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Map of Seoul by Kim Jeong-ho, 1861
<Map of Seoul by Kim Jeong-ho, 1861>

Gyeongbok Palace

Royal Palaces Bring Special Glamor to Seoul

The Joseon (1392-1910) founder established Seoul as the capital of the new dynasty more than 600 years ago. The location was considered ideal according to geomantic theory,with mountains to the north and a river to the south, It is also strategically located about midway down the Korean Peninsula. Once the site was selected, the new government immediately began constructing the Royal Ancestral Shrine,Altar to the Gods of Earth and Grain for state guardian deities, and Gyeongbok Palace, the main palace compound.Seoul has remained the capital for more than six centuries.This beautiful and vibrant city grew rapidly in modern times,but tradition and modernity coexist harmoniously.Traditionally, the capital served as the residence of the king and royal family members as well as the seat of government.Palaces and shrines dominated the cityscape, while the leading scholars and best products of the dynasty were concentrated here, at the pinnacle of Joseon culture.

The capital eventually had five main palace compounds:Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Changgyeong, Deoksu and Gyeong- hui. The Royal Ancestral Shrine, Jongmyo, is also a very important legacy of the Joseon Dynasty; both Jongmyo and Changdeok Palace are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.The Seoul royal palaces embody the governing ideology of Joseon, which stressed ritual propriety, virtue and frugality.The numerous pavilions on the palace grounds went through changes along with the fluctuating fortunes of the dynasty.They convey romantic tales of princes and princesses and enlightening anecdotes of sage rulers. Hence, the architecture can be described as dignified and restrained.The palace halls are carefully maintained as a major cultural heritage of Korea, and the palace grounds provide a relaxing place to stroll in the heart of a bustling modern city. They are invaluable sources of wisdom and inspiration for citizens of Seoul as well as visitors from home and abroad.

Symbol of the Joseon State Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace was the first palace compound to be built by the Joseon founder. Being the main palace, the compound was the largestof all the Joseon palaces and the layout was meticulously planned. Thesite is auspicious according to geomantic theory: a plain with a stream immediately to the south and mountains around the other three sides.The main palace halls, used by the king directly, were larger than any other structures of their kind, and the very best materials and techniques were used in their construction.

The main palace compound served both as the residence for the king and his closest family members and as the place where affairs of statewere routinely conducted and foreign envoys were received. Therefore, many different structures were required on the premises. The mainouter gate Gwanghwamun on the south wall, throne hall Geunjeong-jeon, council hall Sajeong-jeon and king's residence Gangnyeong-jeon are arrayed along a north-south axis.Each of these major halls has its own courtyard and support buildings on the left and right, Providing excellent symmetry over all. The courtyard walls form perfect squares aligned with the four directions, and the gates in the walls directly face north,south, east or west. The careful placement of the buildings reflects the fundamental philosophy of the Joseon rulers, who wished to establish a framework for governance according to Confucian propriety and virtue.

Gyeongbok Palace was at its zenith during the reign of King Sejong (r. 1418-1450). He established the Hall of Worthies, aroyal research institute, and cultivated excellent scholarship in every scholarly discipline of his day. Existing systems were amended, and new ways of doing things were developed to improve the quality of the people's lives. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the invention of Hangeul, an indigenous writing system. King Sejong and his scholar-officials also authored Correct Sounds to Instruct the People to explain the principles behind the new alphabet as well as the properway to use it. That text is added to the UNESCO Memory of World register.

Gyeongbok Palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasion(1592-1598), and the site remained vacant for the next 273 years. The compound was rebuilt and expanded greatly during the reign of King Gojong (r. 1863-1907), with the construction of more than 330 halls of various types and sizes.Most of the open areas on the site were filled with building sat the end of Joseon. The government continues to rebuild and restore the halls, gates and bridges of Gyeongbok Palace,a precious cultural legacy of the nation.

Gwanghwamun Gate
< Gwanghwamun Gate >

Gwanghwamun Gate, Restored to 0riginal Splendor

The four gates of Gyeongbok Palace, arched gates with a gate tower built above a stone buttress, are magnificent additions to this majestic palace compound. ① Gwanghwamun, the palace's main gate with a two-story gate tower and a series of three arched gates, is the grandest and stateliest of the four.Gwanghwamun was burnt down to the ground during the Japanese Invasion of 1592. More woes lay ahead for this gate, which, during the Japanese colonial period, was removed from its original location to make room for the construction of a new building to house the Government-General of Korea, and whose gate tower was destroyed during the Korean War. The gate was restored in 1968, but in such away that its central axis was misaligned and using concrete cement.

