The last post about Seoul! It took so long to get here. This one is all about “Old Seoul”. On our day dedicated to exploring some of the historic pieces of Seoul, we spent the majority of our time at the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It was built 1395 (whoa!) and served as the home of the kings of the Joseon dynasty. The palace has been destroyed and restored quite a few times over the course of time and is still being restored and reconstructed back to its original form today. It is now contained within a walled complex and additionally houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum.
When you walk into the palace, you go through a few different doorways that open themselves up into a large courtyard of gravel. Each gateway serves as a stopping point for various types of people and officials. So scholars could only go so far into the compound, government officials a bit farther, and of course, the king was permitted to go the farthest into the complex. But, in this first courtyard, you could buy tickets and witness the changing of the guard at the front gates. We were lucky enough to walk in right when a changing of the guard was taking place.
Here are a few of the entrance and the changing of the guard ceremony:
I couldn’t tell you exactly what each room was but there’s one room I am positive of and that’s the throne room (top of the post). It was contained in a building called Geunjeongjeon and was so incredibly detailed and beautiful. Everything in the room was painted. I swear not one inch was left untouched on the walls and ceiling. The building itself was deemed as one of Korea’s National Treasures (no. 223). Everything is made primarily of wood. The version we saw was a reconstruction. The original was burned down in the late 16th century with the Japanese occupation.
See below for the rest of the throne room photos I snapped:
The rest of the grounds were immaculate. A favorite place was Hyangwonjeong, a small two-story pavilion on a man-made island in the middle of a pond. It has a wooden bridge that runs out to it (although we were not allowed to walk to it) and made for a great photo-op spot. The pond was full of lily pads and koi just lazily floating around waiting for some food to fall.
Gyeonghoeru was a large banquet hall/pavilion that was used to hold important events. This building was also named a Korean National Treasure (no. 224). There were tours that you could take for an extra fee (which we didn’t do). From what we could tell, you were taken upstairs and around the rest of the building. There was likely a really nice view of the grounds from the upper floor. The building is on its own peninsula in the middle of yet another gorgeous koi pond.
We also saw a few other buildings in the complex that were likely used for housing other government officials and/or the wives/families of the king. They were all very ornate as one would expect. One particular building called Jibokjae (last photo, below), was a private library for the king back when it was in use. When we were there it was being used to serve tea to guests with reservations.
The building that everyone is standing in front of is called Geoncheonggung. King Gojong built this in 1873 as a private residence for him and his family. His wife, Empress Myeongseong (Min) was brutally assassinated by Japanese agents in the home in October of 1895. They burned her body and dispersed her ashes in the forest. Seriously brutal. There has been much interest in Empress Min in Korea since her passing. Books, TV dramas, and plays have been written based on her life story.
There has been much interest in Empress Min in Korea since her passing. Books, TV dramas, and plays have been written based on her life story. Haunted by the assassination of his wife, the king left the palace in January 1896, and never returned to the residence.Overall this was a wonderful experience. We walked through the grounds and gardens for a few hours. We also did a brief run through the National Folk Museum before heading out. You can see the Japanese influence in the roofing and various details of the reconstructions throughout the grounds. In the late 1980’s, the South Korean government made a big push to restore hundreds of historical buildings that had been destroyed by the Japanese. We were lucky enough to experience a small piece of that on this trip.
In case you missed it:
On deck: Andong, Gyeongju, Busan, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
I’ll take a brief break between some of these to throw in some recipes since the last four posts have been all about this trip. Then we’ll get back to it with a few more posts on the other cities in South Korea that we visited and of course, Japan. Thanks for sticking with me! Lemon ice cream and stuffed shells are on the way!