Confucian states in Asia, Korea is the only one that has preserved its royal shrine and continues to conduct royal ancestral rites. This invaluable cultural inheritance has put the shrine on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1995.

After the death of a king or queen, mourning at the palace continued for three years. Then the memorial tablets were moved to Jongmyo and enshrined.

Jongmyo Jerye, the Royal Ancestral Rite, was the most important state ritual. The ceremony previously was conducted five times a year but these days, it is performed once a year on the first Sunday in May. This is the time of the year where all the descendants of the royal family gather, in their court costumes and performed the ritual, accompanied by traditional court music. Not sure if you can actually watch it, but hey.. if you are in Seoul that weekend, perhaps you can go and have a look.

Entrance to this shrine is only by guided tours, except for Saturdays where you can roam for free. There are several guided tours daily in different languages. Luckily I arrived at the shrine just in time for the English guided tour. If not, terkebil-kebil lah dengar bahasa lain. haha...

The tour started in Hyangdaecheong, which is the place for storing ritual articles, sent by the king on the day prior to the ancestral ceremony. 

The design of the buildings and subdued colors of red and green are meant to emphasize solemnity, piety, and sublimity. 
Bright colors wouldn't allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace.

One of the many unique characteristics of Jongmyo Shrine is the stone path you immediately see when you enter it.

The path leads straight to the main ceremonial hall. My guide told me and the group; for superstitious reasons and out of respect, not to walk on the path as it is for the ancestors.

Anyway, if you notice, the middle path is slightly raised. That's because it is in honor of the kings. 

The main shrine, Jeongjeon, is said to be the longest single traditional structure in Korea. 
Inside are 49 royal spirit tablets in 19 small windowless rooms.

the large courtyard where Jongmyo Jerye was performed

the figures on the roofs, called Japsang, are to protect the building against evil spirits

The smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon, was built as an annex to Jeongjeon as the need to house more spirit tablets during the reigns of later kings. It has 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.

The empty pond inside the shrine complex. 

It's a symbol representing the solemness of the King's death and dying, therefore there are no fish, lotus or lily pads inside the pond because they are all living things. 

I think the tree looks dying too. In fact, I think it looks like the ghost in scream. Hmmm... 

Do visit the shrine if you have a chance and join the guided-tour. Yeah I know guided-tour can be boring sometimes but you will be able to fully understand the meaning of the places within the shrine complex, get to learn about the relevant history and its ritual practices. 

Jongmyo Shrine is open daily except Tuesday.
 Entrance to the shrine is allowed only on guided tours. 
Guided tours in English - 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm 
Free tours are available only on Saturdays. 
Entrance fee is KRW 1000.
Direction: Stop at Jongno-3(sam)-ga Station (Subway Line 1, exit 11; Subway Line 3, exit 8; Subway Line 5, exit 8).
 The shrine is about 5 minutes walk from the station. 

Anyway, if you're walking from the subway, you will pass by Jongmyo Park, right in front of the shrine. The park is full of old men playing board games. 

 I initially thought there was some tournament going on. haha... 

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