Crowning the north of the gray concrete metropolis of Seoul like an ornate diadem is Gyeongbokgung, a magnificent palace built in 1394 by King Taejo, the founder and first king of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. It remained the principle palace until 1592, when the first of many tragedies struck.
Gyeongbokgung’s history mirrors that of many historical places in Korea. It was built, destroyed, then, much like a phoenix, rose from its ashes to receive a new life. This cycle of death and rebirth happened twice fully at Gyeongbokgung. When Japan invaded during the Imjin War in the sixteenth century, Gyeongbokgung was destroyed by a fire and abandoned for nearly three centuries before being rebuilt during the nineteenth century. It was razed again by Japan during their occupation of the Korean peninsula during the early twentieth century. It took several decades after the Japanese were ousted for Gyeongbokgung to rise again, but the time spent restoring the palace has been well worth it. It is now quite arguably the grandest and most beautiful of Seoul’s five palaces.
The gorgeous restorations aren’t all that makes Gyeongbokgung splendid.
“Gyeongbokgung Palace” means “the palace greatly blessed by heaven” and indeed, according to traditional geomancy – the study of Earth’s natural topography in order to determine which places are best to live – the location of the palace is indeed auspicious, with a towering mountain to its back and a gentle stream in front.
The grounds of the palace itself are superbly landscaped as well, in a way that promotes harmony both to the architecture and the viewer.
Roughly three thousand people lived at Gyeongbokgung at the height of its power: soldiers, concubines, eunuchs, and servants all worked together in order to serve the king. Even though now the majority of people who stroll through Gyeongbokgung are tourists, power remains seated here: the president’s house is located just behind the palace.
At least two or three hours is needed to do Gyeongbokgung justice. In addition to the stunning restorations, the grounds at this palace are exquisite. There are also two museums on the palace grounds – The National Palace Museum of Korea and The National Folk Museum of Korea.
No trip to Seoul would be compete without a trip to Gyeongbokgung, Korea’s premier palace.
Getting there: Gwanghamun Station (subway line 5), exit 9.
Gyeongbokgung is closed on Tuesdays. Its operating hours are as follows:
Admission fee: 3,000 won per person, or 2,400 per person in groups of ten or more. Children are half-priced.
Tours: Free tours are offered here! Tours in English happen three times a day, at 11:00, 13:30, and 15:30. They depart from near the entrance at Heungnyemun (흥례문), which is clearly marked as a tour departure site.
All photos are mine.