Gyeongbokgung Palace

On our first (and okay, only) full day in Seoul, we made going to the Gyeongbokgung Palace (referred to hereafter as the “G-Palace”) our top priority.

The construction of this impressive complex began in 1395 by the Joseon Dynasty, and served as their primary palace for five hundred years. It continued to expand for 300 years, until the Japanese destroyed much of it in 1592. It was not rebuilt until 1867, under the direction of Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun. At this point, the complex swelled to an impressive 500+ buildings.

Unfortunately for the G-Palace, its misery at the hands of the Japanese was not over. It was destroyed again during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century, with the Japanese tearing down 90% of the palace buildings in 1915. Adding insult to injury, the Japanese happened to build their colonial headquarters directly in front of the palace complex. This building has since been removed, and the G-Palace has been continually restored since 1990.

So, if you weren’t exactly sure why Korea and Japan still have beef, this is a good example.

Anyway, we spent about two hours wandering through the palace grounds. You couldn’t go into any of the buildings, but could take a peek inside. Here are some pictures of our wanderings:

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This is Geunjeongjeon, or “All affairs will be properly managed if Your Majesty demonstrates diligence.” Both names are quite a mouthful. This is the main palace.

ImageStanding on the steps of Geunjeongjeon, with the Gwangghwamun Gate in the background.

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ImageThis is “some place off to the side that I can’t find in the guidebook from our visit.” Whatever it was, I’m sure important things went down here.

ImageThis is the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which is where the king held banquets for foreign guests (the Japanese were usually not invited). I thought it was my favorite part of the grounds until…

ImageThis pavilion is called Hyanwonjeong, and was probably the single most beautiful site that I saw all day. I loved the bridge leading to it, and the pond with the lily pads.

As we neared the edge of the grounds on the opposite end, we happened upon this:

ImageThis is the Blue House, aka the home of President Park Geun-hye. It makes sense that her home is right behind this historical landmark, but I had no idea that it was.

We ended the day by watching the changing of the guards, a reenactment of a ceremony that once occurred at the palace:

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Finally, a few more random photos of our walk (if you’re not yet photo-ed out):

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ImageWhat I liked most about the G-Palace was that even though it is obviously a huge tourist attraction, it’s large enough that you’re not on top of other people the whole time. There were certain points where we didn’t see anyone else at all. That’s one of the things that made this visit truly special. If ever you’re in Seoul, it’s definitely a must-see!

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2 thoughts on “Gyeongbokgung Palace

  1. Thanks Tara. Up until this point I knew nothing about Korean architecture. It’s obviously related to both Chinese and Japanese. It’s amazing that given what Korea went through in the first half of the 20th c (and from your comments, many centuries before) that there’s anything left of their built history. Do post more!

    A few small observations:
    the precisely cut smooth ashlar (squared stones) gate feels very 20th c, and not like my impression of stonework from Japan or China. It looks machine cut like a Federal building in Washington.

    The pant on the wood end beams is so vibrant it looks brand new. I understand that in Japan some “historical” wood buildings are actually completely rebuilt every 50 years or so, so they are hundreds of years old in style and craftsmanship but brand new in materials.

    I love your “scale figure” in the small gateway. Always great to understand just how big things are. As to the gate, the small scale of the opening combined with the large “hood” is a wonderful contrast. Yale abounds in things like doors that are much smaller than you expect; such elements make a building much more emotionally approachable.

    Glad to see you are having fun.

  2. I must confess that I used some filters on my photos so the paint was not quite as vibrant as it appears in my pictures…however, it was still pretty new. Restorations have been ongoing for the past 20 or so years, since it was all but destroyed during the Korean War. Despite the enormity of the complex, it’s still difficult to believe that 500 buildings once stood on those grounds.

    Glad you’re enjoying my blurbs, and thank you for reading!

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