Palaces in SEOUL (Part 1)

You don’t need to go far away to see some truly extraordinary ancient Korean architecture. Here in Seoul you have a great opportunity to visit various palaces that have served as a home to high ranking officials during the late 14th until the late 18th century.  In total you can visit five palaces and one shrine that will give you an immaculate overview of the Korean history and important events that have shaped the Korean culture that we are able to observe nowadays.

If you remember one of my previous posts where I introduced the famous Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을), then maybe you can recall that I mentioned that it is actually located between two grand palaces – Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) and Changgyeonggung Palace (창덕궁). This time I am going to tell you more about the Gyeongbokgung Palace’s cultural heritage, so if you still have not visited the Bukchon Hanok Village, then now it is the right time to plan your trip. You can visit the two palaces and the village at the same time. It probably will take you the whole day, but it is worth the visit.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)

The so called Northern Palace (because it is located at the northern part of Seoul) was built in 1395 and is still the largest of the five palaces. Some people argue that it actually is the most beautiful of them all, nevertheless, there are way too many differences and unique features in each of them to be able to distinguish the “true beauty”.

However, unfortunately the palace does not contain all the elements that were observable during the first centuries of its opening. Due to the Imjinwaeran War (임지왜란) (Japanese Invasion, 1592-1598) some of the premises were destroyed by fire. However, later on all of the palace buildings were renovated under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun (흥선대원군) during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919).

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Extraordinarily, the most illustrative edifices of the Joseon Dynasty (조선왕조), Gyeonghoe-ru Pavilion (경회루) and Hyangwonjeong Pond (향원정), have remained relatively intact as the Japanese soldiers did not manage to destroy them.

If you happen to be at the palace between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. then there is a big chance that you will witness the famous “Changing of the Royal Guard and the Patrol” in front of Heungnyemun gate (흥례문). The guardsmen perform several ceremonies including the opening and closing the royal palace gate and the changing of the guard.

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Don’t forget to check the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion. This place will make you feel like you are in a dramatic Korean/Japanese romance movie. The bridge connecting one side of the lake to a tiny hanok style terrace will bring you back the scenes from the Memoirs of a Geisha.

Furthermore, while visiting the palace you will have a great opportunity to also visit the National Palace Museum of Korea (국립고궁박물관) which is located right on the southern part of Heungnyemun Gate. If you are really interested in the traditional side of Korea then probably it is worth visiting the National Folk Museum as well (국립민속박물관). This museum is located located on the eastern side within Hyangwonjeong. It will give you a great knowledge about Korean traditional crafts, furthermore, you will be able to observe the process of craftsmanship as various workshops are available. Don’t worry, the tickets that you bought for visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace will also be valid at the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum.

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If you want to celebrate the Korea’s 70th anniversary of victory over Japan which helped Koreans fight for their freedom together with the locals, then it is a good idea to visit the “Korean Flag Street” or taegeukgi-gil (태극기길). It has been developed on one of Hyoja-dong’s (효자동) streets near Gyeongbokgung Palace. Here a total number of 240 flags are flown along the street which is something similar to the street in front of Cheongwadae (청와대) – the Blue House or the so called presidential residence.

The 240 flags were only put on this year on 1st of March as a reminder of the March 1st Movement also known as the Sam-il Movement (3.1 운동). Don’t forget to hurry up if you want to see this phenomenon. It has been announced that all of the flags will be removed before the winter season. It is likely that by the end of this year all of them will be gone. Don’t miss this out.

Don’t forget to bring some cash with you! The ticket fee is 10 000 KRW, however, the ticket is valid for up to one month from the moment you purchase it. Take Subway Line 3, Exit 5 and get off at the Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (경복궁역), it will be difficult to miss it. However, if you want to visit the Bukchon Hanok village as well then you should get off at the Anguk Station (안국역).

 

Article by Zanda from the U.K.

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