Hello Again Everyone!!
And before you say it, I know, I know, I know, Changdeokgung is a Palace and not a temple. But who in their right mind, after visiting it, wouldn’t post a description and pictures about it on their blog. So being of sound mind, and without any further delay, here’s Changdeokgung Palace!
I was up in Seoul from April 22 to April 27 to complete the mandatory EPIK training. And while it wouldn’t have been my first, or even second of things to do while up in Seoul, at least they brought us to Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁) as a bit of an introduction to Korean culture and history. Before, I had been to Changdeokgung Palace in 2004. Fortunate for all us EPIK teachers, it was raining when we went to visit the palace. But just as fortunately, it stopped about half way through the tour.
Changdeokgung Palace (“Palace of Illustrious Virtue) was constructed between the years of 1405 and 1412 as an annex to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Like most major structures during the Imjin War, Changdeokgung Palace was burned to the ground; however, what makes it different is that angry Korean citizens were the ones to set it on fire when it was being evacuated. In 1611, a full 16 years after the war with the Japanese ended, the palace was restored to its former beauty. And from 1610 to 1868, the palace stood as the seat of government as well as the royal residence. In 1868, after years of restoration, the seat of government and the royal residence moved back to Gyeongbokgung Palace, where Changdeokgung Palace was left in disrepair as a result. Changdeokgung Palace was then renovated in 1907 and was then again used by King Sunjong, Korea’s last king. And even though King Sunjong was forced to abdicate his throne by the Japanese colonizers in 1910, Sunjong continued to live in Changdeokgung Palace until his death in 1926. In fact, Queen Yun, Sunjong’s widow, lived in the palace until her own death in 1966. Also, the last crown prince of Korea died in Changdeokgung Palace in 1970, and the last royal family member lived at the palace until her death in 1989. Like all of Korea, Changdeokgung Palace represents the harshness of its past. In 1997, the palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for best preserving and maintaining Korea’s beautiful and storied past.
As you first approach the palace you’ll first be greeted by the massive Donhwamun gate (“Gate of Mighty Transformation”). This massive two storied gate was first built in 1412, and it’s the largest of all palace gates in Seoul. And like the rest of the palace, it was burnt down in 1592 and then later restored in 1609. After passing through this massive gate, you’ll enter into the tranquil setting of the palace, and away from the noise of Seoul. To get to the palace grounds, you’ll first have to cross over Geumcheongyo Bridge (“Forbidden Stream Bridge”), which dates back to 1411, and is the oldest bridge still in use in Seoul. After crossing this bridge, you’ll make your way towards Injeong-jeon (“Hall of Benevolent Government”), which is the throne hall at the palace. It was first built in 1411, and later rebuilt in 1610 and 1804, as a result of two devastating fires. Uniquely, this hall had electricity installed in it in 1908. Next to the throne hall is Seonjeong-jeon (“Hall of Disseminating Government”), which was used by the king for everyday government affairs and more informal meetings. An unusual feature of this hall is that the tiles are blue. Only buildings that housed the king were allowed to have such a bold feature. Next to this hall are Seonjeong-jeon, Huijeong-dang, and Taejo-jeon, which were the private living quarters of the king and queen. In this cluster of living quarters are also the palace pharmacy and garage.
In the next compound of buildings, a bit further east of the throne hall compound and living quarters, is Nakseonjae (“Retreat of Joy and Goodness”). These secluded living quarters were first constructed in 1847 for one of King Heonjong’s concubines. Although lacking colour at the exterior of the building structures, these buildings more than make up for it in the uniqueness and stylishness of their design. Also, these buildings were used as the private home of the last descendants of the Korean royal family after the Japanese occupation.
