After my first day of work on my Korean trip, I decided I really needed something to perk me up. The Nanta theatre was good fun the night before but this time I wanted to go grand! So, after hearing about Gyeongbokgung Palace from one of my Korean colleagues, I got inspired. Of all the five palaces, this one is the top of the pops, wearing the crown of both the biggest and also the grandest. Constructed in 1394 by King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty which has far reaching influence on modern Korea today, this was his principal palace at the time. Even though, it has been destroyed time and time again, sometimes almost completely, this palace like a boomerang has always made a comeback with the most recent in 1996 when the monolith Government-General Building built by the Japanese was completely removed and the inner areas restored to its former glory.
So, to save whatever daylight hours I had remaining, I jumped into a taxi to make my way there before it got dark. This was after making sure I got some help telling the driver where I wanted to go of course. Always a good precautionary measure. I saved myself some time using the taxi but in doing so had to contend with the driver who was overly enthusiastic in offering to drive me to other spots. He kept asking where I was interested in going to next. One of which was a great massage place and that he will be ready to come pick me up anytime after 10:30pm. In order to shut him up, I took his card and was glad to get out five minutes later in the right spot.
After alighting from the taxi, I immediately realized how big Gyeongbokgung palace really is. Considering it’s name means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”, you can understand why. It is also right in between Mount Bugaksan and Mount Namsan, making this an auspicious spot and the heart of Seoul. You can easily spend a few hours or even half a day here to fully appreciate some of Korea’s grandest architectural sights including museums and gardens. And in summer, I was fortunate to be able to see the night show! For a measly 3000 KRW (special price for visitors, which is something like $4) you get access to the whole grounds, a dance performance and also a light show. So, despite getting less than an hour of daylight in my visit, the beautifully illuminated palace at night was more than I had bargained for in return.
Two things I noticed when entering the grounds. Firstly, it feels almost like the Forbidden City with the surrounding walls, expansive grounds and grand structures. Secondly, there are lots of locals in traditional costumes! They certainly add a lot of colour to the buildings and it was only later I found out that admission is free if you come dressed up! What a great incentive to celebrate your traditional costume.
This is the main gate that faces South of the palace. The changing of the guards occur here but by the time I have arrived, I had well and truly missed that. The last change occurs at 15:00pm which at the time I was probably sitting in some meeting at work.
What’s a palace without another gate after the main gate. So this is the second gate you will encounter as you traverse the open court area towards the main building. Once past this gate, you will be inside a courtyard that is surrounded by pillars.
Believe it or not, you will climb up the steps through another archway, this one Geunjeongmun before entering into the flagstone courtyard which houses Geunjeongjeon. This two tiered ornate building is the main palace or main throne hall of Gyeonbokgung. It is here that kings are crowned.
It is also here that dignitaries are welcomed and grand assemblies gathered. By the time, I got here, light was also beginning to fade fast. Soon, it will be dark. But as I found out, the palace was only beginning to shine . . . . To be continued in my next post.