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To understand more about Korea, you have to immerse yourself in their culture. The best way to do that is to stroll through the royal walkways of the “Five Grand Palaces” (Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung or Gyeonghuigung Palace). The chance to marvel at the unique architecture, art and cultural history of these palaces is an opportunity not to be missed. So here we are paying a visit to Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace.
A: GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE
Gyeongbokgung which literately means “Palace of Shining Happiness” was the main and largest of the five grand palaces. It was built by King Taejo, the first king and founder of the Joseon Dynasty. The Gyeongbokgung continued to serve as the main palace until it was burned to the ground during the invasions of the Japanese. It was however reconstructed during the reign of Daewongun. But after the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, the Imperial Family never went back to the palace.
Restoration efforts of the Korean government began in 1990 and continue to this day. In fact, some parts were under renovation when we visited. So far they’ve done an excellent job of bringing this former royal palace back to life. One notable thing about the palace is that the architecture is harmonized beautifully with the surrounding nature without appearing intrusive.
Visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace reminded me of one of my favorite Korean TV series – “Jewel in the Palace”.
Gwanghwamun is the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace and is located on the South side. It is comprised of three arched gates called Hongyemun with the middle gate reserved for the king and the other two for his officials.
There are so many gates inside the palace and that’s me having a photo op with the second inner gate or Heungnyemun.
This gate is the second largest gate of Gyeongbokgung and the first gate that visitors see after Gwanghwamun Gate. The gate was totally demolished during the Japanese occupation when they constructed a building for their Governor General. It was restored to its original form in 1995.
The reenactment of the Changing of the Royal Guard and the Patrol Ritual are performed every day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in front of Heungnyemun Gate.
I was amazed at how the Changing of the Guards ceremony was performed. Watching it made me feel like I was transported back in time during the heydays of the palace.
All the costumes were vibrant and the sound of the drums echoed throughout the palace grounds. Everyone was surely delighted in taking part of this reenactment of a historical event.
Like any other tourist, I had to do a photo op with the royal guards 🙂 They look like a mannequin from afar.
Having passed through the gates we finally came to see the throne hall.
Just as the palace is breathtaking, so is the view outside… love the mountains that serve as the backdrop for the palace!
Geunjeongjeon is the throne hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace where the king was formally briefed by his officials, issued proclamations, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors. It was also the central venue for various coronation ceremonies of the royal household.
Four times per month, the king summoned all civil and military officials to the vast courtyard. To this day, stone markers designate where officials sat, resting on cushions made of leopard, tiger, sheep or dog skins, depending on one’s rank.
After climbing the stairs, visitors can peek into the hall. Inside, a towering ceiling is painted in remarkable detail with two golden dragons swirling at its center.
The main hall and the throne
The dragon designs on the ceiling
Geoncheonggung Palace is located within the complex. It was once the royal residence of Emperor Gojong and his wife, Empress Myeongseong. It is also a tragic place, where Empress Myeongseong was brutally murdered by Japanese agents. Inside the palace visitors can see some of the royal family’s personal possessions.
Gyotaejeon Hall – The Queen’s living quarter
Each building was made of wood – featured a tiled roof and multi-color paintings on the pillars and rafters to illustrate the authority and dignity of the king.
Gyeonghoeru is located next to Geunjeongjeon. Its architecture is so highly prized for its aesthetic qualities that it once appeared on the Korean 10,000 won banknote. The pavilion is situated on an artificial island in the middle of a rectangular lake with three stone bridges stretching out to the palace grounds, an arrangement which illustrates the way in which traditional Korean architectural style blends simplicity and splendor.
Hyangwonjeong is located to the north of the palace site. This hexagonal pavilion was constructed by order of King Gojong on an artificial island in a lake and was connected to the palace grounds by a bridge. Gyeonghoeru was the King’s place for a formal national banquet, Hyangwonjeong was his informal and private place for rest and leisure.
