A population of over 25 million people, a history stretching back over 2,000 years, one of the technological capitals of the world; Seoul is big in nearly every way imaginable. Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), one of the premier historical attractions in the city, is no exception.
The 14th century royal palace grounds have a wall encompassing them. Beyond the wall stretch the skyscrapers and high-rises of downtown Seoul. The dichotomy between old and new is stark.
Inside the main gate is a massive courtyard, in the center of which stands Geunjeongjeon Hall (근정전). It’s huge, built on a stack of massive stone platforms. This was where Korean kings conducted state affairs and received foreign dignitaries. The famous King Sejong, known for his role in the creation of Hangeul, was enthroned here.
Inside the hall is the throne room. Intricately detailed paintings adorn the walls and ceiling, the throne in the center dwarfed and framed by the room itself.
There is more to Gyeongbokgung, however, than just the imperial hall. Gyeongbokgung is a compound and, even though just over 40% of the original buildings stand today, there are many amazing structures throughout it.
One of my favorites is Hwangwonjeong (향원정), the ‘Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance’. Chwihyanggyo Bridge (취향교), or the ‘Bridge Intoxicated with Fragrance’, leading out to the serene spot was once the longest wooden bridge in Korea.
That day, unfortunately, the only thing of far-reaching fragrance was me; it was a scorcher that day! My friend Brandon and I had just finished hiking Bugaksan, so those around us must surely have suffered.
The beauty of the pavilion and the pond around it make the spot a favorite for couples. There was no shortage of twitterpated lovebirds walking around in matching clothes when we visited. It’s definitely a great spot!
The National Museum (pictured below) is a modern structure which houses an impressive museum detailing much of Korea’s long history. It’s well worth a wander, but we elected to stay outside and enjoy the awesome day. We also had a train to catch and chose to spend our limited time exploring the rest of the complex.
There are a good many halls, pavilions, and living quarters scattered around the grounds. Wandering along the corridors on dirt paths, walking among the painstakingly restored buildings is a must for any visitor to Korea. It’s easy to picture oneself walking through the scenes of a Korean historical drama or even the past itself.
Even the interiors of the buildings are decorated. Colorful paintings illuminate the wall panels, framed by wood beams. The scenes depicted are ones of beauty.
While exploring the grounds, we decided to take a jump picture. Awesome when done right and hilarious when done wrong, jump photos are a lot of fun (and work) to make happen. Sadly, none of ours turned out that well. Luckily, in this case, failure can be just as sweet as success.
Gyeongbokgung is special to me, since it was one of the first places I visited in Korea. It was really cool to take Brandon there and show him around during his first few days in the country. Restoration efforts at Gyeongbokgung are still underway, moving that 40% (of the original structures) figure from before just a little bit more towards 100. I can’t wait to see the additions.
Fun historical fact: the location of the capital, with Gyeongbokgung as the seat of power, was determined by geomancy.
“What is geomancy?” you may ask; I certainly did! It’s an extension of feng-shui used in the divination of auspicious sites for structures. Basically, the process reveals locations of strong energy–where the male and female energies of heaven and earth, wind and water, strike a harmonious balance. These spots are called myeongdang (명당). Korean geomancy is known as Pungsu-jiri (풍수지리).
A Korean geomancer (I love how that’s a word) selected the location for the capital, claiming the site perfectly fulfilled the requirements of a myeongdang. As the legend goes, he foretold that the empire established there would reign for 500 years, which it did. Nice job, earth wizard!