Palace of the King of Korea | Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul (South Korea) | History, Visit and Getting There

Palace of the King of Korea | Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul (South Korea) | History, Visit and Getting There

Gyeongbok Palace of the King of Korea

Gyeongbok is a royal palace of the King of Korea, located north of Seoul in South Korea. First built in 1394 and then rebuilt in 1867, it is the principal of the five great palaces built during the Joseon dynasty. The name of the palace, Gyeongbokgung, means “Palace of Resplendent Happiness”. Its main gate is the Gwanghwamun Gate.

Almost completely destroyed by the Japanese government at the start of the 20th century, the entire palace is gradually returning to its original form.

In 2015, the site had 510 fire extinguishers as well as 230 surveillance cameras spread over the 432,703 square meters of the palace.

History of Gyeongbok Palace of the King of Korea

The palace was built in 1394 by King Taejo, founder and first king of the Joseon dynasty. Gyeongbokgung’s name was given by Jeong Do-jeon, an influential government minister. Gyeongbokgung Palace was continuously expanded during the reign of King Taejong as well as that of King Sejong the Great. Unfortunately, the majority of the palace was destroyed by flames during the Japanese invasions of 1592–1598. After all the palaces in the capital were demolished by the Japanese, Changdeokgung, a secondary palace, was rebuilt and served as the main palace. Gyeongbokgung was abandoned for 250 years, then it was finally rebuilt in 1868 by order of the Prince Regent.

500 buildings were built on a land of more than 40 hectares and constitute a small town. The second time that Gyeongbokgung was largely destroyed was during the Japanese occupation (1910-45).

80% of the restored buildings were dismantled, the Gwanghwamun Gate was removed, and a huge Japanese government building was constructed opposite the main palace area. An effort to fully restore Gyeongbokgung Palace to its former glory has been underway since 1990. The colonial government building has been demolished, and the Heungnyemun Gate has been restored to its original state.

The Royal Quarters and the East Palace for the Crown Prince have also been restored to their original state. At the end of 2009, it was estimated that around 40% of the structures existing before the Japanese occupation of Korea had been restored or rebuilt. The restoration project by the South Korean government is planned for at least 20 years.

1553 fire

In September of the 8th year of King Myeongjong (1553), there was a big fire in Gangnyeongjeon, leaving only Sajeongjeon, Geunjeongjeon, Gyeonghoeru, Hamwonjeon, and Cheongyeonru. The king’s and queen’s garnishes, clothes, and horses were burned.

Reconstruction began in the spring of 1554, less than a year after the fire, and was completed in September of that year.

It is said that the manpower mobilized at this time was 2,200 co-workers and 1,500 laborers. There was a painting called ‘Hanyang Palace Map’ depicting Gyeongbokgung Palace built in the 15th year of King Myeongjong’s reign, but it was destroyed during the Imjin War.

Imjin War

1592 ancestors when that occurred during the Japanese invasion of refugees, now eliminate the traces of the documents and Novi plundered Palace, Changdeok Palace , Changgyeonggung for refugees and burned down the palace of Thus there is a controversy about it.

The Japanese invasions of Korea occurred between 1592 and 1598. This conflict pitted the Korea of the Chosŏn dynasty against the Chinese Empire in Japan. It was caused by Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s desire to conquer China. This war caused a financial crisis within the Ming Dynasty.

Ryu Seong-ryongIn the book Seoaejip, there is a record that “the empty palace left after the royal family and bureaucrats fled early and before the Japanese enemy even entered the capital, Hanseong, the people invaded the palace, burned slave documents, and looted treasures.” You can see it, but this is not a witness story, but something that has been heard. It was on April 20, the year of Gyesa (1593), after the combined forces of Joseon and Ming dynasties recaptured Hanseong, that Seongryong Yoo directly witnessed the burnt palace. It was after it collapsed.