One interesting fact I’ve learned about Korean architecture is that, if the eaves of the palace are colored, it means a female member of the Royal family is occupying that place, but if it’s gray, it’s either his Imperial Highness or a male member of the Royal family.
I admire how they were able to reconstruct the living quarters of the members of the household of the royal family in intricate detail.
B: CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
Entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace.
Changdeokgung Palace is also known as Donggwol, the Eastern Palace and literally means “The Palace of Prospering Virtue.” The palace was home to the Joseon government and was also the favored residence of many Joseon Dynasty kings. This makes Changdeokgung Palace the longest-serving royal residential palace.
Geumcheongyo is a bridge just inside the entrance to the palace. Although the palace has endured many wars and fires, Geumcheongyo has kept its original form, making it of great historical value.
The throne hall is the center of power in the whole palace.
Inside the Injeongjeon Throne Hall.
Nakseonjae – the Queen’s private residential area at Changdeokgung Palace.
A great contrast between the old and the new.
The series of gates leading to another gate and another layer of surrounding wall after another will give you more or less an idea how the kings and queens were well protected.
C: THE SECRET GARDEN:
Changdeokgung Palace is easily accessible for walk-in visitors, however, the Secret Garden can only be accessed on a guided one hour tour.
Huwon is a garden of natural beauty. It is considered an excellent example of Korean garden design and its the only rear garden of any Korean palace.
The first stop is the Buyongji Pond along with uniquely design cross-shaped roof of Jondeokjeong Pavilion, Buyongjeong Pavilion and the royal library of Juhapru Pavilion.
A stream running through Huwon is called Ongnyucheon, surrounded by pavilions and a rounded water channel called Soyoam (rock). This specific place is considered as a favorite spot among many kings due to its more secluded location.
I have learned why Koreans like to sit on the floor — to stay warm! Houses in winter were traditionally warmed by an ondol, or underfloor heating, which transferred heat from an underground stove using horizontal smoke passages under the floor. As a result, the floor would always be the warmest part of the house. Good to know where that practice came from.
Almost at the end of the tour, we reached a 750 years old Chinese Juniper tree, one of the oldest trees in Korea. The guide challenged us to spot shapes of four animals created by the branches of the tree. Can you find those shapes by looking at the picture?
Taken as a whole, the Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul are a wonderful must-see destination for every visitor to Seoul.
A: GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE
How to get here:
- Take subway to Gyeongbokgung Station; Exit 5
- Walk straight and you will see a gate of the the palace
- Ticket booths are situated on the corner; just right inside the Gwanghwamun Gateof the palace
- Age 19 – up: 3,000 won / 2.400 won (group, 10 or more)
- Age 7-18: 1,500 won / 1,200 won (group, 10 or more)
- Free: Children (ages 6 and under), Permanent Residency (F-5) Status Holder (Age 65 and Older)
- 09:00-18:00 (Final admission at 17:00)
- June through August 09:00-18:30(Final admission at 17:30)
- November through February 09:00-17:00(Final admission at 16:00)
- Closed on Tuesdays
Tour in foreign languages
- English : 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
- Japanese : 10:00, 12:30, 14:30
- Chinese : 10:30, 13:00, 15:00
B: CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
How to get here:
- Anguk Station, Line 3, Exit 3
- Mon, Wed-Sun, 9AM-6PM
- Adult (ages 19-64): 3,000 KRW
- Children (ages 7-18): 1,500 KRW
Huwon Tour (Secret Garden area)
- Adults (ages over 19): 5,000 won
- Children (ages 7-18): 2,5000 won
You may also want to check my blog on: N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park, Gyeongbukgong and Changdeokgung Palace, Hanok Village, My First Impressions of Seoul,Budget Travel in Seoul , Korean BBQ Experience, 15 Must try Street Food in Seoul, 15 Must try food in Seoul, Places to Visit in Seoul, Lotte World