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Places in South Korea: Gyeongbok Palace (경복궁)

Basic Information

  • Name: Gyeongbok Palace
  • Where: Seoul, South Korea
  • Built: 1395
  • Cost: $3.00 (Adult)
  • More Information: Visit Korea

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Narrative

It seems like every time I go to Seoul I end up taking a walk through the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The palace is hard to miss since the main road in Seoul, Sejong-daero ends at the entrance gate of the palace known as Gwanghwamun:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Here is a map that shows where in Seoul the palace is located:

The below image is a map that shows what the historic palace once looked like:

The most recent time I visited I noticed the changing of the guard ceremony going on and decided to walk in and take a few pictures:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

The changing of the guard ceremony is quite impressive and something I highly recommend visitors to Seoul take the time to see:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

I can actually remember nearly 20 years ago when these changing of the guard ceremonies were not as elaborate.  The government has actually done a really good job over the past two decades remodeling the palace and adding new attractions which have made it a must see location in the nation’s capitol:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

What is really great about the changing of the guard ceremony is that it is absolutely free to view. For those that want to travel further into the palace after the changing of the guard ceremony a very affordable 3,000 won or about $3.00 ticket needs to be purchased.  I decided to purchase a ticket and follow the crowd into the palace:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Within Seoul there are five palaces and Gyeongbokgung is the largest and many consider the most beautiful palace:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace was first built in 1395, three years after the founding of the Joseon dynasty of Korean emperors.  Gyeongbokgung served as the Emperor’s palace until it was destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjim War in 1592.  After the war the palace was not rebuilt and sat derelict for over 200 years until 1867 when it was rebuilt.  The rebuilt palace however would not last because in the early 20th century Japan would colonize Korea.  As part of its colonization it demolished most of Gyeongbokgung Palace in 1911 since it was a symbol of national sovereignty.  On the palace grounds they built the General-Government Building in 1916 which is where the Japanese Governor of Korea was stationed until Japan’s defeat during World War II in 1945.  Here is an image of the General-Government Building that used to tower over the palace:

Image via Wikipedia.

After the founding of the Republic of Korea in 1948 the building served as the location for the National Parliament.  In 1996 the Korean government decided to tear the building down to remove a reminder of its colonial past. I am glad the building is gone because not only was it a symbol of Korea’s painful colonialism, but also it took away from the architectural splendor of Gyeongbokgung:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

For example an architectural feature of Korean royal palaces is the beautiful bright green and orange colors under the eaves of its various roofs:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

As I walked towards the main royal courtyard I passed over this stone bridge decorated with elaborate rock art:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

As I walked into the Emperor’s courtyard I found it absolutely packed with people wanting to get pictures of themselves standing on the steps of the palace throne room known as Geunjeongjeon.  On the ground I could see the markers that labeled where different court officials would stand during ceremonies in the courtyard:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

As I walked up the palace steps of Geunjeongjeon I noticed more elaborate rock art:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

I also took a picture once again of the colorful eaves decorated in Korean royal colors:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

I then patiently waited in line to take a picture of the royal throne room where the Emperor would meet visitors:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

In the back of the palace there is actually a smaller throne room that the Emperor used as an office to conduct state affairs from:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Here is the closer look at the artwork featuring two dragons fighting that hung above the King’s throne:

Picture from Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul

Throughout the palace I was able to walk around and tour its many buildings:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

As I walked around the buildings it was pretty neat to see so many Koreans wearing traditional clothes because it made me feel like I was transported back in time to the Joseon dynasty:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Though the palace at times made me feel like I was transported back in time, all I had to do was look towards the south and see the skyscrapers of modern day Seoul towering over the city to remind me of what century I was actually in:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

On the roofs I continued to see the 10 characters known as Jabbing from a historic novel that royal palaces used to ward off fire:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Overall the architecture of the royal palace is really quite stunning:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

The royal colors all around the palace was quite beautiful as well:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

For being a palace with so many people that once worked in it, it is hard to believe that water for it was supplied from this well:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Here is a picture of a gate that led to a back garden:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Here is a pictured of a terraced garden that had an orange brick chimney in the middle of it:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

From the terraced garden I began to walk towards the rear area of the palace and I noticed the Blue House known as Cheongwadae in Korean.  The Blue House is where the Korean President lives and works just like America’s White House:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

At the back of the palace is where this stunning pavilion is located:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

This two story hexagonal pavilion located on a man made island is called Hyangwonjeong Pavilion.  It was constructed in 1873 by King Gojong and the bridge called Chwihyanggyo was at one time the longest wooden bridge in Korea:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Here is a picture of what this scenic pavilion looks like during the summer from one of my prior visits to the palace:

Picture from Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul

I next went and checked out the king’s library called Jibokjae.  This library was originally constructed at Changdeok Palace and King Gojong had it moved to Gyeongbok Palace in 1888. The building is notable for its Chinese architectural characteristics which is easy to see considering how different the building looks compared to the other structures inside the palace:

 

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

The next building I saw was the royal residence King Gojong built in 1873 called Geoncheonggung.  King Gojong resided here from 1888 until 1895 when his wife Empress Myeongseong was assassinated on October 8, 1895 by Japanese agents inside the residence and her body buried nearby.  Due to the assassination King Gojong ultimately fled Gyeonbok Palace in 1896 to the Russian Legation for protection.  He ran the Korean government from the Russian Legation for about a year before moving his government to Deoksu Palace adjacent to the Russian Legation.  He never returned to Gyeongbok Palace.  The Japanese government demolished much of the palace to include the royal residence in 1909 as part of their colonial take over of the country.  The royal residence was rebuilt and opened to the public in 2007:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

The next structure I saw was the Gyeonghoeru pavilion.

Picture from Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul

 

Picture from Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul

The final picture I took before concluding my tour of the palace was of this tree that is believed to be hundreds of years old and has survived multiple wars and other historical events that has destroyed the palace over the years.  The tree is a symbol of the resiliency of the Korean people who after all the various calamities have endured to make the modern thriving country that they have today:

Picture from Gyeongbokgung Palace

Conclusion

For those traveling to Seoul and wanting to learn a little about its historical past Gyeongbok Palace is a must see location. Any visit should be timed to see the elaborate changing of the guard ceremony which is free to see.  Entrance to the palace is only 3,000 won (~$3.00) which is a small price to pay to see some of Asia’s most beautiful historical architecture.  It is well worth stopping by to see the National Folk Museum located within the palace grounds during any visit as well.

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