However, in May 1592, when the Japanese army entered Hanseong, the Joseon Diary of Jedaku, a warlord, recorded in detail the details of the Japanese military’s direct tour of Gyeongbokgung after entering Hanseong. It can be seen that the engravings of the The recorded contents are as follows. “There is a womb (Gyeongbokgung) facing south at the foot of Buksan, and it is surrounded by stones on all sides. There is someone at every 5 steps, there is a corner at every 10 steps, and the eaves are high. I made a ditch, and the ditch flows from west to east. There is a stone bridge in front, decorated with stone railings engraved with lotus flowers. There are four stone lions on the left and right of the pier to guard the bridge…” It can be seen that during the Imjin War, Gyeongbokgung Palace was destroyed by repeated battles between the Japanese and the Cho-Ming forces.

After the Hwando, the old house of Daegun Wolsan (Gyeongungung Palace after the 3rd year of King Gwanghaegun , now part of Deoksugung Palace) was temporarily used, and most of the subsequent kings performed government affairs at Changdeokgung Palace.

Visit and Getting to Gyeongbok (Palace of the King of Korea)

If there is one major must-see in South Korea and Seoul, it is Gyeongbokgung Palace.

It’s a bit like the Grand Palais in Bangkok or Versailles in France, to compare the importance. And if there are five grand palaces in Seoul, which are part of the classic visits to the capital, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest and most important in the country.

Construction dates back to 1395, at the very beginning of the Joseon Dynasty (Korea’s most influential era) to house the royal family. Its founding materializes the change of capital, the former being the city of Kaesong, 50 km north of Seoul and now part of North Korea. Its location is then considered to be blessed by the gods, sitting between Bugaksan Mountain and Namsan Mountain opposite. This is why its name means “Palace greatly blessed by heaven”.

Getting to Gyeongbokgung Palace

It is easy to get to the Palace, the latter being in the heart of Seoul, at the end of Gwanghwamun Square, a sort of local Champs-Élysées.

Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

By subway

The fastest and most efficient way to get around Seoul. Considering the importance of the site, there are obviously metro exits nearby, which will only take a few minutes to walk.

Line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station (Government Complex-Seoul), exit 5
Line 5, Gwanghwamun Station, exit 2

Small clarification: the site is open in the evening on certain evenings of the year (see below). As the metro exit n ° 5 of line 3 is closed at these times, you must then take exit n° 4 instead.

If you exit at Gwanghwamun Station, you will follow Gwanghwamun Square for 400 m, an alleyway in the middle of the imposing avenue facing the palace. You will have the palace in front of you with in the middle of the square, a statue of King Sejong, an important ruler of the 15th century. If you turn around, you will see a plinth with the standing statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, a true war hero, known to be a fine strategist, thanks to his fleet of battleships (long before the modern appearance of these ships of war) called “turtle boat”.

By bus

Due to its central location there can be some traffic. As said before, the metro is the best way to reach Gyeongbokgung Palace. However, from Incheon Airport or outside Seoul, the bus can be a convenient way to get there. From Incheon Airport, take bus # 6011.

Gyeongbokgung Palace opening times and prices

Opening hours: Gyeongbokgung is closed every Tuesday.

Be careful, because the hours are according to the season (compared to the later sunset in summer):

Spring (March to May): 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (last admission 5 p.m.)
Summer (June to August): 9 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. (last admission 5.30 p.m.)
Fall (September and October): 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (last admission 5 p.m.)
Winter (November to February): 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Special opening hours (night)

Concretely, the site opens in the evening, allowing to discover the palace with the night lights, and generally quieter. It takes place the 3rd and 4th week of April through October, with the following times:

April and May: 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
June and July: 7:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
September and October: 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Entry fee

Entrance fee to the Royal Palace

The price of admission is 10,000. This pass includes admission to the following 4 main palaces + Jongmyo Shrine (at individual prices if taken without a pass):

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace (₩3,000)
  • Deoksugung Palace (₩1,000)
  • Changgyeonggung Palace (₩1,000)
  • Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden (3,000 and 5,000, respectively)
  • Jongmyo Shrine (₩1,000)
Guided tours

There is the possibility of joining guided tours, free, in English, at the following times: 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Handy if you want to understand your surroundings, but this has the disadvantages of being in a group (which can include 50 people). The visit in this case normally lasts 1h to 1h30 max.