After much tribulation, in August 2010, Gwanghwamun was finally restored to its original splendor. Returned to its appearance during the reign of King Gojong, the gate now has its axis, altered by the Japanese, realigned to the correct position. The gate tower, rebuilt using geumgang pinewood (Pinus densiflora for. erecta Uyeki), dazzles with the beauty of traditional Korean architecture it crystallizes. The name of the gate on the tablet, Placed across the upper section of thegate, is written in the calligraphic style of the period as well. Charged with the symbolic meaning of restoring the spirit of the Korean nation that the Japanese colonial administration attempted to wither to fullvigor, Gwanghwamun, now returned to its original grandeur, is ready to open a new and brighter chapter in Korean history.

< Geungjeong-jeon : The main audience hall towers above the courtyard >

The Outer Court , Public Offices of Government , Halls for the State Affairs

The Hall of Diligent Government, ③ Geungjeong-jeon ( 근정전 ) , is the throne hall. A stately structure, it projected the authority and majesty of the king and state. It was used on the most formal occasions such asroyal audiences with all the officials, receptions for foreign envoys,kings' coronations, crown princes' investitures and royal weddings.The single-room hall with two-tiered eaves was erected on a broad,double-tiered stone terrace to elevate it above all other structures in the compound. Mt. Bukak stands in the background, due northof Gyeongbok Palace. The rows of pillars that support the covered corridors along the courtyard walls also stand like a line of sentries protecting the king.A triple-lane walkway leads up to the main audience hall from the south gate, the center is a palanquin path reserved for the king, while the lanes on the left and right were used by the government ministers,who stood in rows beside the stone marker that bore their respective bureaucratic rank. The courtyard thus reflects the strict rules of social status practiced in Joseon, with the king at the apex.

The council hall, ④ Sajeong-Jeon, is where the king carried out the day-to-day affairs of state. King Sejong also used the hall to study and discuss matters with his officials, In addition, he established an institute called the Hall of Worthies on the palace grounds to cultivate scholarship and doresearch.Other government offices were erected nearby to attend to matters quickly and improve the communication flow to and from the king. Today ⑤ Sujeong-jeon is the only remaining hall of this type. It is on the site of the Hall of Worthies, where King Sejong had scholars invent the Korean alphabet Hangeul.Other government offices were located along the street south of the palace compound.

Guide map of Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace, the main palace compound of Joseon, is very large with many buildings to see. Grasping everything adequately is difficult in a single visit,but the task is easier if your divide the compound into three areas: the outer court for governing, inner court for residing, and rear gardens for relaxing. The main buildings,in both the outer and inner courts are aligned along a north-south axis that includes the main entrance, Gwanghwamun, to the south. The support buildings for these major halls are located on their left and right in a well balanced layout.The beauty of the palace compound amid a strict sense of order and restraint indicates the high regard for Confucian propriety and virtue and the dislike of ostentatious luxury.

1. Gwanghwamun
2. Heungnyemun
3. Geunjeong-jeon and vicinity
4. Sajeong-jeon and vicinity
5. Sujeong-jeon(Jiphyeon-jeon Site)
6. Gangnyeong-jeon
7. Gyotae-jeon
8. Amisan
9. Jagyeong-jeon and vicinity
10. Dong-gung and vicinity
11. Gyeonghoe-ru Pavilion
12. Hyangwon-jeong
13. Geoncheong-gung
14. Jibok-jae and vicinity
15. Taewon-jeon and vicinity
16. Sinmumun
17. National Palace Museum of Korea
18. National Folk Museum of Korea
Guide map of Gyeongbok Palace

The Inner Court Private Quarters of the Royal Family , Where Daily Life Was Conducted

The inner court contains the residences for the king, queen, crown prince and queen mother. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, as opposed to the imposing halls of the outer court.The king read privately and relaxed in ⑥ Gangnyeong-jeon, while the queen resided in ⑦ Gyotae-jeon. Sometimes, ministers would visit the king informally at his residence. The queen, whose important duty was to bear a son as heir to the throne, was also empowered to maintain harmony and order within the royal family.⑧ Amisan, the garden behind the queen's quarters, Provided a place for her to relax because she had few chances to go outside the palace compound. This terraced mound is covered with trees and flowers, and the hexagonal chimneys standing behind the hall are decorated with various images such as cranes, bats, phoenixes, deer, pine trees, plum blossoms, chrysanthemums, a legendary herb of immortality, vines and boulders.

