Once the changing of the guard ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace had concluded the crowds dispersed and I bought my entry ticket for the paid area of the palace. I had already been inside the paid area the previous night but since the entry fee to get into Gyeongbokgung is so small I didn’t mind paying again to visit the palace during the daytime.
After passing the ticket inspectors at the Heungnyemun Gate I started my tour of the palace. Gyeongbokgung was first built in 1395 during the Joseon dynasty and for about two hundred years it was seat of power in the Joseon kingdom until the palace burned down in the late 1500s. In the 1800s Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt but in the early 1900s the Japanese forces that had occupied Korea destroyed most of the palace. Restoration work has been going on at Gyeongbokgung for the last few decades and the palace is almost all of the way back to its old glory but there are still a scattered few areas that aren’t fully rebuilt yet.
First I walked through an inner courtyard that leads up towards the throne hall. The pillars around the edge of this area are a popular photo spot and you’ll normally see people stopping here to get their pictures taken. While walking around Gyeongbokgung you’ll also notice that a lot of people are wearing traditional Korean attire, called hanbok (similar to how you’ll see a lot of people wearing kimonos in the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto). There are multiple hanbok rental shops near the palace and wearing these outfits allows people to get discounted entry into Gyeongbokgung, and obviously makes for some nice photos.
The first large building on the tour route through the palace is Geunjeongjeon Hall, where the king’s throne room was housed. Korean monarchs would grant audiences to government officials and foreign envoys here and it was also from this hall where kings would give national declarations. If you look up at the ceiling above the king’s throne you can see a pair of golden dragons in the ceiling among all the other artwork. The current version of Geunjeongjeon Hall was built in 1867 when Gyeongbokgung was being rebuilt and it is one of the very few palace buildings that were not destroyed by the Japanese occupation.
Gyeongbokgung’s tour route next takes you to the western part of the palace. This region has a lot of green areas with large trees that provide welcome shade on warm days.
I next came to the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. This is the second major building that survived the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century (the third notable building to have survived is the residence of the king’s mother, which will be in tomorrow’s post) and it was here that Korea’s royals held their banquet. The hall is on an island in an artificial rectangular lake and supported by 48 large stone pillars.
Back in the northwest corner of the palace you can find a cluster of administrative buildings. Not too many people visit this part of the palace so if you want a break from the crowds you can frequently find a quiet spot out here.