If you are interested in a guided tour, note that on site you will normally only find in English.

Other spots to see at the Palace of the King of Korea

Gwanghwamun is the main gate to the south of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Its original name was Nammun, but it was changed to Gwanghwamun during the reign of King Sejong. The name was changed to Gwanghwamun, meaning “the king’s great virtue illuminates the whole country.” Built in 1395, a pair of Haitai statues are located on both sides in front of Gwanghwamun, a two-story pavilion, but it was temporarily moved during the restoration work of Gwanghwamun.

Gwanghwamun is the main gate south of Gyeongbok Palace
Gwanghwamun is the main gate south of Gyeongbok Palace. Photo credit: PinterPandai / CC-BY-SA-4.0Wikimedia Commons

There are a total of three gates in Gwanghwamun, the middle gate is for the king and the other left and right gates are for the servants. On the ceiling of Gwanghwamun, there are paintings of Zhujak and dragons and turtles. In 2010, restoration work was completed and it was opened to the public on Liberation Day on August 15, 2010.

Geunjeongmun Gate and Corridor of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Geunjeongmun (勤政門) is the main gate of Geunjeongjeon, the main hall, and has a mid-tier structure with three front doors and one side door on the left and right. It is designated as Treasure No. 812. Geunjeongmun Gate and Haenggak were reconstructed together with Geunjeongjeon Hall in the 4th year of King Gojong (1867). During the Japanese colonial period, the left and right columns were transformed into corridors, leading to the present.

Geunjeongmun Gate and Corridor of Gyeongbokgung Palace
Geunjeongmun Gate and Corridor of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Photo credit: PinterPandai / CC-BY-SA-4.0 Wikimedia Commons

When the king did not go out of the palace, the gate was usually closed. Instead, when officials entered the palace, they used the Ilhwamun and Wolhwamun on the left and right. Munban bureaucrats, meaning , entered through Ilhwamun in the east, and Muban bureaucrats, the meaning meaning is moon, entered through Wolhwamun in the west.

Changing of the Guard Ceremony

Where it’s happening: in the inner courtyard behind the main Gwanghwamun gate (광화문).
When: the changing of the guards takes place twice a day (except Tuesday), at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (it lasts about 20 minutes).

South Korea takes the safeguarding of its culture and heritage very seriously. In Seoul, the dress code and procedure are reminiscent of the Joseon Dynasty era, but these are not “real” guards. They are actors who, since 1996, allow this “reconstruction” with traditional uniforms and weapons in hand. Everything is orchestrated with traditional music played in the background.

The changing of the guard ceremony was first instituted in 1469 during the (short) reign of King Yejong, when day guards changed with those on night duty.

The Royal Guards of the Joseon Dynasty were by definition responsible for guarding as well as patrolling the royal palaces and city gates. The commander of the gate guards, called Sumunjang, was the military leader who led these royal guards.

Guards on duty in front of the door

Where it’s happening: in front of the main Gwanghwamun gate (outer side).
When: the guards are present twice a day (except Tuesday), at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (for approximately 10 minutes).

If you ever miss the changing of the guards ceremony, there is still the possibility of seeing the guards stationed in front of the door, twice a day as well. This is a chance to still see the colorful costumes, even if the experience is shorter and less captivating.

The royal palace parade

Where it’s happening: Gyeonghoeru → Gangnyeongjeon → Sajeongjeon → Gyeonghoeru.
When: every day from April to June then from September to November.
Another re-enactment ceremony you can attend is the Palais-Royal promenade. This daily parade shows the morning ritual of the King and Queen as they walk through the palace. However, I haven’t seen any timetables so I don’t know what time of day it is done…

Sources: PinterPandai, Visit Seoul, AFAR Magazine, OnedayKorea Travel Blog

Photo credit: 이상곤 / Wikimedia Commons

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