⑨ Jagyeong-jeon was built specifically to be the queen dowager's residence. The chimneys behind this hall are adorned with the ten symbols of longevity along with images of grapes (symbol of many descendants), bats (representing wealth) and other auspicious icons.The chimneys for each room are placed together to create a wall. The courtyard walls for both Gyotae-jeon and Jagyeong-jeon are famous for their exquisite decoration on the inside and outside.

The crown prince, heir to the throne, was compared to the rising sun.His quarters was placed on the eastern side of the palace compoundand referred to as the Eastern Hall (⑩ Dong-gung). Jaseon-dang,residence of the crown prince and his princess, as well as Bihyeon-gak,the crown prince's study, have recently been reconstructed.King Munjong (r. 1450-1452), the eldest son of King Sejong, planted his own cherry trees inside the palace compound. Those particular trees are no longer alive, but many cherry trees still thrive inside Gyeongbok Palace.North of Jagyeong-jeon and the area that is now in front of the National Folk Museum of Korea used to be crowded with halls for royal family members and the numerous palace servants. At one time,at least 3,000 people lived inside the walls of Gyeongbok Palace.

< Hyangwon-jeong >

The Rear Garden for Banquets and Relaxation , Site of Joys and Sorrows for the Royal Family

King Jeongjo is quoted as saying, "I read books in my spare time,away from the 10,000 things I must do." His words indicate how the kings and their immediate families needed somewhere to go to relax comfortably. The most famous places for relaxing on the ground of Gyeongbok Palace are ⑪ Gyeonghoe-ru and ⑫ Hyangwon-jeong.Gyeonghoe-ru is a two-story pavilion built on an island in the middle of a lotus pond. Its construction was based on cosmic principles espoused by the Book of Changes. The king used this pavilion to entertain foreign envoys or hold large-scale banquets for his ministers.

King Sejo (r. 1455-1468) liked archery and had several targets set up in the lotus pond and shot at them from Gyeonghoe-ru. He is said to have been such an excellent archer that none of his arrows ever ended up in the pond. This is also said to have been the place where the boy-king Danjong (1452-1455) was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of his uncle King Sejo.The reconstruction project at Gyoengbok Palace began in 1865. In that project, a rear garden was created north of ⑯Sinmumun (gate) that included a spring, gazebo and two-story pavilion. Hyangwon-jeong, a hexagonal two-story pavilion, was built later for the exclusive use of the royal family when a private villa compound of ⑬ Geoncheong-gung was constructed.

Queen Myeongseong was assassinated inside Geoncheong-gung in 1895, and King Gojong moved to the Russian legation, making Gyeongbok Palace the official royal residence without a resident.Geoncheong-gung was subsequently dismantled but recently has been rebuilt along with ⑮ Taewon-jeon, a royal coffin hall where the bodies of a deceased king or queen would lie in state until the burial.

Hemispherical sundial
< Hemispherical sundial >

Benefitting the People , Royal Science Projects

Joseon was an agricultural society, so great interest was shown in time measurement, meteorology, astronomy and calendars. Planting and harvesting at the right time would have a major influence on crop yields. In early Joseon an indigenous version of the lunar calendar was created, along with the world's first rain gauge. An innovative sundial, water clock and astral clock were also invented. The concave sundial taking the shape of cauldron was first invented here. Compared to sundials with even surface, the concave sundial enables to see the time more precisely due to its wider surface area.

Gyeongbok Palace had an observatory equipped with astronomical instruments near Gyeonghoe-ru, and two types of water clock. One, called jagyeongnu, announces the time automatically and the othe rongnu, indicates time as well as certain astronomical events. A model of the jagyeongnu is on display at the National Palace Museum of Korea.

  • Hemispherical sundial (앙부일구) : This "upward-looking kettle that catches the shadowof the sun" is a unique type of sundial.One can tell both the time and season by following the tip of the needle's shadow.
  • Rain gauge (측우대) : This base was used to hold a rain gauge. Detailed records of this instrument are extant.
  • Wind gauge (풍기대) : A pole is inserted into the hole on top of this stone base. The flag on the pole indicates direction and strength of wind. Holes on the side allow water to drain out.
Dragons on throne hall ceiling
< Dragons on throne hall ceiling >

Palace Guardians in Sculpture & Art

Stone sculptures and engravings of the mythical haetae (Xie-zhi, hsieh-chih inGhinese) fire-eater, tiger, dragon, Phoenix,"dusky warrior" turtle, vermillion bird, and ten symbols of longevity have been silently guarding Gyeongbok Palace throughout the years. These auspicious figures project the authority and dignity of the ruler. Somewere believed to have influence over fireor water, thereby preventing the outbreak of fires, floods, droughts or other such disasters.On the two-tiered foundation of the main audience hall, a total of 36 stone figures are arrayed around the parapet corners,stairway pillars, and railing corners.