A path that lies to the side of Huijeong-dang, leads to Biwon. Biwon (“Secret Garden”) is 78 acres of tranquility set in the heart of Seoul. Originally, this garden was called Huwon, but it was later renamed Biwon by King Kojong. This garden was originally constructed solely for the use of the royal family and palace women. The first group of pavilions surround the stone-lined lotus pond, better known as Buyongji. This pond was built by King Jeongjo, who also built Suwon Fortress. Probably the most photogenic pavilion at the pond is Buyong-jeon, which is a multi-sided pavilion that extends over the south side of the pond. The rather plainly designed Yeonghwa-dang pavilion occupies the west side of the pond. And like a crown, the north side of the pond is Juham-nu pavilion, which is notorious for being the sight of the excesses of King Yeonsan, the 10th Joseon Dynasty king. Over a ridge is Aeryeongji, a second pond, which is fronted by two gates. We were given one of two options by the tour guide before we entered this area, either we could enter Geummamun (“Gold Horse Gate”) and receive greater intelligence, or we could enter through the stone gate, Bullo-mun “Gate of Eternal Youth”) and never grow old.
The final area of the tour we went on was to the far rear of Biwon garden. This area is only made open to special tours, which I guess the EPIK group was. This area of the garden lies just over the next ridge. The first area you’ll encounter is Gwallmji, which is a natural lotus pond, which roughly forms the shape of the Korean peninsula. And Gwallam-jeong pavilion extends over part of the pond. Networks of paths lead past several more beautiful ponds and pavilions, culminating in the Ongnyucheon area of the garden. Ongnyucheon (“Jade Stream”) is a rock garden, a beautiful stream and tiny waterfall, as well as ancient trees. There is a 750 year old Chinese juniper tree, and a 400 year old mulberry tree in this area of the garden, as well as a few 300 year old trees. The rock garden area also contains a U-shaped water channel that was first carved in 1636 for floating wine cups to the royal family. Also, there is an inscribed poem on the large boulder just above the tiny trickling waterfall. In total, there are five pavilions in this area.
HOW TO GET THERE: It costs 3,000 Won to get into the palace, and 5,000 for a tour of the palace and Biwon.To get to Changdeokgung Palace you can get off at Anguk Station, exit 3, upon subway line three in Seoul. It’s about a 5 minute walk. Changdeokgung Palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m April to October; 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from November to March, with the exception of November and March, when the palace is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (I know, confusing). And you can only enter the palace grounds as part of a tour group. Tours are offered in English at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Tickets for the 80 minute tour usually go on sale 30 minutes before the tour starts. However, there are no tour guides on Thursday, so you have to show yourself around the palace grounds. Also, internet-only reservations are taken for special tours that go to the Ongnyucheon part of the Biwon garden. You can order them through this link:
http://www.cdg.go.kr/reservation/reserv_01.htm (and only if you can read Korean). For more information, check out the Korean government page at:
OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Without a doubt, this palace is the most beautiful in all of Seoul. While Gyeongbokgung Palace is bigger in size, Changdeokgung is the best preserved. Also, the palace garden, Biwon, is unbelievably beautiful. If you can, make sure you make a reservation to see Ongnyucheon. It’s amazing in its simplicity and beauty. So if you’re in Seoul, and you’re only able to see one palace, make sure that Changdeokgung Palace (including Biwon Garden), is at the top of your list.
The massive Donhwamun gate at Changdeokgung Palace.A view of Geumcheongyo Bridge. It dates back to 1411 and is the oldest bridge still in use in Seoul.Injeong-jeon: The throne hall at Changdeokgung Palace.A close-up of the throne hall. It dates back to 1411. And it’s been rebuilt twice in 1610 and 1804 after do devastating fires.
A closer look at the unique sculptures on top of the palace buildings.A view of Seonjeong-jeon. This building was used for the everyday affairs of the Korean government. One unique feature to this building is that all the tiles are blue. These were only used for the king. And the present day presidential hall also has blue tiles.
Buyong-jeon: Probably the most photogenic pavilion at the pond. Part of its walls stretch out over the pond.Yeonghwa-dang Pavilion, which was made famous for its debauchery by King Yeonsan.Geummamun gate, which will give eternal youth if you pass through it.A look at Aeryeongji Pond.
And one last look at Ongnyucheon garden before we had to leave.