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Places in South Korea: Deoksugung Palace

Basic Information

  • Name: Deoksugung Palace
  • Where: Seoul, South Korea
  • Cost: 1,000 won ($1)
  • Hours: 9AM-9PM, Mondays closed
  • More Information: Visit Seoul website

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace Narrative

For anyone visiting central Seoul I highly recommend taking 30-minutes to take a walk through the historic Deoksugung Palace.  This palace is one of the smallest palaces in Korea, but despite its size it is the location of some of the greatest intrigues in modern Korean history.  The palace is easy to spot since it is located across the street from the Seoul City Hall and adjacent to a prominent Dunkin Donuts location:

Inside the peaceful interior of the palace it was almost hard to believe that I was in the middle of one of the world’s busiest metropolises:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Compared to other palaces in Korea, Deoksugung is one of the newer palaces.  Here is a brief history of this palace from the Visit Korea website:

Originally, Deoksugung Palace was not a palace. The Imjin War (the Japanese invasions in 1592) left all the palaces in Korea severely damaged. When King Seonjo (the fourteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty) returned to Seoul from his evacuation, the primary palace Gyeongbokgung Palace had been burnt to the ground and other palaces were also heavily damaged. A temporary palace was chosen from among the houses of the royal family. This is the origin of Deoksugung Palace. King Gwanghaegun (the fifteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty) named the palace Gyeongungung, formalizing it as a royal palace. Since then it has been used as an auxiliary palace by many Joseon kings. In 1897, Emperor Gojong (the twenty-sixth king of the Joseon Dynasty) stayed here and expanded it. The modern buildings such as Seokjojeon (Hall) were constructed during this period. In 1907, the palace was renamed Deoksugung.  [Visit Korea]

What the short history does not tell you is that Emperor Gojong and his crown prince Sunjong in 1896 fled from nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace to the Russian legation building near Deoksugung Palace.  He fled to the Russian legation due to plots to kill him by the Imperial Japanese.  Gojong ruled Korea from the Russian legation building for about a year before moving his throne to Deoksugung Palace.  Deoksugung was a much smaller palace complex compared to Gyeongbokgung with fewer administrative buildings for his government to use:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

A building that Gojong really enjoyed after moving his court to Deoksugung was the building called Jeonggwanheon:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Gojong had the building built in 1900 by Russian architect A.I. Sabatin as a place for rest and relaxation. Gojong was well known for drinking coffee and meeting foreign guests on the veranda of Jeonggwanheon:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung would eventually become Gojong’s prison when as a consequence of Imperial Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.  The treaty following war would lead to the eventual annexation of Korea by Imperial Japan.  Before annexation the Japanese were able to force Gojong to abdicate his thrown in 1907 and imprison him at Deoksugung.  His son Sunjong would become the figurehead ruler of Korea for Imperial Japan until they were able to finalize the annexation of Korea in 1910.  This annexation ended the longest monarchy in Korean history.  The Yi family had ruled Korea for a total of 519 years.  Korea would not see independence again until Japan was defeated during World War II in 1945.

Gojong would not live long enough to see independence since he died in 1919 within the walls of Deoksugung.  He died in the building that he used as his personal home, Seodeogang:

Deoksugung Picture

Seogeodang is a two-story wooden building that looks out of place in the palace because it is not painted in royal colors.  It looks like a typical wealthy person home during the Josun dynasty period of Korean history.  Another interesting fact about this house is that in 1618, Korean King Soenjo’s wife, Queen Inmok was imprisoned in this house for 10 years as part of royal intrigue to kill her son.  It is pretty amazing how a simple looking house could be the place of so much intrigue.

Next to Seogeodang was the royal office building that King Gojong conducted daily business from:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Gojong’s throne room was located towards the center of the palace with the standard royal markers that designated where different court figures would stand when the King held court:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Inside of the main throne room there is an elaborate chair with two golden dragons above it which is standard royal decoration in Korea:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Overall the building is not that impressive for someone who was a King.  Realizing this King Gojong Designed paid British architect John Reginald Harding in 1898 to build him a new western style stone palace.  The dual palace complex was built between 1900-19010 and named Seokjojeon.  Unfortunately the Korean Kings ultimately saw little use for Seokjojeon because of the annexation of the country by the Imperial Japanese in 1910:

Picture from Deoksugung Palace

Conclusion

For people with very limited time in Seoul Deoksugung is a place that can be seen very quickly.  It is not as scenic as other palaces in Seoul, but still provides a nice backdrop for visitors looking to take a few historical pictures.  Definitely worth checking out if visiting downtown Seoul.

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