08 January 2011


I saw a lot of places during my four days in Seoul.  So rather than try to squeeze the history of all of it into one post, I'm going to separate it into a post on Gyeongbokgung, a post on the other palaces, and a post on everything else that I saw during the trip.  Since Gyeongbokgung was my favorite, I figured I'd start out with that.  So let us begin...

The royal guard standing in front of Gyeongbokgung
History of Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung ( 경복궁 ), or Gyeongbok Palace (gung means palace), translates to mean "Palace greatly blessed by heaven".  The palace was completed in 1395 and was the largest and most important of the five main palaces during the Joseon Dynasty.  It was constructed during the reign of King Taejo, who was the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, and was completed just three years after the Joseon Dynasty took control of the Korean peninsula.  The 1400's proved to be a successful century for the palace, as it underwent almost constant expansion.  The majority of this expansion took place under King Sejong the Great, who's statue now sits in front of the palace.  Unfortunately, the 16th century was not as kind to Gyeongbokgung.  Fires in the middle of the century destroyed parts of the palace and in 1592 the Japanese burnt down almost the entire compound.

King Gojong, who ruled from 1863 until 1907 and would later be known as Emperor Gojong when the Joseon Dynasty became the Korean Empire, began to restore the palace in 1865.  Reconstruction took about two years and in 1868 the King officially moved the royal family back to the palace.  The family would reside in the palace until the assassination of Empress Myeongseong in 1895 at the hands of Japanese agents.  Emperor Gojong left the palace after the death of his wife and never returned.  The Japanese again managed to almost completely destroy the palace during the takeover of Korea from 1910 to 1945.  Only seven buildings managed to survive both the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War.

The South Korean government began a restoration project in 1989 with the goal of returning the palace to its original state.  The reconstruction is scheduled to be completed by 2029.

Layout of Gyeongbokgung

Gwanghwamun ( 광화문 )
The main gate to Gyeongbokgung is the largest gate at the palace and overlooks Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul.  This gate was originally constructed with the palace in 1395, but like the palace has also needed to be restored multiple times.

Heungnyemun ( 흥례문 ) and Geunjeongmun ( 근정문 )
Heungnyemun is the second of three gates to pass through upon entering the palace.  Heungnyemun is followed by Yeongjegyo (a bridge) and Geunjeongmun (the third gate) after entering the palace through Gwanghwamun.  I'm not sure if this was the case for the other gates, but I read that the king was the only person allowed to walk through the center aisle of Geunjeongmun.

Yeongjegyo and Geunjeongmun
Geungjeongjeon ( 근정전 )
Geungjeongjeon is situated after Geunjeongmun and served as the throne hall during the Joseon Dynasty.  Although the original was destroyed during the Imjin War in 1592, the current structure was rebuilt in 1867 and was one of the seven buildings to survive the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War.

The King's throne in Geungjeongjeon
Gyeonghoeru ( 경회루 ) and Sujeongjeon ( 수정전 )
After encountering the Throne Hall there is the option of continuing straight toward Sajeongjeon or making a left and heading into the area containing Gyeonghoeru and Sujeongjeon.  Sujeongjeon is a small building that was used by cabinet members of the Joseon Dynasty.  Gyeonghoeru is a pavillion that was originally built in 1412 and was reconstructed in 1867.  It is the largest elevated pavilion in Korea and was used to entertain guests and host banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.

Sajeongjeon ( 사정전 ), Gangnyeongjeon ( 강녕전 ) and Gyotaejeon ( 교태전 )
Sajeongjeon is located directly behind Geungjeongjeon and was used primarily as place for the king to meet with his top officials.  In back of Sajeongjeon is Gangnyeongjeon, which was used as the sleeping quarters for the king.  This building has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, with the most recent reconstruction finishing in 1994.  Gangnyeongjeon is followed by Gyotaejeon, also known as the queen's sleeping quarters. 

A look inside Sajeongjeon
Donggung and Jagyeongjeon are located to the right of the main palace complex.  I didn't spend much time at either of these, but Donggung served as the Palace of the Crown Prince and Jagyeongjeon was used as a sleeping quarters for Queen Sinjeongwanghu.

National Folk Museum of Korea ( 국립민속박물관 )
This museum is located on the palace grounds and is right near the main palace complex.  I didn't go inside the museum, but the outside is pretty awesome.

Part of the National Folk Museum
Hyangwonjeong ( 향원정 ) and Geoncheonggung ( 건청궁 )
From the Folk Museum I headed over to Hyangwonjeong, which is located behind the main palace complex.  Hyangwonjeong is a pavilion that is located on an island in the middle of a lake called Hyangwonji.  A bridge named Chwihyanggyo was constructed to connect the pavilion with the rest of the palace.  Behind Hyangwonjeong is Geoncheonggung, which was a personal residence for King Gojong.

Hyangwonjeong with the National Folk Museum in the distance
Jibokjae ( 집옥재 ), Sinmumun ( 신무문 ), and Taewonjeon ( 태원전 )
Jibokjae is located to the left of Geoncheonggung and served as a library for King Gojong.  Sinmumun is the North Gate of the palace and is located to the left of Jibokjae.  Sinmumun also leads to the house of the current President of South Korea.  Taewonjeon is located to the left of the North Gate and was originally constructed as a shrine to King Taejo, who was the founder of the Joseon Dynasty.

Entrance to Taewonjeon
So that about sums it up.  On my way out I headed past Yeongchumun, which is the West gate, and the National Palace Museum of Korea.  I really loved exploring this palace and I would definitely say it is one of the coolest places I have ever visited (although it doesn't top the Colosseum or Chichen Itza).  I would like to revisit this palace in the spring to check out the gardens and to visit some of the areas where I didn't get to spend too much time.

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