Lee, Yu-jeang 기자2016.11.08 17:41:32
Tourists visiting the palaces of the Joseon Dynasty have greatly increased. The Cultural Heritage Administration announced that, in the first half of 2016, the number of visitors of the four palaces and the Royal Ancestral Rite of Joseon Dynasty has increased by 21.5% compared to 2015. Moreover, some events attracted huge media attention, such as opening the palace at night or allowing people to enter the palace for free when they are in Hanbok. Among those palaces, the most visited palace was the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Let us look into this palace’s turbulent history, and some main buildings.
Tourists wearing hanbok in Gyeongbokgung palace
History of Gyeongbokgung Palace
Construction of the main royal palace was completed in 1395, three years after King Taejo founded Joseon and designated Seoul as its capital. The palace was named Gyeongbokgung Palace, which means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”, and used as a government ministry, stage of political activity, home of the King and his family, and workplace of eunuchs and female palace servants. Unfortunately, the palace was burned down during the Japanese invasion in 1592-1598. It was left derelict for the next 273 years and Changdeokgung Palace, a secondary palace, was rebuilt and served as the main palace. Gyeongbokgung Palace was reconstructed in 1867 to consolidate the sovereign by the order of the Prince Regent, Heungseon Daewongun. However, during the Japanese Colonial Period, 93% of the Palace was torn down, only leaving some major buildings. Efforts have been made to restore it since 1990, but more than half of the palace is not rebuilt yet.
Haechi statue in front of the Gwanghwamun Gate
Main Buildings of Gyeongbokgung Palace
1) Gwanghwamun Gate
Gwanghwamun Gate, the main gate, has a double-roofed pavilion over three arched openings. Unlike other palaces’ gates which are placed on low stone foundations, those of Gyeongbokgung Palace are replicas of fortress gates, with high stone foundations and arched entrances in the center which signifies that this palace is the main palace. Gwanghwamun gate is the most formal of these gates with three openings, a good indication that this gate is the main gate. The king used the central arch, while the crown prince and officials entered the palace through the openings on either side. The gate pavilion included a bell, which announced the time of day. The gate is the place where the guard-change ceremony is held. This ceremony takes about 20 minutes and includes the opening and closing of the palace gates, guard changes, and departure of officials.
2) Geunjeongjeon Hall
Geunjeongjeon Hall is where the throne of the king is placed and it is the largest and the most formal hall in this palace. The two-tier building stands on a high platform with stone steps. The floor of the building consists of large square blocks with elaborate designs, and the ceiling is decorated with a pair of sculpted dragons. There is a spacious courtyard in the front, where important events were held such as coronations and greeting foreign envoys. Geunjeongmun Gate, a gigantic door which provides a rooftop to avoid rainy weather, was used as a place to hold the king’s and his officials’ weekly morning meetings (Jochan). This signifies that the gate was not simply a gate but a place where political activities began.
3) Gangnyeongjeon Hall and Gyotaejeon Hall
Gangnyeongjeon Hall houses the king’s living quarters, and Gyotaejeon Hall, a hall located behind the former, houses the queen’s living quarters. Besides living their daily life there, the king and queen held occasional parties for their relatives, and the king sometimes ordered his court officials to come to his living quarters to discuss national affairs. Behind the Gyotaejeon is Amisan which is an artificial mound decorated with trees and ornamental plants, and it is very beautiful, especially in spring when flowers bloom.
4) Gyeonghoeru Pavilion
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion is a two-story building surrounded by a pond. It has long been famous for its own beauty, harmony with the scenery, and its view of Mt. Bugaksan. Its name signifies “king and officials meeting each other with moral virtues.” This pavilion, built on the pond west of Gangnyeongjeon Hall, was constructed to hold feasts for foreign envoys and for court officials. Even when the pavilion was burned down, kings still came to this pond and performed rites to pray for rain.
Gyeongbokgung performed as the heart of the Joseon Dynasty along with other palaces for hundreds of years. Additionally, by finding out more about the palace, we can peep into the architectural style of buildings, Joseon’s history, the way people lived, what they believed, and so on. How about looking around the Gyeongbokgung, appreciating the beauty of our cultural property, and feeling the breath of ancient Koreans?
The Cultural Heritage Administration is offering free guided tours and an audio guide service application called “Palace in My Hand” in four languages. For details of tourist information, and information about special events on the Palace, check www.royalpalace.go.kr:8080 or its English website.
The KNU Times