These guards are just for show and tourist photographs (seen here) nowadays, but this was once the palace of the Joseon rulers for hundreds of years. Gyeongbokgung Palace was originally built in 1395. The seat of power has moved a few blocks away since then to the “Blue House” and had a few troubles with invaders (Japanese), but otherwise has remained in Seoul and within walking distance from this place since then. Coming from America, and the west coast at that, this sort of history blows my mind. The palace has been destroyed a few times by the Japanese, once in the 16th century and later on in the 20th century, and has been rebuilt, but been on this spot since before the western world even knew of the lands of the Americas. I think the oldest building in Seattle is about two hundred years old, and I think I’m being generous. This spot has been the same thing for over six hundred years with the same hands holding it for most of the time. I have seen older things than this, but I think what really blows my mind is the dynasty itself. The Joseon Dynasty lasted from 1392-1910. America is a baby compared to Korea, but even we have moved our capital.
“Enough of the boring history already,” you say. I know, you can google the rest if you wish, I’m no Korean history expert, but at least you get an idea of the context of this complex. The picture is the main gate. You get your tickets just to the right of this shot and you enter behind the guards. The palace complex is pretty big once you enter. It’s not as big as the Forbidden City or anything, but you could easily spend a few hours here wandering. I decided to take the less crowded side to start and see what I could catch. I went to the right. The back corridors are pretty neat and you can get the feel of really being there at the height of the Josean era. Behind the main attraction (I’ll get to that later) was the concubines quarters. It is just a complex of small rooms and bridges. I was alone, except one girl on her cell phone, while I was back there so that was pretty neat. I wandered all behind the main areas and saw the Princes quarters and the newer buildings, but I had to stop when I got to the middle of the complex.
The Hyangwonjeong and the pond surrounding it were very nice and peaceful. All the benches surrounding the pond were taken except for the one I snagged. My backpack had made sweat rings on my shoulders so I needed a break from walking. I sat there watching the other tourists for half an hour or so. There was one tour group from somewhere in Africa, a Japanese tour, and a few Korean tours walking around, but they didn’t have the luxury of relaxing in one spot. I’m guessing they will remember the place only because of the pictures when they get home.
The pagoda in the background of my picture is actually a new building and not part of the palace. That is the national Folk Museum. It’s free and an alright museum, but there was an enormous amount of school kids in there. Korean school kids who could care less about their own history and had very little supervision. Almost every display was behind glass. The ones that weren’t, where they wanted to get more artsy and interactive with the display, was being touched and messed with by the kids. It made more sense why everything else was behind glass. They had a replica of an ancient hut that had a sign on it saying not to touch and the kids were walking in and out of the hut – they did take their shoes off however. That’s all I remember now of the museum, the kids. I hurried through seeing a few glimpses of pots (boring), knives (cool, but can’t stop moving), and clothing (also boring).
I finally made my way to the two main events. The first of them that I saw was the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion on a man-made pond. This was packed with people from the angle I took this shot, but no body walked around to the other side. So I did. It was as nice as sitting by the Hyeongwonjeong. If I remember correctly, they had formal/royal ceremonies in this pavilion. It’s a pretty brilliant design, people can see but they would have to try and swim fast through the water to get to them or fight the guards guarding the one bridge. The odds are pretty good they wouldn’t have been admitted through the huge gates anyway, but you can never be too careful when you are the ruler.
The second major affair here, was a bit of a bust. It was just a larger building, in the same style as the rest, that held the throne room. I waited a few minutes to see inside. It wasn’t amazing inside, I will have to say, but it was alright for a throne room. It was mostly empty, but the ceilings were painted in bright colors like orange, blue, and greens and in repeated designs much like all the buildings here. The throne had a mural of a mountain setting behind it, probably of the mountain the actual temple was backdropped by. The palace grounds are a must see for the Korean visitor, but to really enjoy it I would suggest hanging around and relaxing here. It really has the feel of a park that happens to have a palace in it. I plan on going back in the winter if it snows and/or in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom for even better pictures of this place. The only problem was the back of my knee swelling up so I couldn’t walk.