The Palaces of Korea

Out of all the different dynasties and kingdoms that ruled the Korean peninsula, the 8 palaces of the Joseon Dynasty are the most preserved and restored. The most famous of the palaces is Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁 and the place Complex that holds both Changgyeonggung Palace 창경궁 and Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁 

Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁

Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁 was the Main palace used throughout the Joesan dynasty, built-in 1393 by King Taejo, the founder of the Joesan dynasty. Parts of it have been rebuilt after fires on several occasions. The most extensive rebuild happened in 1867 after the palace was almost burnt to the ground in the 1590s during the Imjin war. 

Unfortunately, since its reconstruction, all but 10 buildings were again destroyed starting in 1911 by the Empire of Japan. Some of these buildings made way for the Japanese government building to be built directly in front of the throne hall in order to destroy the Joseon Dynasty’s remaining power over its people. 

After Japan’s occupation of Korea, the palace went under further destruction during the Korean War. Finally, in 1989, The Korean government began rebuilding the palace by tearing down the Korean government building and using a combination of photos and details records to give its people back their lost heritage.

The reconstruction of the Gyeongbokgung palace is an amazing feat. Making it hard to tell when you walk the grounds which buildings are newly reconstructed.

Although the best season to visit the palace is spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom (I will go back to see them next spring) any time of year, the palace is impressive. The scale of these mostly wood structures is sometimes hard to comprehend when you remember that they were initially built-in 1390. This makes the grounds hard to walk in just an hour or two because of their scale. So leave plenty of time to enjoy the palace grounds and stop at the National Palace museum just outside its front gates.

Changgyeonggung Palace 창경궁 and Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁 

Located next to each other, just a 20min walk east of Gyeongbokgung palace Changgyeonggung and Changdeikgung palace are just as stunningly gorgeous as Gyeongbokgung. 

Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁, or the east palace, was built in 1395. It was constructed with Feng shui in mind, and special care was taken to ensure the architecture was in harmony with its landscape. The place was also the first palace to be outfitted with electricity. The combination of the modern amenities against the simplicity of Korean architecture surrounded by bright and intricate painting details made this palace unique. In my opinion, this palace was the most impressive of all three that I visited. The palace tells the story of Korea’s path to modernization before the Japanese colonial period.

Two notable buildings in Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁 complexes are Sugangjae and Seokbokheon. Sugangjae was initially built for a young king who abdicated his throne but was later used as the residence for one of the crown princes and later a Queen mother. One of the reasons why Korean palaces are so expansive is that each family member had their own residence. Whether it was The Queen, the prince, or the King’s concubines, everyone had their place close enough for the King to keep tabs on them. Korean court intrigue revived the Borgias and King Henry the VII. In fact, another building called Seokbokheon was built for the concubine Lady Kim who captured the heart of King Heonjong. 

The story behind these buildings is unique, but their style is to King Heonjong built and renovated them to reflect the simple style of a private home. The lack of ornate paintings and the influence of Chinese architecture made it a perfect escape for the King to rest with his mother and concubine. 

Changgyeonggung Palace 창경궁 was built in the 1400s for Kings Sejong’s father, King Taejong, to enjoy his retirement but was burnt down and renovated during the Imjin War in the 1590s. One of the saddest and most disturbing histories of the Joseon dynasty took place here in front of Munjeongjeon Hall. Mejeongjeon hall was the council hall where the King dealt with routine state affairs with his council. In 1762 Crown Prince Sado was buried alive in a chest full of rice. He was sentenced to spend a month there without food or water in retribution for threatening to kill a court official’s son. It was also rumored that the same night he made this threat, he tried to kill the King, his father. Prince Sado died by the seventh day. The crimes he committed throughout his life were disturbing. These Crimes included beheading one of his eunuchs and trying to force the abortion of his brother to his father’s concubine. Many people today see Sado’s story as a great tragedy. 

Historians believe that Crown Prince Sado suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 10 when both his mother and grandmother suddenly passed. Records clearly show a change in personality after the few months after they died. In these months, he came down with a mysterious illness, and he started having violent moods. Only 5 years later, at the age of 15, King Yeongjo, his father, appointed Sado to the regent, making him in charge of important matters of state. It is said that King Yeongjio was always dissatisfied with Sado’s decisions causing Sado to live in fear of his father’s temper. There are also records of Sado hallucinating; in one instance, he was reading a famous Taoist text and saw the thunder god. After that, he was terrified of thunder; even the word itself terrified him.

To be clear, Crown prince Sado was a murderer, a rape-ist, and not mentally stable, which does not make him a victim of the circumstances surrounding his death. But, do you see what I mean when I say the Joseon Dynasty court intrigue rivaled that of any western monarchy. 

On the same Grounds as Changgyeonggung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁 are two different garden areas that I did not get the chance to go see. I will have to come back in spring to enjoy them.

Overall the palaces were really stunning and full of history to learn. The only disappointment or missed opportunity I would say was not being able to see the buildings with the layout of furniture in them. I feel like seeing the furniture and layout of personal items in a building helps emerge you in the time period and the life of its inhabitants. However, it does seem that this idea of seeing a building or rule set up like someone still lives there is more of a western concept.

Whenever you are in Seoul, the palaces are a stop you wound regret. Just be flexible with your dates as the palaces periodically shut down to film all the Korean Dramas you know and love. 


Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁

161. Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, 03045, Republic of Korea-03072 서울시 종로구 창경궁로 185 

Cost: 3,000 Krw or free if your in a Hanbok. There’s also free Guided tours.

Hours: 9-16:00 hours slightly vary per season closed Tuesdays and Red Days (Major Holidays)

Changgyeonggung Palace 창경궁 and Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁 

185, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 185

Cost: 3,000 KRW or free if your in a Hanbok + 5,000 KRW to see the Secret Garden there are also free guided tours.

Hours: 9-16:00 hours slightly vary per season closed Mondays and Red Days (Major Holidays)

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One thought on “The Palaces of Korea

  1. Pingback: 9 Days in Seoul

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