Visitor Information

22 Sajingno, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-050
Tel: 02-3700-3900, URL:www.royalpalace.go.kr


March - October 09:00 -18:00
November - February 09:00 - 17:00
* Ticket booths close one hour before the closing of the palace.
* Closed every tuesday.


Adults W 3,000 / Group (10 persons or more) W 2,400
Children W 1,500/Group (10 persons or more)W 1,200
* Combination Ticket(W 10,000) includes admission to other places (Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeok Palace(the Secret Garden included), Changgyeong Palace,Deoksu Palace and Jongmyo Shrine).

Guided Tours Regular Guides

* Tours begin in front of the information center next to Heungnyemun (gate)

Korean Monday, Wednesday-Saturday 11:00,13:00,14:00,15:00,16:00 (15:30 in winter)
Sunday 11:00,12:30, 13:00, 13:30, 14:00, 14;30, 15;00,16:00 (15:30 in winter)
English 11:00,13:30,15:30
Japanese 10:00, 12:30, 14:30
Chinese 10:30,13:00,15:00

* Groups must make reservations in advance.
* Guided tours are not available for student groups or groups of more than 30 persons.
* For reservations, call
(02) 723-4283 (English), (02) 723-4268 (Chinese tour agencies)
* Free guided tours by volunteer organizations are available on weekends.
Rediscovery of Korea (Tel 02-723-4206 www.rekor.or.kr)
KYC Palace Guide (Tel 02-2273-2276 www.palaceguide.or.kr)



Gyeongbokgung Station (Line3, Exit 5)
Gwanghwamun Station (Line 5, Exit 2)


Gyeongbokgung West:0212,1020,1711, 7016, 7022
Gyeongbokgung Southeast: 1020,109,171, 272, 602, 602-1 (airport bus),606, 7025, 708Gyeongbokgung
Southwest: 9708
* For details refer to the City of Seoul webpage (http://bus.seoul.go.kr).
* No smoking and no pets are allowed on the palace grounds.

National Palace Museum of Korea

This museum preserves and displays artifacts of the royal family from Joseon and the Great Han Empire. Here you can learn many little known facts about the culture and daily lives of royal family members. The refinement and elegance of Seoul's traditional culture is enhanced by the special way of life practiced by the royal family on royal palace compounds.
34 Sajing-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820 / Tel (02) 3701-7500 / www.gogung.go.kr

Gyeonghui Palace

Construction of the royal palace compound known as Gyeonghui Palace was begun in 1620,during the reign of Prince Gwanghae (r. 1608-1623). This beautiful and unpretentious compound is located west of Gyeongbok Palace and is therefore referred to as the "western palace." It was used as an auxiliary facility when Changdeok Palace, the "eastern palace,"served as the king's official residence, In its glory days, Gyeonghui Palace had more than 120 different halls but what can be found on the site today is far more modest.
1-123 Sinmul-lo 2-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-062 / Tel (02) 724-0274-6www.museum.seoul.kr

Seoul Fortress

This fortress wall was constructed as part of the capital defenses. The original wall extended 18.9kilometers, connecting the various mountains around city. A walk along the wall offers great views of downtown as well as outlying areas of Seoul. Sungryemun, or South Gate, is the largest gate in the old city wall and served as the main entranceway into the capital in Joseon period.www.bukak.or.kr

Joseon Royal Tombs

The Joseon royal tombs number 42 in total, including those of the 27 monarchs and their queens as well as other royal family members who were posthumously elevated to king or queen status.Two of them are in North Korea. Forty of these tombs are in or near Seoul. In 2009, the 40 tombs in were collectively entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. http://royaltombs.cha.go.kr

National Folk Museum of Korea

This museum displays diverse materials and artifacts related to the daily lives of the Korean people from traditional times to the present. Various scenes have been created to illustrate how lifechanged over time. You also have an opportunity to experience vestiges of Korean folk culture that remain today.
35 Samcheong-donggil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820 / Tel (02)3704-3114 / www.nfm.go.kr (2011.11.15 )

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